Marketing Topics – Turf Talk: 12 August 2019

Not all marketing topics are the right ones

On parade – anti-clockwise at Windsor Racecourse.

TWO years ago, this column introduced readers to the delights of racing at Royal Windsor – mostly on Monday evenings. A picture was painted of river boat arrivals, a weirdly shaped course, summer evenings with the sun setting at the end of the straight and so on. (See here).

It was also one of this column’s earlier efforts to preserve the place beside the head of a winner for the groom as part of the South Africa “lead-in”. Our little campaign may have reached only a few dozen people back then, but with or without our influence, we celebrate the fact that more owners in South Africa take the nearside lead rein while keeping the groom between them and the horse.

The involvement of stable staff in “the limelight” is right at the top of the Importance Tree. On UK TV the inevitable long-mike jockey interview is often followed by a chat with the lead up person whose comments are right at the top of the Enjoyment Tree for many viewers, giving an insight into the horse’s “personality”, the professionalism within “Another World” and mutual devotion.

In the ritual interviews after SA racing, Tellytrack has always been fair to grooms winning a prize. Nowadays, it seems that the quality of those interviews is improving. Well done to presenters and interviewees, be they work-riders, lead-up grooms or stable representatives whose first and perhaps second language is not English.

The more the culture of their crucial involvement is communicated, the more our SA racing at large would be admired in any community at home and abroad.

When we are planning to fill Durbanville on a lovely evening, or pack the big tracks on more than one or two big days – and we are aren’t we? Or someone is? That someone must review the global racing experience good and bad.

A sunny evening at the races…
A sunny evening at the races…

Empty racecourses in France and USA. Elsewhere throngs of people to see a superstar jockey, or “National Hero(ine)” racehorse . Revered historic meetings, of which we have a good number in South Africa did anyone out there but know it.

Hayley Turner winning the Silver Saddle at the Shergar Cup as the most successful rider for the second year running does wonders for the image of the sport, especially on top of her Royal Ascot win.

Khadijah Mellah has been training since April before
winning at Goodwood on 31 July.
Khadijah Mellah has been training since April before winning at Goodwood on 31 July.

The 18 year old London Muslim young lady who won the Charity Race at Glorious Goodwood the other day had enormous impact – not simply because of her headgear. She is a product of a London (Brixtonbased) initiative introducing inner-city teenagers to racehorses in conjunction with the British Racing School in Newmarket. Her brother also rides out in Newmarket (well) including on one of our stronger Hintlesham Racing boyos.

So far, so good. But at Windsor on Monday evening last week, the whole promotion thing felt, er, maximised.

Windsor has enormous car parks. Full. Local people tend to walk to the course, some wobbling on heels already, others straightforwardly heading to a gorgeous summer evening and a few pints. The river boats were disgorging passengers from the other direction.

Only expert entrance attendants can deal with those arriving crowds – because horses for the first race are also being walked from the racecourse stables to more or less the same entrance. Horses First! Of course. But you can see some of them looking at these ranks of (respectful) humans thinking “Lumme, what’s this?”

A rule of racing management: don’t send a skittish horse to run in the first at Windsor.

If I were running the show, I’d have several retired, bomb-proof geldings at busy racecourse entrances for arriving people to see and visit – much like Mums and Dads and their children are magnetically drawn to police horses in London.

On entering, one is confronted with a scene more like a fairground than a racecourse. The large expanse between entrance and Parade Ring is choc a bloc with temporary edifices offering food and drink.

To the left, the Members has a pop-up seated restaurant in addition to those indoors, adjacent to a number of food & beverage outlets and what used to be the Owners & Trainers and is now a big champagne bar.

The new Owners & Trainers is not good, offering food which in my view would be improved upon – if you have to be fed – by the pizza and roti and whatever else was making smoke and smells alongside.

All these areas were teaming with people, only some there for the horses. There is always an act after racing – nothing great on Mondays – maybe a tribute band (usually very good) but not a global name like Jessie J at The Shergar Cup, Ascot, who was cancelled on Saturday because of high winds. Now for her, we were all staying!

The net effect of this highly successful marketing is that the horse people – professionals and racegoers alike – are crowded out. Jockeys don’t mind interacting with the public but they have to slalom a distance between stalls. Views from here to there are largely obscured. Most of us take a long way round into the Paddock, and know a trick or two to get to the stands. Trainers increasingly tack their charges up in a holding area before the actual pre-parade ring because of the crowds – not the many enthusiasts who line the pre-parade ring, but the crowds behind them who don’t.

Police horses draw an audience outside The Royal Exchange in the rain.
Police horses draw an audience outside The Royal Exchange in the rain.

So there we were, standing in the proper grandstand with a runner…. dressed nicely as owners and managers do… jackets, shirts, even trousers. But flanked by semi-lost folk holding oily pizza boxes trying to eat very floppy slices, which as you know is not easy. Shoo, scram, go away.

The marketing is successful. No doubt. And by the way nothing is cheap – not entrance to the course, not the pizzas and not a pint or a magnum. The economy must be OK.

When we fill South African racecourses again, the horses, their welfare, their magnificence, their gaudily clad riders and their handlers must be front and centre.

At Newmarket with a runner on Friday evening last week (busy racing week..), I was pleased to hear that only 3,000 tickets had been sold for Bananarama. The July course experience was thus excellent. Although (alarmingly) I know all their songs from the 80s, we did not stay to see Sara and Keren umpteen years on, plus M People’s Heather Small, but drove the couple of late hours home.

That being said… this week will see your correspondent at Germiston for the 2yo sale then quick pre-sale entry inspections in the Cape and a dash back north for unmissable York, or some of it. A break would be good before Doncaster yearlings then back to SA. But. …the really global Rita Ora is at Windsor (a Saturday – different) with her full show. Might go. Hypocrite. –tt.