Someone recently posted a 1993 copy of See How They Run featuring Clyde Basel and Andrew Bon, both looking young and svelte, if a little self-conscious in their suits and ties discussing the chances of Empress Club in the Met. It was a great mixed bag of studio debate, interspersed with little interviews with various racing characters and even a bit of a public opinion poll on who they fancied.
While it is fantastic to still have them both firmly in the ranks, it got me wondering – where is our new generation of presenters (other than the lovely Alistair Cohen?). And if we don’t have new young faces coming through racing’s front ranks, could that possibly have anything to do with why we don’t see too many coming through the turnstiles either?
So then I went hunting around to see who or what is doing anything new that might appeal to a different audience.
As if on cue, the Gold Circle team stepped up to the plate, ramping up their Champions Season efforts. Whether by accident or by design, I am seeing regular photos and videos pop up on various feeds that has started the Champions Season tingle down my spine. While the whole team are doing sterling work, I am particularly enjoying Tawanda Taruvinga’s little video diaries, which have been a real breath of fresh air. His Facebook blurb reads: Creates awesome Video Blogs that keep you up to date with Horse racing. And he pretty much does what it says on the tin. Rather than trying to be an ambassador or an influencer or using his position in front of the camera to talk about himself, Tawanda has figured out that the magic is in the horses and the people and – better yet – has mastered the subtle art of letting his subjects do most of the talking – and it’s brilliant. The end result is something that’s not too ‘hard core’ to be boring, but not too dumbed down to be irritating. Like Goldilocks’ porridge, he seems to be getting it just right. It gets a big thumbs up from me.
Someone else who is doing a great job is Jess Samy, a law student from Mauritius who single handedly mans the Frankel-watch page and does a wonderful job of being a racing ambassador (and an unpaid one at that) just by being his enthusiastic and likeable self. Jess is not only crazy about racing, but has deservedly earned himself the title of Frankel’s biggest fan. If you’re a fan of Frankel, or want to know anything about him – or any of his progeny – Jess is your man. He is incredibly (and genuinely) passionate about his subject and carries it through to other racing sites – which is where I first virtually met him / met him virtually / whatever the correct expression is. If you want to know anything about Frankel or any horse by Frankel – you go straight to Jess. While horse folk sometimes have an intimidating air about them, Jess welcomes questions and enjoys answering so much that it makes you glad you asked and leaves you better for the experience. And he is just so darn charming and nice that you cannot help warming to him and following some of his protegees (because they all feel like his) right alongside him.
Give It Up For Mark Boylan
A bit further afield, a few years ago (I refuse to do the maths), my internet meanderings led me to a 14 year old Irish lad named Mark Boylan who wrote an anthem for the 2011 Breeders’ Cup. It was fun, it was catchy, and it earned him an invite from the Breeders’ Cup organisers to come and perform it at Churchill Downs – as well as a call from the Louw Flyer followed by a full page write-up!
Mark penned an anthem to Kauto Star ahead of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival and has since followed up with a number of others. I loved Mark, his music and above all his infectious enthusiasm and it was incredible to see how much interest and media coverage this one boy PR wonder generated for racing in general and Cheltenham in particular. As I lamented at the time – If only we had 100 Mark Boylans! Because while Mark was popular across the board, surely if we want to attract a new generation of race goers, we need someone who talks their language?
Mark and I have kept in touch over the years (readers may recall his guest columns for the SP on the English jumps season) and I’m happy to report that while he’s still singing, he has chosen to pursue a writing career, studying journalism and new media at Limerick University. After a successful 7 month internship at the Racing Post, Mark was recently named Sports Writer of the Year at the National Student Media Awards and I am ridiculously proud (I take full credit, of course).
It’s great to have young people in racing – not only because they are energetic and fun to have around, but because they bring other young people (and more fun and energy) with them. So, as I correctly said all those years ago, we need 100 Mark Boylans. But how? This seems to be a thorny issue across the racing globe right now. But I got to thinking if I’d found Mark (and Jess and Tawanda) by simple virtue of an internet connection and a shared interest in horses, perhaps that wasn’t a bad place to start.
