By Hans Ebert
Visit: www.fasttrack.hk

It was a very good weekend of racing. On Saturday, Verry Elleegant won the AUS$5m Caulfield Cup in a tight finish from Anthony Van Dyck, with The Chosen One third and an eye catching fourth from Prince Of Aaron. Jamie Kah must be smiling at the run of her Prince as the Melbourne Cup looms large.

Including his ride on the Chris Waller trained Verry Elleegant, Mark Zahra rode four winners whereas at Royal Randwick, It’s Me ridden by Jason Collett won the Kosciusko with a brilliant finish from off the pace. Classique Legend scaled new heights by taking out the AUS$15 million Everest.

Ridden by Kerrin McEvoy, it was the rider’s third time winning what is billed as “The Richest Race In The World”.

Since its inception, The Everest has also been positioned and sold to a malleable and old school media as a race for “younger people”. It was a smart marketing ploy at the time. With a showcase by some pop act like Jason Derulo after the races, why not? But that was then.

Still flaunting prize money around when so many are finding it tough to find work to make ends meet is pretty crass.

One also doubts that in the annus horribilus that is 2020, there are enough carrots in the world to dangle in front of those “younger people” to attend a race meeting with no ‘live’ music around to prop it up.

As for the win of Classique Legend trained by the legendary Les Bridge, though an excellent one and despite a brilliant burst of excitement by race caller Darren Flindell, there was and is a big Kim Kardashian type BUT to all this.

Same when listening at home and not watching the latest win of Golden Sixty at Shatin yesterday.

The thing is that like an outtake of “Hotel California”, we’re all prisoners here, but not of our own device.

The constant reminders about a “challenging year “, and that all this is happening in a “Covid year” are hardly comforting.

One can mention how this is “the new normal” and how “it is what it is”. Racing clubs can pat themselves on the back for “keeping racing going” when most other sports are on an enforced sabbatical.

We get it, we get it. But let’s not kid ourselves: Like love and marriage and relooking at life’s priorities, there’s an important ingredient missing in all this. It’s called relevance. Excitement. A vibe. New carrots.

The most important missing link is the emotional attachment and engagement between largely television audiences with the often very good racing taking place- but to empty houses.

Turnover might be up in certain racing jurisdictions and obla dee obla da, life goes on, brah. But it’s no longer the same wheelbarrow and Desmond and Molly Jones left Fidel’s almost three decades ago.

After it’s all said and done, real life slaps you in the face with a cold fish and tells you to Wake

For horse racing, time’s almost up to realise that it’s now a Made For Television product. And because it is, it needs to reinvent itself. But is anyone out there listening?

This has been said from the days when Racingbitch had a bark to match its bite- but it can’t be (yawn) more wobbly talking heads. It can’t be a continuation of panels of the same old tipsters saddled with more numbers.

It can’t be an old school racing media living in the past, talking to itself and completely missing the mark when it comes to attracting and engaging all those millions of eyeballs looking around online for something new.

There’s horse racing, but what is its USP- its Unique Selling Point in this day and age other than channeling the same concept as the chariot race in “Ben Hur”?

What’s there of EXTRA interest to hook this new audience into watching four hours of content on television or streamed on mobile devices of something that’s more than likely completely foreign to them?

Viewing habits have completely changed. There are also way more choices at the buffet table of life.

Is there a magic elixir to fix this? Sure there is. There always is. But it means REALLY waking up and realising that horse racing can’t continue to force feed potential new viewers with everything (and everyone) that’s come before.

In marketing, there’s a new consumerism in this “new normal”, a term that’s being chanted like a mantra, but with no one having any idea what any of this means. And this is because no one knows anything for sure about anything anymore.

Another thing: There’s turnover and there’s also the turn off factor.

Horse racing has become about viewership and part of the television ratings game.

Believe it or not, having said all this, these are exciting times for the pastime to explore virgin territory.

It’s a time when brands and sponsors with the marketing dollars are looking at the online world for new business opportunities.

Horse racing can be one of these opportunities. But it first needs a facelift and complete makeover before presenting itself again. Constant tweets by Oisin Murphy has become boring.

It must be seen as being fresh and exciting- and also relaxing and a stress buster. Hard yell must become heart sell. This is the challenge.

This is where horse racing needs to look at new hires who can deliver these, well, deliverables- and give them the freedom to create. Human Resources can’t keep going back to the same old well. The well is dry.

Horse racing must have those with the people skills to work with very different and experienced business partners and take on board their thoughts and knowledge of today’s consumer.

This is how to move forward. This is how to become relevant, and morph into a pastime with a different brand personality.

This is not to say that horse racing suddenly becomes schizophrenic and “The Three Faces Of Eve”. But it also can’t be only and always associated with those bitten by the gambling bug. This is not a good look in the new abnormal. It’s a turn off to many. It looks and sounds desperate.

Like the wagering landscape, one size doesn’t fit all. That current loyal hardcore customer isn’t going to live forever.

The time to expand this customer base could not be better. But it needs those in the mix who aren’t still plodding around with the blinkers on and singing Irene Cara’s only hit.

There’s something decidedly outta sync about doing this today- while skipping the light fandango and doing cartwheels across the floor.

The changing face of horse racing in the new normal: Where is it and what does it look like?

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