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Industry (and stewards) must embrace social media growth

Date

Chris Roots

ROOTS 'N' ALL

Punters once had to line along the mounting yard to vent their anger and get up close and personal with jockeys. The demonstration was a rite of passage and gave the track its colour.

However, in the 21st century when punters are more likely to be in pubs or on their lounge rather than on course, they switch their attacks to Twitter. Social media makes everyone an expert and gives the man who had $50 on a beaten favourite an outlet for his frustration. It can be more personal because most top hoops have Twitter accounts.

They sometimes like to share their thoughts after a day at the track. Comments can get them in trouble as it did with the furore over Blake Shinn's suspension at Hawkesbury a couple of weeks ago.

There was sniping and opinion from his fellow riders about Shinn that would have been kept to the jockeys' room in the past.

Stewards had to step in and remind some of the jockeys that Twitter is a public forum. Ray Murrihy labelled the spat childish and not in the best interests of racing.

But what is?

This was real emotion and an issue that had been bubbling for months. It showed jockeys as real people and entertained their followers for an evening. Then, like most things on social media, it was quickly forgotten.

Stewards were right to step in and stop it becoming a free for all.

It was one of the growing pains of using social media. However, it is a new world racing needs to embrace because interaction between punters, jockeys and trainers will create more interest in the sport.

Race clubs, bookmakers and horse syndicators have Twitter feeds (and Facebook profiles) and possibly racing's biggest name online is its greatest star, Black Caviar, which has more than 21,000 followers.

Her account provides the right mix of humour and interaction as well as the latest news relating to her unbeaten career.

Nathan Berry took to Twitter on Saturday to praise twin brother Tommy's biggest day of his career. ''Congratulations today bro. G1 double what a great effort. Proud or (sic) you mate. The years of hard work is paying off #FLYING'' his tweet read.

It is positive to have things like that out in public. As the traditional media gets smaller and racing finds it harder to be recognised, these Twitter interactions can give the sport a greater public face.

A quick poll of those jockeys with Twitter accounts in Sydney found, unsurprisingly, there is a fair bit of negativity directed at them. Most have experienced abuse but none want to talk openly about it.

''You know when you ride one bad,'' a jockey said. ''You just have to move on and put it behind you. But on Twitter they will tell what you did wrong and how you should have ridden it. You cop it but that's a part of it and I have to say it has got better since the Twitter troll campaigns.''

Even Gai Waterhouse has taken to Twitter. She took an image of her star Pierro after he won at Moonee Valley last week and shared it with her followers. Twitter has become the place to break news and discuss it. If there is an issue in racing, it is likely to be discussed and/or joked about on Twitter.

Black Caviar's return to racing became public on Twitter and wags pointed out that books on her might have been premature.

It can only be good to spread word about racing but social media needs to be used with thought. There are endless supplies of tipsters who can send you broke or pay for dinner. There are also plenty of promotions from bookmakers, so in the end it is here to stay.

This carnival will probably define Twitter's role in racing.

Most jockeys and trainers believe providing a little information and answering some questions helps.

It will be a case of getting the balance right.

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