Confession time. I am not a huge tech fan. I remember with horror the day my well-intentioned mother bestowed on me the great gift of my very first cell phone. It was one of those hideous bricks that interfered with the TV signal every time it rang and probably performed some creative landscaping with my neural pathways. “But I don’t need a cell phone!” I wailed. “Rubbish,” she beamed, “Just think! We’ll be able to get hold of you ALL THE TIME!”
It’s not that I believe the conspiracy theorists who think the government is eavesdropping in on my conversations or that (more likely) telemarketers are tracking my every move, but just that some things should be sacred. Time off should be time off and sometimes you enjoy a moment more by actually enjoying it, than frantically trying to find enough signal to share it with the rest of the electronically enabled world. Dinners are meant for eating (while they’re hot) and one goes out with people to enjoy the company you’re with – not the company you’re without. But now we have the joys of internet banking that locks you out at every opportunity, Facebook, Farmville and Candy Crush Saga (all this technology and THAT’s what we waste it on?).
Fortunately, there is some good news. On my visit to Scottsville last weekend, I bumped into Glenn Marcus at the parade ring and we got chatting. Glenn is part of Gold Circle’s SA Racing App team and has recently moved up to KZN. He told me that on the back of the success of their Racing App (and if you haven’t got it yet, it is available for download on iTunes and the Google app store) they have been hard at work on a ‘fantasy racing’ game. It is still very much in its infancy, but he invited me to try it out at the next fixture.
Glenn’s other claim to fame is that he’s the older brother of Adam Marcus. “First I was ‘Basil’s son’, then ‘Anton’s nephew’ and now I’m ‘Adam’s brother’, he jokes. “Race cards were my first story books and race replays were my Disney movies. It’s an old cliché, but I was born into the game.” Remarkable his family tree might be, but Glenn’s personal story is perhaps even more compelling. Born with cerebral palsy, doctors were pessimistic about his chances of ever developing the ability to walk and talk. However, with the unwavering devotion and support from his parents and a lot of therapy, Glenn has gradually overcome each hurdle. He initially attended Brown’s School for the Disabled in Durban and had progressed sufficiently to join mainstream schooling when the family moved to Hong Kong. Glenn completed his schooling, passed his drivers’ license and has a BComm degree. He even recently got engaged. “Racing helped me through it. It gave me courage and it taught me that winning is everything. To take that first step to talk, etc. It’s like winning a maiden plate, then a graduation, then a listed and group 3 and 2 and 1. Horse racing got me through it.”
“The motivation for going to university was to be the first Marcus with a degree,” he says proudly. “The whole idea was for me not to be involved in racing. That lasted 2 weeks! Where my dad and Adam have always been more focused on the horses, my interest always lay on the business side.” While the family were in Singapore, Glenn applied to the University Of Louisville’s post graduate racing programme headed up by Professor Tim Capps and got in. “It’s one of only two programmes like it in the world. I am very grateful to my dad for funding my studying as an international student – it was a real privilege and honour to study under some of the great minds of American racing. They have got different issues to ours of course, but to learn from them was a year of my life I’ll never forget. I came back here and got the opportunity with Gold Circle and the rest is history.”
Along with Brendan Pather, manager of the Racegoer, Glenn was one of the founding members of the SA Racing App, which was launched almost a year ago (the 2015 Vodacom July will mark their first anniversary). Glenn continues, “Being on the App 24/7, we’re constantly in touch with our clients. We could feel the disappointment when people got knocked out of the exotics and realised there is a need for a product that keeps people involved in the sport they are so passionate about throughout the day.” Their solution was the Fantasy Racing programme.
“The first criticism will be that it’s not a new concept and that it has been tried overseas. That is true – fantasy sports have exploded over the last 10-15 years and we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but those leagues generally come down to who can tip the most winners on the day. We wanted to allow everyone a chance to participate and keep them in the game for the duration of the afternoon, so we borrowed elements from different sports and products to come up with our own design.”
“We looked at international models which run over an entire season, but that does not make sense in racing as horses get injured or retired, etc and so we made it a daily league for the duration of one card. We looked at the competitive elements we could use to build a league or points based system and the elements of trainer, jockey and horse were the most obvious. Racing can be quite intimidating to an outsider – we have funny terminology and lots of funny names to remember – so we wanted it to be easy to understand, accessible and give people something they recognised so that they could feel familiar and also part of the ‘family’. From a novice point of view, everyone has heard of a jockey, trainer or a horse somewhere along the line and so that’s our starting point.”
How does it work?
First, one needs to register, by going to the test URL www.goldcircle.co.za/fantasy/. Once you have a login and password, you log in and choose the latest KZN fixture. You can only start playing at 9am on the morning of each meeting, once final scratchings have been done. You are allocated a maximum number of points to ‘spend’ and allocate these across your choice of trainer and jockey for the meeting and then you choose a horse in each race. You can change your selections at any time until the start of the first race.
It was simple, but it was also deceptive. I initially took the bulldozer approach and tried to look for the winners, but soon realised that I was running out of points, so I had to go back and think about how to make my selections to get the maximum value. I got the SO to sign up and join in as well (the couple that races together, stays together) and as he’s a bit more tech savvy than I am, I figured he’d produce some better quality feedback). I’d misunderstood the concept, so it took me a few goes to tweak everything to my satisfaction, but it was fun to then settle down to the day’s racing, watch it all unfold and see how my selections worked out (not too well, as it happens!). It was also fun to ‘phone a friend’ and compare notes with hubby to see where we were on the leader board in relation to one another. There are prizes of betting vouchers up for grabs, but for someone like myself who is not all that bothered with punting, it did add a different dimension to how I looked at the day.
Glenn says, “We have been working on it for two and a half months now and we’re learning every day. With every trial that goes by, we assess the feedback and tweak it slightly. It is still very raw, so what you see at the moment is very much the back-end development, but the feedback has been extremely positive and we have already initiated the front end development which we’re extremely excited about.”
“We are being realistic and know that this is not the answer to saving racing, but one has to keep on innovating for the future and this is something we think can add a bit of fun and a bit of value to a day out. Commercially the entry point could be very low, so we are not competing with anyone or causing a bleed on any traditional bets. It’s a whole new gaming experience that keeps people involved in the day and could potentially bring the great sport of racing to a new audience.”
“I dislike the term ‘preaching to the converted’ as that implies that one is wasting your time, but in my books, our (dwindling) converted are the very people we NEED to focus on. If we can get the people who are already coming racing to have a good time, we stand a good chance of getting them to ‘preach the gospel’ and tell other people about it. All we need to do is give one punter’s wife, girlfriend or guest for the day a bit of fun and a sense of belonging and we’ve already made a difference.”