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Is Hong Kong racing also suffering from a post pandemic malaise?

My friends and I ignore watching the ‘live’ television broadcasts of Hong Kong racing anymore. Why? Because of a fear of catching even a snippet of some gawdawful local “musicians”, especially those “singers” in their own dead zone at the Beer Garden at Happy Valley murdering something or another, or hearing the Q-QP Strategy Mantra which is more powerful than taking a handful of Valium, and just bored watching the same old horses going around week after week after week.

Unfortunately, on Wednesday night, my partner and I caught the farcical presentation ceremony of the winner of the equally farcical DBS-Manulife Millions Challenge.

Challenging it was, and this “concept” has been challenging and confusing and a waste of time to everyone not having a horse involved in this nonsense since it was introduced around fifteen years ago when sponsored by CSL and some bloke from the company rang a bell.

This year, there was a tie- we think- when it came to the winners. The presentation ceremony seemed to go on forever and a day.

When working with the Club on the Happy Wednesday brand- never FOR the Club and who I fired as a client when in advertising for time wasting- in an attempt to mix things up a bit, I asked Winfried, the HKJC CEO, what seemed to be quite a simple idea and in keeping with the brand personality of those Wednesday nights: Make the names of the races sound younger and relevant to the racing product by naming them things like The Zac Attacker, The Teetan Platter, the obvious Happy Wednesday Cup, The Delay No More Handicap etc.

However, with these races apparently sponsored or named to placate District Board Council members, or something like that, the idea was a non starter.

As for the usual trophy presentations, they plod along as if time has stood still and completely incongruous to the goings on at the Beer Garden.

Then again, does anyone care?

These presentations are where the HKJC CEO stands in the same place wearing the same pale blue suit and red tie looking up at the night sky probably searching for alien life form.

Everyone else shuffles around trying to find their designated places on the stage and the female emcee orders the sheeple to fall into line and “smile for our media friends” and…and, well, you know the drill.

It’s corny, it’s meaningless and not unlike watching a horse operatic version of The Stepford Wives.

No one on course could care less about what’s happening in the presentation area. It’s just a vanity photo opportunity for the owner’s mantelpiece and not unlike a more professional version of a selfie- vapid, lacking in emotion and corporate fluff that takes place because this is how it’s always been.

Still, this doesn’t stop the HKJC from puffing out its chest and pontificating to the subservient racing media about turnover figures, the “on course experience” and the importance of the “customer experience”, “integrity” issues, racing in China yada yada yada.

Then again, these unceremonious presentation ceremonies continue without change, because, well, no one seems to know what they can do to make them more than they are.

Though a ho hum subject, could there possibly be some small ways to move things up a notch?

Maybe have the CEO suddenly break into his Octopus Dance?

Have the Purtons show everyone their Instagram eight star lifestyle reel?

Have The Lally Man recite the works of Willy Wonka Shakespeare?

One sees Hong Kong racing and those who are part of it so very differently when having no ties attached to those at 1 Sports Road and returning to the far more creative and technologically driven entertainment industry.

It’s like that Johnny Nash song about being able to see clearly now.

Horse racing everywhere in the world can be more than it is instead of looking like an also ran to those like myself who, these days, prefer the racing in Australia with far better horses and being with fun people and enjoying a celebration of good times.

With Hong Kong today in a constant state of flux and desperately needing a lifeline, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has the freedom to do something really different and exciting that might help Hong Kong attract international tourism.

Will it and does it have those who can rise to the challenge?

Is it okay to just continue with promises of the HK$5 billion Institute of Philanthropy and lazy advertising and marketing and banging that same old tin drum about record turnover and attendance stiles figures while pressing the gambling button over and over again?

It’s probably why the Chief Executive of Hong Kong John Lee seldom, if ever, attends a race meeting- and prefers to spend his time appearing at and endorsing international sporting events like the HK Rugby Sevens, tennis matches, golf tournaments etc.

When turning what was “Sassy Wednesday” into the Happy Wednesday brand and the Must Go place for a mid week break in Hong Kong, with the team I brought along for the ride, we saw an opportunity to create a magical multi cultural place with streaming services and new business streams to inspire a very international group of young people, especially those from the trendy new Sheung Wan area, ready to explore new worlds.

Then, right after the protests of 2018, Covid came knocking, most expats packed up and left, and Hong Kong racing retreated into its self-made racing bubble.

Today, horse racing is back, because it never left- but is it better, or is its image being propped up by smoke and mirrors?


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