It was a pretty insignificant mid-week race meeting at Mount Barker during the tail end of 2022, but the results of the eight races might have shone a glaring light into the days of future passed for the one-time sport of kings and queens.
What those running horse racing often forget is that the world has moved on. It’s in a completely new online environment of streaming, speaking emoji, gathering followers, looking for fame, embracing Tik Tok etc while also offering different career choices for those starting work life.
At Mount Barker, almost every race, and at least every other quinella, featured female riders- young female riders.
Once an oddity in a male dominated pastime, the emergence of New Girl Power gives horse racing something new to not only attract a new audience, but also not continue as an old boys club suffering from rigor mortis.
In the often Neanderthal-like male chauvinistic world of Hong Kong racing, riders having Jamie Kah and Hollie Doyle ride here, even if it’s once a year, have turned things on their head.
They have shown even the most hard nosed male Chinese punter that times have changed.
Both riders have been accepted by these old racing diehards even more so than many of their male counterparts.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club noticed and made Jamie Kah an offer she knocked back, making it known in a podcast with Trainer Peter Moody that how being brought up a country girl and loving her horses, she knew that she would not like the cramped concrete jungle Hong Kong lifestyle.
The challenge for Hong Kong racing, suddenly struggling to fill its riding ranks, is to find 2-3 good young home grown female riding talent with “idol” jockey potential.
While the challenge for Hong Kong is to attract international tourists, for horse racing in the city, it’s suddenly the struggle to fill its riding ranks no matter how much money it throws at the handful of marquee value names around.
Part of China, masked Hong Kong is not the magnet it once was- and not exactly attractive.
It’s no longer rich, the lights have been switched off on the once vibrant nightlife while the retail sector is suffering from the constant fear and chatter about the Covid monster.
Any industry takes its lead from where they are based.
This includes horse racing, Hong Kong’s favourite pastime in a city very much lacking leisure activities other than shopping, maybe dining in restaurants and going on hikes.
If it means Hong Kong racing having to diversify its business model, amongst other things, now is the time to find 2-3 good young home grown female riding talents with “idol” jockey potential.
Of course, this isn’t going to happen tomorrow though this search should have begun longer than yesterday...
For right now, there’s really no point having Hong Kong born girls like Scarlet So, below, and Britney Wong go through their apprenticeships in places like Adelaide etc for a few years, only to return to Hong Kong and end up being track work riders.
There might be a need for good track work riders, but is this what these apprentices signed up for?
And if they’re not good enough to be race riders in Hong Kong, what’s the answer or the contingency plan?
Why Hong Kong is still waiting for one of those brilliant young riders from nearby Mongolia- male and female- to make an appearance at Shatin or Happy Valley remains a mystery.
It’s especially a mystery when Hong Kong racing dearly needs something else other than the Dad’s Army “strategy” of throwing more and more red lai see packets at the feet of riders from overseas.
Most are in the twilight of their careers and desperate for a quick infusion of cash, so it’s smash and grab time and leave with their booty...
Horse racing around the world is in the middle of change, and which is quickly slipping out of the hands of racing clubs and their executives.
It’s not unlike the music industry when music fans ditched the majors and embraced the indie labels, downloads and the constant streaming that goes on today.
Consumers don’t care about businesses. They want what they can get- for free.
Racing fans are starting to vote with their feet and THEY will make themselves heard about what THEY want.
Already, it’s no longer only about Jamie Kah, Michelle Payne, Hollie Doyle, Kathy O’Hara, Rachel King and some of the other more experienced riders like Linda Meech, Talia Hope, Christine Puls etc.
There’s now Alana Kelly, Hannah Edgely, Madison Lloyd, Laura Lafferty, Celine Gaudray, Carleen Hefel, Sheridan Clarke, Melissa Julius, Maddi Price and others whereas in WA, there’s the extremely promising apprentice indentured to leading Trainer Simon Miller in Holly Watson, below.
There’s also Lucy Warwick, Kate Witten, Simone Altieri, Victoria Corver, Beaux Banovic-Edwards, below, with more and more of these girls born to ride filling the jockey ranks.
From where we stand, having these young women involved in horse racing makes the pastime far more attractive to a younger mainstream audience including young FAMILIES.
Apart from attracting a completely new type of race goer to race tracks through very different types of marketing other than what racing executives believe is needed, the presence on-course of these younger riders along with Jamie Kah, Rachel King, Hollie Doyle etc, somehow pushes that gambling image and horse welfare issues into the background.
It changes the dynamics and the whole face of racing into something that, for the first time, just might be multi dimensional and- key- relevant to these times.
For the image of horse racing, moving forward, this strategy could be Christmas, Taylor Swift and Lunar New Year rolled into one.
For the young male riders coming through the ranks, if there isn’t already, they should be offered more career opportunities within the horse racing industry if this is where they see a future.
Apparently, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is said to be providing most of this as part of its Apprentice Scheme.
Providing what exactly? Helping apprentices to develop their communications, computer, wealth management and management skills- opportunities some of the leading riders in the world today like Zac Purton and James McDonald never had.
Everything happening in the world today- the good stuff- forces what has become a very old boys club to make way for a radical changing of the guard in how horse racing is presented.
Racing’s new Girl Power with far more younger talent involved in everything from content creation to presentations and marketing might be the best thing for the future of a pastime not exactly embraced by everyone.
All this will definitely attract a new audience, sponsors, and perhaps even the hardcore racing enthusiast with a more consumer friendly image.
One wonders if this might finally signal the need for new leadership of racing clubs and a new type of racing executive who bring things relevant to the table and not more fireworks displays and music out of sync with everything else going on.
This leads to just how good the head of Human Resources is and whether they are given a free hand with their hires or are happy little order takers...
For horse racing, it’s not about more procrastination and continuing to be “risk averse, ironically, in an industry built on asking its customers to not be risk averse!
It’s now about change and making up for lost time.
It’s either this or going the way of picnic racing- and absolutely nothing wrong with this- or parts of the racing business being gobbled up by the oil rich barons with money to burn.
Think that if FIFA couldn’t be persuaded to hold the World Cup in Qatar, and recently, Cristiano Ronaldo deciding to sign with Saudi side El Nassy, The Middle East can’t pick and choose which parts of horse racing it wants to own?
Along the same lines, could even a new role for Frankie Dettori be part of a lucrative Saudi financed comeback plan?