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When HE reconnected with WEB

Having divorced myself from it and learning to wean myself off even having the occasional fun bet, at least for me, horse racing these days is something looked at as a weird social experiment.

It’s a very different way of looking at the hobby to those days and nights at Aspinall’s in London and the very long nights at Saxophone and Fidel’s with a conga line of female karaoke friends from Gotham City and being Batman for a couple of weeks at Crown. Those times are long gone, and with them, how horse racing was once experienced and enjoyed. Maybe ignorance was bliss, and for someone who was an executive in the music industry and journalist, those crooked days and ways was about inhaling everything and everyone who somehow became part of an ever-expanding group of hangers-on who suffered from arthritis of the hand every time the bill came around. Have things changed that much from those halcyon days? Of course, they have, Toto. We’re in a totally different time in space and the sooner those still in the game and leading it really really really understand this, there might be answers. Maybe then, just maybe, the wheels of horse racing won’t continue to look as if they’re falling off. The rather surprising though expected news of the upcoming demise of Singapore racing and the Singapore Turf Club under the casual “leadership” of Irene Lim, with the Macau Jockey Club said to finally receive le coup de grace, and a couple of other racing jurisdictions looking wobbly, this isn’t exactly a good ‘look’ for the pastime no matter how rose-tinted those shades are.

Why? Because apart from bad news always travelling fast, there are no doubt various governments starting to look at the return on investments from their various investment portfolios including allowing a pastime that’s gambling related to continue. Just as in Singapore, these governments are possibly doing an audit and inventory on the land horse racing uses. There are more questions than answers to all this. The bets are high as are the investments and politics in finding how to communicate all this to the public, especially about having a business model built around attracting as many people as possible who are over 18 to gamble on the races. Does this mean governments endorse gambling on horse racing? In a racing jurisdiction like Hong Kong, there’s very little “love of the horse”. It’s a trilingual city these days where Mandarin, Cantonese and English are spoken, and it’s always been about the love of making money along with buying “face” by being seen as winners, and not wieners. It’s a pastime that has been followed religiously for decades, and now in 2023, its primary customer base are those in their sixties and the majority of these being retirees. What about that younger and new customer base? Well, they’re just not here nor there. They never knew about la dolce vida of the Eighties and didn’t grow up wanting to be The Wolf of Wall Street on crack cocaine. Some had startup businesses curtailed when the itsy bitsy Covid spider came down the water pipe and changed the world forever.

...... Quite by chance, I ran into the man most know as E.B or Mr CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club earlier this week. He joined my table where we had a healthy discussion about the global future and present and economics of horse racing- and life journeys..

It was an interesting conversation with the only rules being to agree to disagree and try and see where two extremely different individuals are coming from and respect each other’s opinions. We covered much terrain- the importance of the Japanese and Australian breeding industries, a “Covid” galloper like Golden Sixty who perhaps never received the “idol” tag he deserved, the passion of Japanese racing fans, the country’s latest hugely popular app and game.., Winfried and I might not enjoy the same level of a bromance we had during those Happy Wednesday days, but it would be churlish not to give him kudos for having done an amazing job of not only enhancing the Hong Kong racing product, but actually recreating it, and giving it an international image.

Has he made mistakes along the way in what’s been a very long innings at the wicket for the 68 year old racing executive? Only a fool doesn’t make mistakes. We learn from them. Winfried has seen many changes in the global racing landscape and is probably now facing his most serious challenge in what is- in case you missed it the first time- a trilingual city where there is so many changing of the guard that the vast majority of the community are completely flummoxed and suffering from mental stress. In the midst of all this continuous change is horse racing. Where exactly does horse racing fit into today’s Hong Kong and where MIGHT it fit in better? What’s the golden carrot and where’s that elusive emotional attachment customers can have with the game? Does Winfried have a Don Draper on his team?

Could we possibly see the day when the Happy Valley Racecourse becomes a giant sports entertainment complex featuring everything from virtual horse racing and interactivity and engagement to bringing together all Hong Kong sporting heroes led by champion swimmer Siobhan Haughey and all the many things associated with gaming- everything that’s relevant to those “younger people” the same old English racing media keeps nattering on about?

Even “younger people” get older because Father Time waits for no one. Whereas Winfried is driven to make horse racing in China a reality, and which might help resuscitate the image these days of Hong Kong racing, I tend to look at where the pastime is and how it can be doing more for the community than what it’s already doing through its Charities Trust. Mission: Impossible? It all depends on experience, knowledge of creativity in its many forms, taking the blinkers off and bringing together the best possible multi media talent. Nothing is going to happen tomorrow, but the racing and non racing communities seeing progress through a newness and wellness in the air is a great motivator to look beyond the obvious. It can intuitively show how that Field Of Dreams of horse racing can grow and a trilingual city still called Hong Kong.

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