Is Horse Racing Missing The Biggest Marketing Tool of All: The Horse???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Patrick Smith of The Australian…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Racing’s biggest asset still the horse

Nobody knew how to say it. In truth, didn’t know what to say. Media types – the wordsmiths – trainers, jockeys and owners had already depleted their thesaurus reserves after Black Caviar won the Group I Patinack Farm by four lengths, the Lightning by a smidgin less. That was weeks ago.

Wins eight and nine were so easy, so contemptuous that everybody had done their finest work by then. Come the Newmarket last Saturday and words disappeared as quickly as Black Caviar ran away from her opponents again.

The Newmarket romp -10 starts for 10 wins – left everybody to confirm their bankrupt lexicon. They could not ferret out words to do justice to the greatest sprinting mare in the world. Fantastic, awesome, unbelievable had lost their potency after five wins, freak was overused by win eight, and miracle horse was a cliche by nine.

After the destruction of the Newmarket field, all that was left was her name: Black Caviar. It has come to mean the very essence of invincibility. The two words said everything a dictionary ran out of puff trying to find.

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Special horses can do this. Take racing to an exhilarating, beautiful, gently arrogant and almost sensuous state that nothing else in the sport can do. Owners can’t do it, jockeys no chance, breeders wouldn’t, bookies don’t want to, punters too flustered.

It is said the one indisputable fact about promoting racing is that nothing does it better than a superstar equine. Not boobs and booze. That’s just a spring of perving and puking. Not TV spruikers speaking in the shorthand of a secret society. Trisies, running dubs, suck runs, forget runs, morals and cats.

Champion horses are the only marketing tool racing has that takes the sport to the wider community. Everything else plays to the inbred. People love them. The Melbourne Cup is a contrived frenzy. People have a bet because everybody else does. People follow the likes of Black Caviar and So You Think because they are swooning at their ability and character. They fall in love with them.

There are few sights in any sport as breathtaking as that 100 metres of a race where Black Caviar continues to cruise while the opposition behind her is a blur of whips, heels, panic. Heartbreak and despair. That a horse can be so much better than the very best is tingling. Then jockey Luke Nolen just goes click . . .

Black Caviar has come along on the back of another beloved horse So You Think, a crowd puller and two-time Cox Plate winner, his first as a three-year-old at just his fifth start. That mighty horse, too, generated interest outside the community of bridles and girth straps. For all that, Flemington could not draw more than 25,000 to see Black Caviar make history. A day later the A-League final in Brisbane drew more than twice as many.

At Rosehill today, Australia’s best horses will compete for glory in two Groups Is and four Group IIs. It is one helluva program that has drawn $2.2 million prizemoney. Let’s hope it draws more people than horses because there were just 79 acceptances. Sydney racing is all bluster and of questionable substance.

Watch to see if this carnival is a celebration of racing or betting. History says the latter despite the romance of Black Caviar. If Richard Callander, the TVN ambassador for banality, has his way it will be punting and nothing else.

Callander, who has never met a person who is not his dearest friend, has said previously that he would not get out of bed if he could not bet. Celebrate the horse? Richie? Mmmm.

He is becoming more famous for his style of interviewing than anything else. A trainer might be asked a series of questions such as: Handled the track? Blinkers first time? Next start? Jockey? Happy? Distance? From here his questions deteriorate even further into just a series of syllables given punctuation only by his raised eyebrows. And he is a fine ventriloquist. No one can make his pocket talk like Richie. The horse, racing’s core, is inaccessible even on the industry funded broadcaster.

The small fields show something is rotten in NSW racing. Betfair and the corporate bookmakers yesterday week won the right to appeal to the Supreme Court over the NSW race-field legislation. In short, the corporates are challenging the very legislation itself; Betfair is appealing against not having to pay its money from a turnover model but rather on one that calculates the race-fields fee on revenue. In reality, the TAB is trying to squeeze the corporates out of the market and the NSW legislation helps that cause. It is said about $120m has been collected under the legislation but remains untouched in case Racing NSW loses its case and must hand the money back.

It is just another example of parts of the racing industry losing the plot. It goes to court over a money grab, but does not promote the very star of its business – the horse. In fact, it fights aggressively to allow horses to be whipped as others are forced to risk their lives over jumps. Money, money, money. Racing is a sport of greed.

And yet racing’s share of the media marketplace has shrunk so much it is miniscule and its share of the wagering market contracts just as dramatically.

Racing’s response is to first go on strike so it can beat horses with whips, race them at great risk over jumps. To blur spectators to this cruelty, racing gets the spectators pissed. And they wonder why the sport has bypassed generations.

Now, in NSW at least, it is hellbent on ridding the sport of corporate bookmakers, one tangible way to ensure the wagering market has a chance to grow again. Racing needs the corporates because the tote needs competition.

Betfair and the corporates have found an unlikely ally in Andrew Ramsden, former Victorian heavy and chairman of the Australian Racing Board for three years. In a handwritten but persuasive submission to the Victorian wagering review, Ramsden makes a strong case in support for the gross revenue model.

Ramsden’s position is both informative and crucial because he, like so many other leading Australian racing officials, fought desperately to ban Betfair from being licensed in Australia.

His opposition was based on the exchange’s service of allowing betting on horses to lose. At first and second glance, such a betting mode made the industry vulnerable to skulduggery.

The animosity towards Betfair was appropriate. It has only become an accepted and responsible player in Australian racing after it agreed to open its betting books to stewards before races were run. Whether you would allow betting on horses to lose to be enshrined in the laws of racing if you were starting up the sport now is most unlikely. But Betfair is here and going nowhere and the industry must work with it and other corporate bookmakers.

Ramsden’s about-face is both philosophical and practical. He has recommended that the corporates and Betfair – and the totes – be charged 20 per cent on their revenue.

It is a compromise that would ensure all parties contribute an appropriate and fair amount to the industry.

As insurance, Ramsden has suggested a floor based on 0.5 per cent of turnover.

Racing NSW must sit down with its foes before the court proceedings draw more money from racing funds. Adopt a national model that would serve all states and finally allow racing to concentrate on its most important asset – the horse.


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