TV writer Bill Barich and best-selling author Don Watson joined forces to talk about the sport of racing and popular culture at Wednesday’s plenary session of the 35th Asian Racing Conference in Hong Kong.
Barich, who rarely speaks in public, was the lead writer for the HBO racing series Luck. Watson, one of Australia’s most distinguished writers and public speakers and a recipient of the 2010 Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for Australian Literature, spoke about his experiences as a fan of horseracing and as the owner over the years of around 30 low-grade racehorses.
Sharing racing’s history
Chris Luoni and Gerald Fell, co-founders of the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, told delegates to the Asian Racing Conference how the project was formulated and the Hall of Fame established, with its first induction night held in 2006.
The duo highlighted how the induction events share with a wider audience the fun and folklore of racing’s fascinating culture through the characters that enliven the sport.
They also told how inductees’ stories, photos and video footage of past glories are shared online at www.racinghalloffame.co.nz, which has become the New Zealand breeding and racing industry’s on-line history cache and a vital educational tool.
Watson said the attraction of racing is the horse. “We idolise great horses – I would not like to think how much of my childhood was spent thinking about Tulloch, the great Australian horse. I was probably in love with him most of my childhood.
“You need to own an ordinary horse to know what a freak a champion racehorse is,” he continued. “What actually attracts people to racing is a charismatic horse. The face of racing is always the horse.”
And in suggesting that the televisual coverage of the race could be enhanced, he said: “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.”
Barich told the audience that”racing is a great democracy” in the way it brings people together from all walks of life.
His first book, Laughing in the Hills, has become a classic racetrack novel. Barich described how he immersed himself in racing’s sub-culture as he spent 10 weeks at an American racetrack, getting to know the characters, hearing their fascinating stories and making notes.
“It’s the notion of a confined universe,” he said. “That’s what we tried to show with Luck. Their lives are absolutely enmeshed with the horse, with the circumstance of seeing the same people and having to deal with the same people on a day-to-day basis.
“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,” Barich said.
“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.”
• The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s extensive vocational training programmes came under the microscope at the afternoon session, as Amy Chan, Manager of HKJC’s Racing Development Board (RDB) and Headmistress of the Apprentice Jockeys’ School, delivered a presentation titled: ‘Roadmap to Sustainable Talent Development’.
The session, under the banner ‘Industry Vocational Training’ and chaired by Denzil Pillay, Chief Executive of the National Horseracing Authority of South Africa, emphasised the importance of comprehensive and sustainable vocational training within the modern horseracing industry.
Chan told delegates that the RDB’s aim is to “establish a best practice training system that meets the diverse needs of the HKJC, and which delivers training programmes to our staff that enable them to operate at a standard that exceeds accepted industry requirements.”
Through a series of images and video footage, Chan highlighted that the HKJC is engaged in a process of developing a continuous stream of well-trained racing professionals from the local talent pool, both in Hong Kong and mainland China. The images provided snapshots of the methodology and Chan emphasised the importance of engagement between racing bodies and education authorities to provide certified courses of study.
“The plan ahead,” she said, “is to develop more local talent to become world class jockeys who value integrity, and to do that we need to build a network of overseas training.”
Dr Isamu Takizawa, President and CEO of the Japan Association for International Racing and Stud Book (JAIRS), informed delegates about the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) Study Program which pertains to race meeting operations and management, and the Specialised Program, which deals with expert roles including handicappers, stewards, stud book management and track management.
“The ARF Study Program has two major missions,” said Dr Takizawa. “The first is to create international harmonisation and mutual understanding through horseracing, as well as to exchange valuable information, and the second is to contribute to the development of horse racing in Asian countries.”
Joong Gil Jang, a riding instructor for the Korea Racing Authority who is in charge of overseas training for apprentices, delivered ‘An Introduction to the Korean Racing Academy’.