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The burning issues that should be discussed at the Asian Racing Conference

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 12:14pm

With the Asian Racing Conference upon us, and the excitement building to Tuesday morning’s first, edge-of-your-seat public seminar – “racetrack operations”, where the thrilling age-old question of “kikuyu or rye grass, which is better?” will hopefully be discussed –  let’s throw out a few ideas we would like to hear about this week.

There may not be much more time available outside of the self-congratulatory back-slapping from keynote speakers of course, but maybe we could, just for a moment, stray away from the central theme of this year’s ARC: “Racing in Hong Kong is awesome and if you are lucky, maybe we might slice you off a little piece of wisdom, so gather round and listen good.”

That’s fine – shameless self-promotion for the host country is what these things are all about (as well as tax write-offs, free merchandise and pretending to work), but all discussions pertaining to the Hong Kong Jockey Club need an important disclaimer: the Hong Kong Jockey Club has the exclusive licence to operate any type of legal wagering in an overcrowded city full of gambling degenerates.

That doesn’t for a moment mean the HKJC does a bad job – it is the best in the world at what it does, but the whole monopoly thing at least needs to be mentioned in the fine print.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s break down a few of the proposed seminars and offer a few ideas for potential formats and topics to discuss at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

Wednesday: Cutting edge technology in sports TV (and what’s next)

This is actually a ruse to attract officials from the Japan Racing Association into a room where an intervention will be staged. The JRA’s broadcast team will be confronted with the news that their camera work and raceday production sucks. Call it tough love, or good neighbour policy – whatever the case, someone has to say something.

Don't believe us? Look at last year's Japan Cup footage as an example.

Facilitated by trained counsellors, the JRA officials are gently introduced to the fact its race coverage is harder to follow than a David Lynch film after consuming a bucket load of LSD. “Please, keep the camera on the field and stop panning with 200m to go,” they will be urged.

Of course, the novel use of cherry pickers to hoist the starter high into the air before the race must stay, and the JRA’s first-rate production of plush toy recreations of racetrack stars is to be applauded.

Thursday: Big Events, “Today and Tomorrow”

Not actually sure what this one is about, but if it is about racing carnivals, then we’ve got ourselves another intervention opportunity.

Race clubs, stop giving things stupid names. We are talking to you, New South Wales, Australia – and in particular the Australian Turf Club.

As pointed out by colleague Alan Aitken, “The Championships” sounds like a tennis tournament – there was nothing wrong with the autumn carnival being known as such. It didn’t need a new name that limited it to two weekends instead of five.

Nor did the misplaced parade ring behind the new Randwick grandstand need a new label – parade ring would have sufficed. It certainly didn’t need an absurd, pompous name like “theatre of the horse”.

It’s a pity that Racing NSW aren’t represented at this year’s conference.

Wednesday: Connecting with the customer

The best part of this one is that there are no customers there and it is 100 thrilling minutes of officials talking about connecting with customers. The actual customers are kept well clear – they look, and smell, unseemly.

Forget the officials, what about the poor punters?

There should be a conference running parallel with the ARC – the Asian Punters Conference. Short of that, this seminar should be open to the man in the street and all about race fans sharing ideas; Japanese racegoers sharing ideas on how to best make zany banners to hang in the parade ring, and Hong Kong fans teaching their Japanese comrades how to let loose with torrents of abuse at losing jockeys and efficiently rifle through bins for losing tickets while smoking at the same time.

As punters we need each other’s help and support – who doesn’t know the pain of filling out a ticket incorrectly.

Here’s a situation we could workshop at this seminar: there’s a minute to go before the first leg of the Triple Trio, lured by a HK$15 million jackpot, and ignoring the fact 1,500 previous attempts at the TT have resulted in abject failure and severe emotional pain, you impulsively rush to the counter.

Filling in the ticket and baffled by the permutations and calculations of what your combinations might cost, bankers and double bankers spinning through your brain, you lose concentration and your pen accidentally goes through two numbers, including an Almond Lee-trained, 100-1 outsider.

What do you do? Is it a sign to leave the horse in? The final horse is being loaded and the cost is astronomical, can you help a brother out? This is really connecting with the customer – come down and meet some.