What do a beauty queen, an American fashionista, a British journalism student, an Australian expatriate living in Japan and a Canadian entrepreneur have in common?
It sounds like a bad, rather long-winded opening sentence of a joke, but no. Instead, these five people are among a dozen social media gurus who will be making the trip to Hong Kong for the international races in December.
Yes, in a world first for horse racing, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is putting social media on an even keel with traditional media this year as part of its press strategy, reaching out to those who are considered influential on social networks and encouraging them to come to Hong Kong .
It is a big nod to the power of social media in the modern era - a small step towards pushing racing towards a younger, more tech-savvy generation, yet a giant leap for the Jockey Club which, until the start of this season, continued to use terribly written Chinglish tweets on its official account.
It has been a season of firsts for the Jockey Club, particularly in the media department under the direction of the club’s new executive manager of public affairs in racing, Pat Cummings.
There have been improvements across the board, including a new HKIR guide that has been widely applauded for the depth of information.
But perhaps the most exciting initiative is the new social media team, a group of 12 energetic, enthusiastic racing fans who will be using social media platforms - especially Twitter, Facebook and Instagram - to document their experiences at this year’s international races.
They will be joining the existing group of journalists who work for the club during the week, as well as the cavalcade of press people who make the trip annually.
Among the 12 invitees is Acacia Courtney (@acacia_courtney), Miss Connecticut 2014 who finished in the top 16 in the 2015 Miss America pageant and is currently making a name for herself on radio.
There is Bri Mott (@FashionAtTheRaces), bringing style back to the racetrack through her outfit Fashion At The Races - we shudder to think what she will make of the newspaper hats that are a common sight at Sha Tin.
Among other names touted are a number who are involved with fan development group Americas Best Racing, including José Contreras (@LosPonies), Victoria Garofalo (@itsmevictoriag), Penelope Miller (@PenelopePMiller) and Dan Tordjman (@DanonymousMan). Then there is Candice Hare (@chare889), Twitter’s international go-to girl who seemingly never sleeps.
From Canada, there is entrepreneur Andrew Rideout (@ThoroughbredAR) and Woodbine media man Keith McCalmont (@TripleDeadHeat); from the UK, sports journalism student Harriet Fuller (@HattieLFuller) and Timeform’s Calum Madell (@calummadell) are making the trip, while Japan-based Australian expatriate Graham Pavey (@LongBallToNoOne) completes the line-up.
The noticeable aspect of this eclectic bunch of social media gurus is that they are all coming from emerging markets, at least as far as interest in Hong Kong racing is concerned.
For years, the HKIR media pack has been primarily dominated by the Australians and the Japanese, with English and Irish interest waxing and waning.
In particular, it is North America which has been targeted, with nine of the 12 coming from the United States and Canada - and little wonder, given the success of commingling across the Pacific and the fact it is a rapidly expanding market for the Jockey Club.
While American media have been present at HKIR in the past and will be again this year, it is on social media where more and more late night tweeters are getting involved.
“There is no doubt we have tremendous support from media in more regional racing jurisdictions, but outside of only a few regular visitors from these spots farther afield, coverage has been sparse,” Cummings said.
“Awareness on social media is tremendous and timely. Twitter is now the main medium for racing news, it is the global aggregator.
"Having a world-first social media team to share their personal HKIR experience just makes sense, and we have already seen a dramatic spike in HKIR chatter on social media channels given this and other more concerted efforts,” Cummings said.
Incredibly, only one of the 12 - Rideout - has been to Hong Kong ‘s biggest raceday before. As with most of the big racing events worldwide, the majority of the press pack is made up of journalists and broadcasters who have seen the event a number of times before, so the ability to capture the event through fresh, enthusiastic eyes is a big coup.
And many of the group have been sharing their enthusiasm across the internet.
“Having spent a lot of time focusing on Hong Kong analysis in recent years, I can’t wait to get trackside,” Hare said. “Hong Kong is unlike anywhere else in the world - the product is second to none, the horses are world-class and the experience looks terrific. I’m looking forward to seeing it with my own eyes - even the Class Fives at Happy Valley!”
“I’m very excited to be going to HKIR for the first time,” said Pavey, an influential tweeter who has opened up Japanese racing to the English-speaking world. “I am spoilt week-in, week-out by the best all-round racing package on the planet courtesy of the JRA and I am obviously keen to see how Hong Kong measures up in comparison.”
“I’m very excited to be visiting Hong Kong for the first time - it’s always been a place I’d love to go,” said Fuller. “I’m really looking forward to being immersed into a whole new and different culture. And Happy Valley and Sha Tin look incredible venues for racing.”
I'm having trouble expressing my excitement about being in Hong Kong next month because 140 is just not enough space. I CANNOT WAIT! #HKIR— victoria garofalo (@itsmevictoriag) November 9, 2015
The Griffin, as a long-time advocate of social media - no, a social media denizen - believes the Jockey Club’s approach should be applauded.
Instead of fighting the new media landscape, the club is embracing and encouraging discussion about the biggest week on the Hong Kong racing calendar and ensuring it reaches new audiences.
By reaching out to different jurisdictions and a range of fans and enthusiasts, it is making a bold step towards making the HKIR meeting the premier global event on the calendar - not necessarily on the track, but most certainly off the track.