By Hans Ebert

It’s only a week to go before going stir crazy for many in Hong Kong comes to a halt. It’s been tough going for the past two months and where one woke up to another Groundhog Day. But this nothingness becomes something when the William Tell Overture plays in one’s head and the barriers crash open on Sunday to herald the new Hong Kong racing season.

Unless living in this city, especially during these humid Cat On A Hot Tin Roof covid-19 days and nights sipping a mini julep or forcing one to pamper themselves with an expensive “staycation” for some fleeting heavily hash tagged Instagram moments, there’s been nothing much to do except think about those days when we were spoiled for choice.

This is why a new horse racing season is cause for celebration like it was 1999 with Kool and the Gang and Prince dropping by. It’s throwing many a lifeline. It’s dusting off the mothballs in the recesses of one’s mind. Even peanut recesses.

There are no horse farms in Hong Kong. No breeding industry for horses. Most have never been near a horse, let alone ride one. There are of course always horses asses, but…Still, there’s an incredible “dedication” to this pastime and its history.

There are even Facebook pages and magazines where one can go way way back in time and reminisce and see who was there and what it all meant.

It’s like being Marty McFly and travelling with Doc in the DeLorean to a time of off-beat cha cha’s, the Hoover Theatre, when Gary Moore and Tony Cruz and Peter Miers reined supreme and life was as pukka as a James Clavell Noble House novel.

Maybe this interest and dedication is something inherited by some who know about those days when there was horse racing in Shanghai before the Cultural Revolution.

Perhaps it has to do with the popularity of horse racing when there only was one meeting of eight races at Happy Valley Racecourse every Saturday afternoon.

Maybe it was memories of the samosas at the Craigengower Cricket Club Box. Who knows? It’s all entwined in the very fabric and history of Hong Kong- a fascinating history where much has been hidden away and only the sparklers of good joss remembered.

Sure, there’s always the excitement of backing a winner, but, in recent years, there’s been far more interest in the riding talent- and the trainers ranks.

Whereas before, there was the popularity of riders like Tony Cruz, Gary Moore and Douglas Whyte, these were “solo” acts. They dominated racing in the city.

Having said this, being successful and being popular with local racing fans have always been two completely different things.

That likability factor often trumps being whoever is “the best”. And with a roster of riders where the Hong Kong Jockey Club continues to keep pressing the Refresh button as change is the Mother Of Reinvention, it’s an extremely different look to those days when Hong Kong racing was the domain of predominantly Australian riders.

Back in the day, Tony Cruz and Cheng Tai-chee were exceptions to the rule. But truth be told, local riders made up the numbers along with cameo appearances by those from the UK. But this is like listening to a song by Mary Hopkins on Repeat.

Today, racing fans have a choice of online platforms and the mobility and immediacy to watch and follow world class riders from South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mauritius and France.

It’s the most international buffet of riding talent on offer and and on display and competing at two vastly different tracks twice a week.

Often, horse racing today is seen as the only memory of just what a cosmopolitan city Hong Kong is meant to be. This memory keeps getting pushed further and further into the background.

It’s only the Hong Kong Jockey Club that helps serve as a reminder of what made Hong Kong the city it was.

As I have always said, with its Charities Trust and everything it gives back to the community, the HKJC is much more than a racing club. This USP keeps falling through the cracks.

This racing season will be like no other- a continuation of racing fans still locked out from taking in that on course experience. Instead, it’s going to be back to horse racing as an online and Made For Television product.

Being so, there’s going to be a need for so much more of everything without throwing everything against the kitchen wall and sees what sticks, or coming up something that’s so extra special that it holds the attention of audiences at home.

Yes, there’s a captive audience. It’s one that could also escape.

There will still be all the homework done to find winners and watch how it all unfolds whenever a race is run. But unless one of those who is content to lie in bed and watch every aspect of a race on television or online before making that decision on who and what to back, there’s a need for different “commercial breaks”.

Horses paraded around and around the paddock is hardly entertaining to everyone. To some, yes. To others, it might be time to visit the refrigerator or maybe pluck one’s eyebrows.

This is especially true if there’s someone lying next to you who’s not exactly captivated by horse racing for any long stretches of time and suddenly wishes to go hiking. Or having lunch outdoors and breathe in some fresh air. Perhaps even meet other people. It happens.

How this new product is presented along with the most effective mediums for the various messages to different viewers will be interesting.

Website are websites and necessary for diehard racing fans. Even these often need a reboot to stop the feeling of deja vu. Again.

It can’t be more goofy games of Pass The Plushies. It can’t be having access to a rehash of the board game that was Totopoly.

With world class riders and the most competitive racing seen anywhere, it’s going to come down to showcasing what is an intangible: the thrill of winning- even when watching the races from home. And having one feel they’re a winner is about making an emotional connection. An emotional connection that lasts and grows a loyal fan base.

It would really mean something if the Hong Kong racing product were to rise to the challenge.

Show the world that now is the time to swim against the tide.

How now is the time to offer audiences interactivity, engagement and entertainment- all through the excitement of horse racing.

This is what’s going to make Hong Kong look and feel and be a winner again.

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