By Hans Ebert

He’s used this somewhat downtime to make an addition to his bag of tricks- throwing his whip into the waiting hands of the Assistant Trainer of the winning horse.

Of course, the familiar two thumbs up sign and trademark winning smile are still there, but Joao Moreira is making these kinda down time days in Hong Kong to tweak his post-race celebrations. Working it, the magic man is always working it.

Recently, at the most sparse of the recent Sha Tin meetings brought on by all the precautionary measures the HKJC has been forced to take while the world comes to grips with the Coronavirus- like no public allowed in, venues and Off Course Betting Centres closed and the Telebet operations having to be automated- the Brazilian magic man had four occasions to fine-tune his “Catch It Amigo” gimmick. This was after bringing home four winners, and with at least two of these being pretty extraordinary rides. He did his now customary Moses act during the races and the Red Seas parted for him.

It’s quite incredible how the magic of Joao Moreira can turn a lowly Class 5 race into something special. It’s theatrical and magical and during these dark side of the moon days where horse racing is still allowed to continue against a very much stripped down on course backdrop, every little thing helps.

What’s needed is to MAKE the fun happen where there is none- at least while the races are available for mainly a television audiences. There’s not a helluva lot taking place on course except for those pedestrian winning photo moments, these days with masked people.

Often, it’s time for some of us at home to take a break and assume tantric yoga positions with our partners a la Mr Sting. We don’t need five hours to reach orgasmic nirvana.

Not to be left outta being part of the new model Hong Kong racing Fun Police, at the same meeting, Zac Purton decided to outdo the magic man. This was by winning a race and deciding to get RID of his whip. It was, Anything you can do, “I might not be able to always do it better, but I can make it different”.

The Zac Attack had nothing to offer anyone except a a smile as he brought the Frankie Lor trained Joyful Heart back for a winning photo where we couldn’t help but see our old friend Pato Leung.

Head of the Good Time Syndicate, Pato led in Joyful Heart, their winning horse. Pato was happy and as he smiled and hugged Zac, it was evident that he’s still to have his teeth fixed.

Once a pop columnist for the local tabloid the China Mail, and later a pretty successful concert promoter through his close friendships with the Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John, Pato, nicknamed “Fang” by some, also discovered, managed and named one of Hong Kong’s most popular groups- the Wynners who changed their name from the Loosers after the departure of their rather ordinaire co-lead singer Natalis Chan.

Yes, it’s the same Nat Chan, the multi-coloured coiffured television personality, and friend of various local trainers, jockeys, assistant trainers, riding boys and mafoos, and a regular fixture of most race meetings- and winning photo opps in a leading role where he often doesn’t belong. Still…

After that intermission, it’s back to today. It’s about far more important and long ranging questions regarding the future of horse racing in a shaky present to do with a city suffering from a very obvious generation gap and where much from the past is being deleted.

It’s also a world in change with nonstop negativity and now a new global Black Plague hanging over it.

Priorities have changed and the new and young voices of change are not going to accept everything they’re offered. They want to be convinced why they should and don’t mind dismantling the world and with no time nor fear for irrelevant leaders.

It’s very much like operating in a parallel universe and singing a new version of The Who classic, “My Generation”.

Dire times like these don’t require more tired thinking. Despite everything affecting every aspect of life in Hong Kong, there’s a need to keep working and find the time to get one’s ducks in a row so that the Refresh button can be pressed once the first glimmer of hope returns. Now is not the time to join Alarmists Anonymous. But try telling this to those in Panic mode brought on by social media and looking at escape clauses…

Think Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC, doesn’t know this? There wouldn’t be any horse racing at all if not for his leadership qualities- and passion- to keep the favourite pastime for hundreds of thousands here on track despite the mandatory cutbacks and playing to almost empty houses. There’s no telling where all this is going to lead as, most important of all, Hong Kong- the city-needs to go through a healing process.

