By Hans Ebert

It was fun while it lasted. Twitter, that is. Was it only just a year ago that many in horse racing were merrily twittering away? Everything in moderation, we were taught, but all that went out the window. Everyday was tweeter than the tweet tweeted the day before. Had it become a priority in life? Tweeting?

Amongst the jockeys, those most busy on Twitter were probably the Iron Man- Neil Callan, the Zac Attack, Brenton Avdulla, Blake Shinn and Tommy Berry.

Today? Most, like Peter V’landys, The Man From The North, who joined the Twitterverse during the early days of “his” beloved Everest “concept”, seem to have withdrawn. Or at least become more selective about with whom they “engage”. Others think it’s a waste of time. An unnecessary distraction when there’s real work to be done in the real world.

In the racing Twitterverse, probably the most active amongst the jockeys seems to be Tommy Berry. Still. But even he might at the tail end of the trend though all the recent drama behind his longtime partner Chautauqua has forced him back to the crease. With great power comes great responsibility and all that.

There are the usual followers of jockeys, but even many of them have moved away to greener pastures such as “liking” personal interests and keeping the “sharing” down to a handful. We’ve been happy to see tweets of famous cowgirl Annie Oakley seen riding side saddle. You know what they say about what one picture is worth.

Some racing fans have left Twitter altogether. The most telling was a longtime racing Twitterer recently sending out a message saying she was was taking a break from social media. Maybe all the negativity had got to her. She just wanted to disappear for awhile and be with family in the real world.

Was it only a couple of years ago that the obsequious Mr Bubbles when in a communications role with the HKJC was pontificating about the importance of horse racing’s “influencers” on Twitter and how useful they were in spreading the gospel?

It’s tough to forget all these “influencers”, mainly from the US, landing in Hong Kong three years ago for the International Races and finding the views from their hotel rooms to be “awesome” and trying dim sum for the first time. More awesomeness. Today? No influence. No “influencers”. Influenza, perhaps.

There are of course passionate racing people and they’re here, there and everywhere where there’s horse racing. They’re like the Scarlet Pimpernels of the racing Twitterverse. The online version of Jimmy Olsen covering racing news. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s good informative stuff for the hardcore race goer. For others, it’s like trying to read smoke signals.

For some of us, there’s a need to maintain a “presence” on Twitter, but this is mainly for business purposes. Like the tweets from various racing clubs. They’re the new corporate press releases in 140 words or less. Same with horse racing websites and tipsters a go go. The tweets are carrots to dangle. To maybe sell whatever it is some may wish to buy. But isn’t all this losing its relevance? The same news and information being tweeted over and over again by different people? What’s the point? How many ways, for example, can people say that Chautauqua should be retired?

Then there are Baggers And Bash Anonymous- bagging this and that jockey’s rides, and, like assholes, everyone having an opinion- some knowledgeable and going back to the good old days of racing in the Eighties and banging on to like-minded people. It’s been going on for too long, but it must relieve boredom and part of a course in Anger Management.

Do these people sometimes fly too close to the sun like Icarus when it comes to libel and defamation of character? With new online laws in place, it’s really their business. But in the meantime…

Then there’s Twitter itself. It’s still to turn a profit. Unknown Rappers especially have hundreds of thousands of “followers”. Many of these “followers” are from the Middle East and tweeting in Arabic. It’s very easy to check.

Does it make sense that Twitter allows those to sell fake “followers” on their delivery platform? Believe everything you read? Numbers don’t lie, right?

Of course, the big question is just how relevant Twitter is to horse racing? Make that social media, in general. Speak to many in the marketing of horse racing about how various racing content might receive maximum exposure, and the usual answer is “social media.” But how? It’s like unknowns in music thinking that the streaming of their music will lead somewhere. It doesn’t. It gets lost in the clutter.

We remember being associated with a singer-songwriter from the UK who had over thirty MILLION streams of one of his songs in Mainland China. The three parties associated with the track expected to get rich because, well, numbers don’t lie. What were the royalties on those millions of streams? Around HK$35k. And split three ways.

So how does Twitter or other social media platform benefit horse racing? It definitely can though, of course, nothing like whatever is “trending” and every hashtag dominated and celebrity endorsed movement- #MeToo, #Blacklivesmatter #Alllivesmatter #MondayMotivation #Twitterpurge etc.

For horse racing to be seen and heard over the Gunga Din of everything else out there, it means looking and thinking beyond the obvious 140 words or less and knowing who exactly a tweet is meant to reach and how they’re meant to react. Yes, easier said than done. Or tweeted because most suffer from constipated thinking.

Bottom line: What anyone decides to tweet is their business. Want to be known as someone with an axe to grind, fine. Want to right the wrongs of horse racing? Go ahead. Keep bashing away. It didn’t make a dent then, it’s like a flea bite today. The cheerleaders have left. Misery is not for everyone. Misery doesn’t love company.

However, for Twitter to reach those other than that captive audience and introduce horse racing in a more positive light to those who still view it with skepticism, well, surely this means making horse racing look and sound younger? And more appealing than it is right now? About broadening that customer base? And making this grow on a regular basis. It’s called progress.

Then again, maybe Twitter isn’t the place this audience visits? Same with Facebook.

Social media needs a facelift. It needs new players and different delivery platforms. The old school players have been revealed for what they are. They have no redeeming qualities.

Horse racing, meanwhile, needs to face some home truths if it’s ever to be more than it is.

Horse racing needs to prove that it’s, well, NICE. That there are NICE people involved in its makeup. That it’s entertaining and that this entertainment is more than the punt. That it’s for everyone and not just Sheikh Yerbouti and the other money shakers with laundromats strapped to their backs and to whom losing is winning.

In this day and age of entitlement, horse racing has got to be seen as not being more than a bit player talking to itself. It’s a turn off.

In the the real world out there, horse racing has plenty of competition from other “leisure activities” attracting exciting new sponsors with large databases and big marketing budgets and offering consumers more and more choices to be a winner.

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