Ponies and pigtails
Horses are not really a hard sell and there are legions of little girls (and boys – as we’ve seen with the lovely Emmanual Theunnisen) who are ready and willing to give their hearts to horses if we can just give them a tiny nudge.
And so (it’s been a good week for random connections) a dressage friend of mine named Georgina Roberts recently went eventing on Facebook (and when I say ‘went eventing on Facebook’, I mean it literally, as Georgie took you onto the horse and through her dressage test, on the cross country course walk – in her own irreverent style – juggling the course walk with explaining the discipline, the different jumps and how the scoring works, all while cracking jokes, throwing in pithy comments as well as responding to people joining in and chatting to her on Facebook live). I’m a fan of Georgie’s anyway, but it was still an unexpected amount of fun – even after she had a mis-hap and landed up in hospital (which she took us all along for too). And while I laughed and grimaced along with her, I also noticed that quite a few other people had joined in too.
So I rang up and demanded to know all about it. I should explain that Georgie is a high level dressage rider. Dressage riders tend to take themselves quite seriously, so dressage awards tend to be fairly serious affairs (other than when Lynda Mohr’s involved, of course!). However, by virtue of helping some eventers with their dressage work, Georgie attended the Eventing awards and was pleasantly surprised to find an entirely laid back event with an entirely laid back set of horsey people. So much so, that she joked that perhaps she ought to consider a discipline change.
Now anyone who knows eventing folk, knows not to say silly things like that out loud. Thrilled to have an outsider take an interest in the sport they are so passionate about (possibly a lesson there?), protestations of not being an Eventing member or even having a show entry were airily brushed aside and shortly after, Georgie found herself with a rather smart loan horse and a slot at Eventing Champs.
And because she’s a good sport and this sort of adventure deserves to be shared, she offered to write an article about it for the HQ magazine. Employing a bit of chutzpah and a bit of lateral thinking, the idea for writing one article turned into writing an article for each of the FEI disciplines (of which, I was staggered to learn, there are 17), she’s got sponsors on board and now it’s an actual official THING – #DressageDivaDoesDisciplines – and she’ll be tackling a different discipline every month, publicising her experience as she goes along and then publishing an article in the HQ – isn’t that great?
OK, but this is a racing column, not an equestrian one, but then again, is it? We are all HORSE people at heart. Why do we insist on putting ourselves in such separate boxes? Why don’t we talk to and be friendly with and invite other horsey disciplines to come and see how we do things? Rather than trying to convince a Joe Blog off the street, we’d at least take some of the grunt work out by starting with people who already like horses.
“Some friends who saw my preview of the dressage messaged to ask whether anyone could come and watch and what the entry fee was,” says Georgie. “I was like, “There’s no entry fee, you just turn up and drink and watch horses – what could be better?” she asks. What indeed. But we have horses – and alcohol – too, so where are we going wrong?
“Just explaining to people how things work and that it’s not an exclusive club that you have to have permission to belong to already goes a long way,” she continues. “If you want to play polo and you don’t have a high goal polo pony, that’s OK. You can still have a go and still have fun on whatever you’ve got, or even just go and watch, but most people don’t really know what disciplines are available – they join a yard and just land up doing whatever everyone else is, because they don’t know what else is out there or how to do it.”
How to get people to come racing – extend an invitation
Georgie (who I dragged to the Durbanville meeting on New Year’s Day) says, “If I didn’t go racing with someone, I wouldn’t know how to get in or where to start. And if you’re even a bit anti-social, that’s enough to ensure you won’t ever go racing.” But having dragged her out, she loved the location, loved the course layout and loved the people – and posted on social media to tell other people about it – most of whom didn’t know there had been a race meeting happening right under their noses. “There is so much potential here and in terms of racing, I have to be honest, I can’t believe you guys have so much at your disposal and do so little with it,” she says pointedly.
As they say, success is not the result of spontaneous combustion, you must first set yourself on fire. Perhaps we can get our #DressageDiva to #DoRacing again sometime? It’s certainly something I’d watch.