As for the racing product, what is served up these days is a turgid four hour television special for a “niche” viewing audience.

Personally speaking, this might be the best time for the HKJC- and maybe other racing jurisdictions- to look at its racing product with new eyes and see how it can evolve to meet today’s consumer demands. How it can skip the light fandango and do cartwheels across the floor without continuing to be what it’s always been while carrying more and more deadweight.

Let’s get real now: The longtime professional punter and the various computer betting syndicates who bet big have their own strategies and betting outlets. They won’t stray from these.

Tipster panels comprising talking heads? Websites that look like a dog’s breakfast. People still visit…websites? Really? In 2020 and in this app driven world? Perhaps…

Maybe these copy and paste jobs from back in the day even work for longtime followers of the game? Having now reached retirement age, perhaps they only want racing served one way- the way it’s been served for over thirty years. But being sixty and seventy years old is not the new forty. It is what it is.

Right now, having a Happy Wednesday without all the bells and whistles is another terrible body blow for Hong Kong racing. In many ways, through this brand one was able to see where the future of this pastime might be. For the last few weeks, Happy Valley has resembled Gotham City. Batman hasn’t showed.

A Happy Wednesday night was and is a welcome relief- a mid week stress buster- that sold fun and being entertained to a younger, hipper, cynical and questioning generation. Everything offered attracted them to actually come racing- and on a regular basis. To soak in the atmosphere. To FEEL something POSITIVE. To be ENTERTAINED.

A Happy Wednesday happened through new fashioned thinking aimed primarily for a younger generation to interact with like-minded people and become immersed in everything on offer- and getting to know about horse racing through getting to see and meet those also young like Hong Kong based jockeys like Zac, Joao, Karis Teetan, Vincent Ho, the Chadster, Grant van Niekerk…

They’re a good group of guys. Something most forget is that they’re no different to the new customer (Hong Kong) racing needs. The only difference is that they ride horses for a living. They’re great ambassadors for the sport and, until having to adapt to the recent lockdown mode all of this city is going through, certainly don’t have any problems with the five star lifestyle and tax concessions Hong Kong offers.

Today, and, again, not only in Hong Kong, the overall image and perception of racing has gone back to the future and is looking as tired and dated as Coronation Street.

It’s back being a pastime for sixtysomethings- and seventysomethings who grew up with the Carringtons and enjoyed those weirdly wonderful boogie nights at Fidel’s, JJ’s, the Champagne Bar, and gentlemen’s clubs like Aspinall’s in London. Times change. So do shoulder pads.

There’s a very obvious generation gap affecting this pastime as- hello- the world is undergoing enormous change with its leaders either being challenged or ignored.

This chasm is only going to get larger unless tangible new solutions are in place. It means working as a team- two generations with different positives to offer. Easier said than done…

Like the Grammys are now the Grannies, horse racing is a mudlark barely able to pick its feet up.

There’s no sense of humour or FUN to the pastime- not intentionally anyway- other than the same old same olds twittering about the same old same olds to the same old same olds as they have done for decades.

What do these hand wringers bring to horse racing? Anger? Frustration? Hypocrisy? Bad spelling? And what about those supposedly “leading” horse racing? Where’s this leadership taking the easily manipulated? Over the precipice? Didn’t some of us do this dance almost a decade ago with Racingbitch?

This is when one looks at horse racing and sees a wrinkly hobby horse long past its Use By date.

Changes for the better will happen, but only by horse racing ridding itself of the deadbeats and those resisting chang who don’t know anything else other than more “fashions on the field” and believe that pop-up race meetings are part of “breakthrough thinking”. Please.

Try telling that to those who know the ins, outs, sideways of marketing and what attracts new players to what remains a pastime competing for the same consumer dollar against far bigger, and more well-known global products.

What’s needed? This.

#horseracing #hkracing #joaomoreira #zacpurton #coronavirus #hongkong #happywednesdayhk #change #twitter #winfriedengelbrechtbresges #HKJC