A recent conversation between two racing fans:
“Really looking forward to the National Day Cup”
“Wait, you mean the Celebration Cup?”
“No, I mean the 1,400m Group Three on Saturday.”
“Yeah, it’s called the Celebration Cup now.”
“So what is the Sha Tin Sprint Trophy called now?”
“The National Day Cup.”
Confusing, right? But for some inconceivable reason this was the switch made two years ago by the Jockey Club – changing the names of races that have gradually become two of the most important ones on the calender.
Look, no one has really taken responsibility for the gaffe – or offered an explanation why the race names were switched – but it’s not too late to change back either.
So what’s the big deal?
Consistency in registered race names don’t just play an important part in the lives of racing’s great trainspotter historians – who must be apoplectic at these types of name-changin’ shenanigans – but also in continuity and as reference points for both new and old followers of the sport, whether they be fans or pedigree experts.
Actually, to be fair – neither race was all that “time-honoured”.
The race formerly known as the National Day Cup was first run in 1999 to “celebrate” National Day after the 1997 handover, something the apolitical or even localist-leaning crowd at Sha Tin don’t ever seem that keen on, judging by the completely unenthusiastic response to the Chinese national anthem “March of the Volunteers” each time it is played.
The National Day Cup, or Celebration Cup, however you refer to past runnings, was contested under the original name for 15 years and was elevated to Group Three level in 2007.
When elevated, it almost immediately became an early season signpost for feature races – the first group race of the season that allowed the mile and middle-distance stars to resume against some fit distance specialists under handicap conditions.
The list of winners from 2006 to 2011 is solid – Flaming Lamborghini won with a lightweight in 2006 in what is still a track-record time, and he was followed by top-liners Tiber, Fellowship, Egyptian Ra, Lucky Nine and Ambitious Dragon.
Even 2012 winner Packing OK had his moments – notably a third behind Ambitious Dragon in that year’s Group One Hong Kong Mile.
After Gold-Fun scored in 2013 he was robbed of the chance to go back-to-back in the National Day Cup with the name change to Celebration Cup in 2014. Again, why does this matter?
First of all it’s important for new fans – who, as a group, are arguably the single most important entity in racing.
Racing must be one of the most mysterious of all sports to a novice, those not blessed to have grown up in betting rings or in stables – and consistency allows the new fan to understand the progression of races, of history, to see racing as a sport and not simply a betting medium.
Then there is the Jockey Club’s vision of being a jurisdiction that has its race names appear in bold ink in sales catalogues around the world.
When you are already short on history of that sort - that is “stallion-making” races - then chopping and changing the names doesn’t help that recognition.
At least Hong Kong is spared, for the most part, the awful sponsorship-related race name changes that are a scourge on the sport in Australia.
Recently the George Main Stakes at Randwick, which my trusty Miller’s Guide tells me was first run in 1945 and was named after a former chairman of the Australian Jockey Club, was renamed.
Forget the illustrious grazier George Main – well, the Australian Turf Club did anyway - the race was given the rather inauspicious title of the Colgate Optic White Stakes.
Now, the thinking is obviously that having exclusive naming rights i.e. simply naming a race “The BMW” or “The Mercedes” rather than the BMW Tancred Stakes, gives some extra bang for a sponsor’s buck – but does it really?
Judging by the Twitter tirades, always a solid gauge for measuring a community’s collective outrage, the backlash to the George Main name change might have challenged the old adage “any publicity is good publicity”.
It seems many race fans will be voting with their feet, or teeth, as it where, next time they go buy toothpaste and will be boycotting the product all together, even if they need it.
Then there are the poor old race callers – forced to fit “And Winx wins the Colgate Optic White Stakes” into a call and make it sound like it was something that people were taking seriously.
Melbourne isn’t immune to an old race name switcheroo either – shifting the Mackinnon Stakes to the final day of the four day carnival was a great move, but then to rename it the Emirates Stakes – a race that already existed.
Talk about confusing.
Oh, the Emirates Stakes will now be called the Longines Stakes and run on the first day of the carnival – just to mess with your head.
The fans Down Under are used to it, as some of the race names in Australia get so many name changes via sponsorship that people don’t even try and remember what they are called anymore – that Group One mile handicap for mares at Flemington is a perfect example (it currently exists as the Myer Classic, but is registered as the Empire Rose Stakes, apparently).
Hong Kong is mostly immune to these type of sponsorship-related debacles – the Jockey Club must be the only race club in the world that actually knocks potential sponsors back if they don’t have an image befitting a race name.
Although some classics do sometimes sneak through on the undercard of big sponsor days, including the Panasonic Momi-Momi Massage Lounger Handicap.
Thankfully that one isn’t “time-honoured” either.