The agenda of the 37th Asian Racing Conference in Seoul took a twist away from the routine today with a session focused on the sport and its connection with popular culture, chaired by Mr Stephen Romei, literary editor of The Australian newspaper, occasional racing commentator and committed horse racing fan.
Mr Romei, a regular guest on Australian radio's horse racing programme Hoof on the Till, opened the discussion to examine how racing connects with popular culture in today’s world.
“While several serious issues like integrity have been discussed this week and rightly so, it is important to remember that the horse, and horse racing, have been part of our culture for a very long time and it is incumbent on racing administrators to work to ensure it stays that way,” he said.
Mr Romei detailed many of the great horses who have inspired writers and film makers over the years - speaking of Secretariat, Sea Biscuit, Phar Lap, Black Caviar and Winx. “These horses ensure that racing and popular culture go hand in hand and have inspired generations. And, even now, with Black Caviar and Winx having their own Twitter accounts the connection remains real to contemporary popular culture,” he said.
Mr Chris McGrath, racing correspondent from Thoroughbred Daily News and three time recipient of the United Kingdom’s Racing Writer of the Year Award, explored how the written word has captured the social diversity of the turf. He said the enormous spectrum of characters who have recurred throughout racing’s history was arguably the defining strength of the sport.
“Recently, on the one day, I interviewed two breeders. The first was the Duke Of Roxburghe, his mother a wealthy American industrialist, on the Scottish borders and the second was with a self-made man named David Armstrong in an industrial estate outside Manchester. It provided a typical snapshot of the sheer breadth of humanity who convene on a racetrack,” he said.
Mr McGrath spoke of how he decided to write a social history of the thoroughbred, “Mr Darley’s Arabian,” which simultaneously became a social history of Britain over the last 300 years as it followed the Darley Arabian sire-line. He highlighted numerous examples of the colour and diversity he turned up in his research.
“From the Darley Arabian to Frankel, each stallion in the sequence provided a portrait of racing and life. Two of the 25 stallions in the sire line were, in fact, bred by Prime Ministers,” Mr McGrath said.
He explored the literature of the turf, nearly every worthwhile syllable of which he read during the course of his research for his book and pointed to its engagement with the masses through especially great turf writers including Bill Nack, author of an acclaimed 1975 book on Secretariat, and George Lambton who also happened to train Phalaris, the great Darley Arabian line stallion.
Mr Jongduk Kim, Senior Manager, Broadcast Center (KRBC) for the Korea Racing Authority, looked at how rediscovering horse culture in Korea could be used to generate interest in contemporary horse racing.
“Developing and highlighting the horse culture of Korea could be the solution to revitalising the horse racing industry in Korea as a whole,” he said after presenting a fascinating video which focused on that history.
“The Korea Racing Broadcasting Channel is focused on regenerating the Korean horse culture which we believe can make people take pride in their enjoyment of horse racing. Re-establishing that link with our great horse history can bring people closer to racing.
“That is part of our expanding television coverage which along with a focus on attracting new owners and developing new technologies underpins our strategy to ensure the industry’s viability and growth,” Mr Kim said.
The KRBC is finding traditional and unique cases to revive the forgotten Korean horse culture from years past. Mr Kim outlined four traditional Korean horse stories and explored connections that the KRBC had found between Korea’s traditional horse culture and the modern horse racing industry.
Mr Henry Birtles, prolific poet and managing director of HBA Media, which specialises in the promotion of horse racing and is the leading independent distributor of racing media rights globally, bought a poem to the table - "Kam Sa Ham Ni Da” which is “thank you” in Korean.
The piece, shown below, centred on the merits of a collaborative approach and the benefits of convocations such as the 37th Asian Racing Conference in Seoul.
Kam sa ham ni da (Thank you)
In years long gone, in different times when progress wore a selfish cloak
When people firmly gave no ground and unity was thought a joke
A wisdom rose amongst the ranks of visionaries who’ve earned our thanks;
Who saw beyond their border line, beyond their remit, national gain
Who chose a way to re-define those boundaries coloured by disdain
A modernising outlook born where close collaboration drew
Collective thought, exchange, goodwill and betterment; a worldly view
That Racing now could celebrate; alliance in the corporate space
Where bright ideas and brainstorming collided for a better place
Where all the nuts and bolts discussed that underpin its glorious form
Compliance, law, integrity, such things that make the public yawn
Essentials for our sport to shine, debated hard below the line
But more than this…encouragement; support, promotion, nourishment
And all quite simply that’s required to make our product more desired
For we are here to find a way, it’s what we strive for every day
To do what we know must be right, to keep that burning torch alight
To make the Sport of Kings once more, a King of Sport just as before
And we are blessed with so much scope and so much more than dreams & hope
The stories, oh the stories and the grace, the power, the glories
The majesty, the passion; though it’s not for some…the fashion
With guile, ideas, the time is now; think digital, think why and how
And with a Winx and with a smile, think on our feet; think Gangnam Style
Let’s give our bodies, give our whole, give our minds, our heart and Seoul
To you, the noble ARF upon whose shoulders duty rests
Assembled here in South Korea, and elsewhere every other year
From conference guests both near and far, a gracious Kam sa ham ni da
Issued on behalf of the Asian Racing Federation