News and Notes for May 9, 2014


Saturday evening’s race card features the 11th running of the Clarence Scharbauer, Jr. Texas Stallion Stakes Series with the Got Koko division for fillies and the Stymie division for colts and geldings.  Both races are for 3-year-olds going a mile on the main track with purses of $75,000 each.

Carded as race 5, the Got Koko division sees the return of 4 fillies that competed in the Two Altazano Texas Stallion Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park in February.  6/5 favorite Scooter’s Choice (Too Much Bling) finished 2nd in that race to Fiftyshadesofgold, winner of last weekend’s $175,000 G3 Eight Belles Stakes.  5/2 second choice Forever Since (Supreme Cat), who also won the Darby’s Daughter division of the TSS at Retama Park in December, was 3rd; with the My Golden Song fillies Swifterthantaylor up for 4th and Thegirlinthatsong finishing 6th.  Paddle Out (Valid Expectations) and Pretty N Fast Too (Silent Picture) round out the field for the final race in this series.

The colt/gelding division, carded as race 8, sees the return of the top 4 finishers in the Jim’s Orbit Texas Stallion Stakes: 7/5 morning line favorite Oklahoma-bred Ibaka (Uncle Abbie) was 1st, followed by F J Uncle Vic (Uncle Abbie), Circustown Flyer (Early Flyer) and Ring Necked (Too Much Bling). Internet Success (Supreme Cat), Jmac’s Bling (Too Much Bling), Early Hot Water (Early Flyer) and Dutch Hohn (Supreme Cat) complete the field.

Current leading trainer for the meet with 20 wins is Karl Broberg, with Bret Calhoun and Steve Asmussen tied at 11 wins each. Jockeys Junior Chacaltana and apprentice David Cabrera are tied for the lead with 16 wins each, and Glen Murphy and Luis Quinonez are in a second place tie with 13 wins each.

Richard Cheung, executive director for customer and marketing for the HKJC described the initiative to improve and expand the racing industry for the Asian Racing Conference May 7 in Hong Kong.

Delegates from other member jurisdictions of the 25-member Asian Racing Association later contributed stories of challenges faced and solutions developed in their very diverse markets, as well as interesting tidbits of information about racing in their markets.

Cheung, an honors graduate of the Harvard Business School, said the HKJC turnover (handle) for the 2000/2001 season was HK$81.5 billion (US$10.5 billion). By the 2005/2006 season, it was down to HK$60 billion (US$7.7billion). Worse, he said, 75% of its customers were older than 50, and racing was seen as a matter of betting, with a complicated, long learning curve.

After research involving a customer base of two million people, the Hong Kong brain trust came up with a segmentation plan that identified seven types of customers from HKJC members and horse owners through “young rookies” looking for lifestyle experiences.

For each of those segments, the Hong Kong Jockey Club developed strategies around the racecourse experience, digital outreach, data-driven marketing and outreach to popular culture.

Implementation of that plan has contributed to a striking recovery in racing turnover despite competition from casinos in nearby Macao and mushrooming interest in sports betting.

For the current season, Cheung said, the club estimates racing turnover at around HK$102 billion (US$13.16 billion).  Much of the push for “young rookies” has come at the in-town Happy Valley Racecourse, which is situated amid the hustle and bustle of urban Hong Kong.  Now, the grandstand boasts trendy nighclubs, a beer garden and state-of-the-art, social media-based data and wagering options. The atmosphere provides its own spin by encouraging young racetrack attendees to become part of the marketing process. “For example, we create photo opportunities at the racecourse and the fans share their photos through Facebook and Instagram,” he said. Their social media friends can take the hint.

Turnover from “young rookies” at Happy Valley is up 40%, and attendance by more than 80%. Food and beverage profits are up by even greater percentages.

For more sophisticated patrons, innovations include new types of wagers — some of them created through complex computer algorithms—that provide the potential for higher payoffs than traditional win and place bets. On-track amenities have been targeted by segment.

Aki Akitani, from the strategy planning department of the Japan Racing Association, noted this is the organization’s 60th birthday and its focus is “back to basics: Customers have priority. Without their support, we have not come so far.” Challenges include a shrinking and aging population, so the goal is to increase the number of racing fans despite that demographic challenge, and to increase the frequency of participation by each fan.

Bill Nader, executive director of racing for the HKJC, said “Public confidence is imperative,” so the club puts great emphasis on racing control, regulation of medication and other security.”

Bill Barich, lead writer for the HBO racetrack-themed series “Luck,” and best-selling author Don Watson also participated in the Asian Racing Conference during a session titled, “Connecting Racing with Popular Culture”.

Barich told attendees that “racing is a great democracy” in the way it brings people together from all walks of life.

When my first book was published people wrote to me, and at least two-thirds of them wanted to tell me their story of how they got into racing,” said Barich. “Invariably they began with ‘I had an uncle, a father—somebody—who took me to the races as a child,’ and when they’re a child they’re not interested in the gambling aspect, they’re interested in the horse. And I really think that’s the thing that’s got to be sold through popular culture. It’s the thing that keeps people involved.”

Watson, one of Australia’s most distinguished writers and public speakers, discussed his experiences as a horseracing fan and owner.

“The attraction of racing is the horse,” he said. “We idolize great horses…What actually attracts people to racing is a charismatic horse. The face of racing is always the horse.” He suggested that television coverage of the race could be enhanced, saying: “Every race should be about the drama of the race, the drama of the horse—that seems to be further and further out of our focus.”

Also, at a session titled “Cutting Edge Technology in Sports TV,” Jim Gagliano, President and CEO of The Jockey Club, spoke of the importance of promoting racing to a new audience via television and backing that up with imaginative multi-channel marketing.


NOTES: With simulcasting available on Australian racing every night, Sam Houston Race Park will now offer simulcasting on racing in Japan every Saturday night at 8:05; and plans to simulcast the Royal Ascot from Ascot Racecourse (Tuesday, June 17 to Saturday, 21) and the Prix de L’ Arc de Triomphe from Paris on Sunday, October 5… The second TAKE2 Thoroughbred Jumper class at Lone Star Round Up II in Tyler was won by Asterisk of Groovy, a 16-year-old unraced son of champion Groovy, owned and ridden by Lori Shankle and trained by Jamie Phelps…A decline in commingled pari-mutuel handle on United States racing in April versus the same month last year left total wagering down 3.08% for the first four months of 2014, according to the Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators released by Equibase May 5…
Congrats to TTA member William Martin whose Marchman won the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3) at Churchill last Friday, and to TTA Lifetime member Bret Calhoun as trainer of Marchman and Fiftyshadesofgold who was victorious in the Eight Belles Stakes (G3) the same day…As the preferred hotel for the June 14 TTA Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner at Lone Star Park, the Hyatt Place Dallas/Arlington located at 2380 E. Road to Six Flags St. in Arlington is offering a special Texas Thoroughbred group rate of $112; to take advantage of this special pricing, please make your reservations by May 13 by calling 817.649.7676 or 888.429.8847.