Challenges and Solutions is an ongoing series in the TDN.
PAT CUMMINGS, Executive Manager, Public Affairs of Hong Kong Jockey Club
What is the most pressing problem that needs to be tackled in racing, and how would you solve it?
Racing often languishes in complexity when it should be doing the opposite–simplifying.
Many of racing's participants, whether they be individuals or institutions, are unhealthily attached to the “old-way,” an understandable but debilitating insularity. When “change” does come, it is often nothing more than the equivalent of a “repackaging.”
Some stakeholders enjoy this industrial malaise as it represents a comfortable cushion of the familiar, but realistically, it stunts the ability of racing to meaningfully reform when that is precisely what it needs.
Racing needs to better plan, implement, accept and manage substantial, simplifying change. One example would be a dramatic simplification of North American race conditions.
Who benefits (really, think about it) from a race open to horses which have never won two lifetime races, other than maiden/claiming/starter, or restricted allowance, or have never won three races, or which have not won a race since July 30, or optional claiming price of $62,500?
How is that not an immediate turn-off? How do you explain that race to anyone new to the game when plenty of racing veterans can barely understand the qualifications of a particular field.
A logical and simplifying change would be the adoption of a ratings-based handicap system in North America, one that exists in plenty of other jurisdictions.
Horses receive a numerical rating based on performance assessments as designated by a centralized service (officially, the handicapper/s). Have a horse rated 62? You can enter races for horses rated 60-75. The higher the rating within a race, the more weight carried. Use such a radical change to adjust the scale of weights in North America–allow up to 133 on the top end and go down to 113 (with apprentice claims enabling more potentially). The vast majority of the world races on a higher weight scale than in North America.
Races would dramatically “open” to many different types of horses, and logically, become far more competitive when the weight shifts come into play. Ancillary benefits include larger field sizes, a more competitive apprentice system and a product that is substantially easier to learn. “Figures” could become even more valuable to expert-level players.
Most racing jurisdictions do not need narrow, incremental change. Racing can afford to be bold, to make our product and industry far more approachable and engaging for the modern customer. Deconstruct the complexities. Simplify.
How would you introduce a newcomer to the racing/breeding industry?
There is something magical about racing in Hong Kong–averaging more than 20,000 on track every race meeting. Horse racing is Hong Kong's professional sport. I wish it was as simple as bottling the magic of the Wednesday night atmosphere in the beer garden at Happy Valley and uncorking it worldwide.
Racing does its mega events really well, and I believe you are far more likely to attract someone to return or engage the sport if their first experience is as memorable as possible. As much as some think a bottom-up approach can galvanize the masses, that just seems at odds with the modern customer's need for superlatives in entertainment. Combine a mega event experience with a realistic dialogue and it could be the foundation to turn a newcomer into a regular.