By Hans Ebert

To say that the HKJC has much riding on such a global marquee value name as Japan’s Almond Eye is an understatement.

The news that the champion filly with over US$10m in prize money – and her regular pilot Christophe Lemaire, another drawcard for racing fans around the world- is committed to being part of HKIR week in December has suddenly pressed the Refresh button to an annual event that seemed to be in need for a transfusion of excitement.

The battering Hong Kong has taken from pro-democracy and anti-government protesters for the past five very long months has derailed much of what was going to happen in this city- exhibitions, concerts etc in a city today resembling a bleak Gotham City and desperately waiting for Batman.

Almond Eye is not Batman, but she brings the city some much needed “international support” to, in some small way, could help quell the anger aimed at a Hong Kong government caught napping. The Umbrella Movement in 2014 should have sounded some loud alarm bells ringing in their direction. But arrogance is bliss and arrogance is paying for its ignorance.

Of course, this appearance by Almond Eye didn’t just happen. It’s taken many months of negotiations with the HKJC using every persuasive skill in the book to reassure the JRA and the powerful team behind the Sakae Kunieda-trained wonder galloper that, despite the negativity literally running rampant throughout Hong Kong, horse racing in the city somehow travels in its own universe.

Almond Eye in Hong Kong goes much further than horse racing and the turnover figures from commingling, especially via Japan.

The galloper’s appearance is good for the overall image of Hong Kong, especially in the area of tourism. It can mean a chain reaction of opportunities for the hospitality trade, the retail sector and, well, the psyche of many in Hong Kong who have battened down the hatches every Sunday evening and wondered what bad news was going to greet them the next day.

Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC, and the main strategist behind the Almond Eye marketing coup, is, quite rightly, cautiously optimistic about the Japanese runner headlining the HKJC’s Group 1 red carpet event. No one knows what tomorrow might bring. But without being a cockeyed optimist and keeping hype in check- a communications art in itself- Almond Eye in Hong Kong promises to make this HKIR event the most memorable- one of the world’s best gallopers deciding to visit Hong Kong when the city is at its most precarious level.

Other than the expected Almond Eye plushies and updates on horse racing platforms, what will be interesting is how the HKJC grabs this marketing opportunity with both hands and turns it into something that’s more than another racing story.

What might sponsor Longines bring to the table that will be more than what’s been served over the years? And the Hong Kong Tourism Board? And the mainstream media?

Will Japanese megastar in singer Hikaru Utada, below, and said to be a fan of the “idol horse”, travel to Hong Kong to watch Almond Eye run?

Add to all this, how does one make the memory of the end result last longer than a day?

These “sustaining” campaigns are something never ever seen in horse racing anywhere in the world.

There’s all the pre-event hype followed by the main event and then- well, and then, nothing at all.

Almond Eye is something else. And when she arrives in Hong Kong, the red carpet should be rolled out and with her team given the keys to the city.

#AlmondEye #HKIR #HKracing #ChristopheLemaire #horseracing #Longines