SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT PIN THEIR HOPES ON WOMEN POWER TO HELP SAVE 177 YEARS OF HORSE RACING HISTORY
Can the incoming Chairman of the Tote Board Mildred Tan and newly appointed Singapore Turf Club President and Chief Executive Irene Lim help save Singapore's Horse Racing Industry.
This is a short history of horse racing is Singapore . Singapore Turf Club has one of the best facilities in the world. A vast park like setting with a gigantic , modern grandstand, fantastic stabling and training facilities and tracks envied by many other countries. It is owned by the Singapore Government and has a management structure that are appointed by the Government. The appointment of Irene Lim as President and Chief Executive of Singapore Turf Club and Mildred Tan as the incoming Chairman of the Singapore Totaliser Board give the participants in the industry great hope. In more recent years prior to Covid the club seems to have lost it's way and it appears many of the decision makers have had little or no racing knowledge and have lost sight of the core business. . Covid has exposed a wound that has been festering for a long time. Participants in the industry have not been given much information on what the Club's short or long term plans are but we are sure we will be informed soon. The handing over of betting to Singapore Pools gave us hope of reaching a wider market, maybe seeing a betting platform that could take on underground bookmakers and maybe even see a Fixed Odds product similar to what's available in most other countries.The industry is shrinking fast and owners won't reinvest in new horse stock until they are confident there will be enough racing and for good Stake money. Purchases from recent horse sales in Australia and New Zealand have dropped from 65 horses last year to being able to count them on one hand this year. The two Casino's in Singapore are ranked fourth in the world for gambling revenue behind USA, Macau and Canada. Since opening , they have constantly placed in the top ten worldwide for revenue. Marina Bay Sands Casino , the worlds most expensive Casino represents a US$5.7 billion investment by Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Resorts World Casino Sentosa is owned and operated by Asia's largest and oldest gaming operator Genting Group , Resorts World Casino. There are around 280 thriving Lottery Shops all over Singapore where you can buy various forms of Lottery tickets every day of the week. Neither the Casino's or Lottery Shops promote horse racing apart from betting slips being available in Lottery Shops even though races are not shown on TV. It is very frustrating to see an industry in such decline with owners who have lost confidence . Everyone's hopes are pinned on Irene and Mildred and their teams . In Post Covid times Singapore could easily become one of the greatest horse racing centres in the world. Singapore is renowned for being the best at many things and I can't think of any country in the world where horse racing has failed.
To understand part of what is at stake I took a look at the history of horse racing in Singapore .Whether it continues under it's present structure or it is privatised I guess will be soon revealed. I encourage all participants in Singapore horse racing to hang in there because I'm sure the Government and it's appointed horse racing leaders have great plans for the industries future. The racing world is watching.
History of Singapore Horse Racing
The Singapore Sporting Club (Singapores first Club) was formalised on 4 October 1842 and subsequently given a grant by the then Govenor Samuel George Bonmam to set up a racecourse a mile from town. Prior to the construction of the racecourse , gharry pony races were known to be held at the Esplanade as early as 1834 during the New Year Land Sports.In the 1840's William Henry McLeod Read , co founder of the SSC , began advocating for races to be held regularly in Singapore. Along with merchant Charles Spottswoods and lawyer William Napier. Read initiated early horse racing in Singapore and he supported horse racing for more than four decades. The mens hunt for a racetrack ended when they found a patch of swampy ground on the edge of a stream which lay a short distance from the junction of Bukit Timah and Serangoon Road. They made a request to the Government for the peice of land for horse racing and their request was granted. The old racecourse (at what is today Ferrer Park ) or the Serangoon Road Race Course , was built in 1842. The racecourse became a sports and recreational hub for Europeans and created employment for early settlers from Java and India.
As news of the new racecourse spread rapidly among the Europeans, the pace of clearing the designated land for the horse tracks quickened. Owners of well bred horses wasted no time in grooming their horses for the upcoming races. All available manpower was channelled to fell trees and clear thick Lallong. On 8 December 1842 the Singapore Free Press announced that the first race would be held on 19 February 1843, to coincide with the 24th anniversary of the Colonies founding. By the time of the announcement , the racetracks and grandstand were almost completed. The course stretched for 1722m and on its inner side was a special training track. Stables were built on the side nearer to Kampong Java Road. The first race meeting was rescheduled to 23 and 25 February 1843, and the European community turned out in throngs, all dressed up for the occasion. The first race was for the Singapore Cup which promised a respectable prize of $150.. The locals also joined in to watch the races from the side of the course. The meet was rounded off by a Racing Ball held on 27 February at the Government House.
The racecourse became the hub of European social life in Singapore. The first 25 years of horse racing were reserved for the Europeans and Malay Royalty. The Europeans were mostly amateaurs who trained and owned their own horses. Race horses were kept in Stables under the care of Boyanese syces who lived at the adjacant Kampong Kapor.The Malay royalty was also keen on racing, with Jahore's Sultan Ibrahim making regular appearances at the grandstand. Slowly the wealthy Chinese became interested and offered prize money for races. Chinese named Cups included the Cheang Hong Lim Cup, Confucius Cup, Kanchu Cup and Kongke Cup. The honourary Patron of the races was the Governor, then Cecil Clemeti Smith, although the Sultan was seen as it's Promoter. Representatives of the different communities would also offer prizes, the Celestial Plate was in the honour of the Chinese Empire, the Arab Cup was presented by wealthy resident Arabs and the Coromandel Vase by Tamil Merchant leaders. Race days were half day holidays, with banks, mercantile offices and government agencies closing at noon. The ladies were dressed in the latest styles, while military bands or the Sultans band would play before the races started at 3pm. The races ended by 6pm with local patrons lingering for drinks at the bar under the grandstand. Some of the first ponies used in these early races were Batakponies from Deli, Sumatra, which decended from Mongolian and Arabian ponies. They were often mistaken for Dilli ponies from Timor. Breeds from China and Burma were later brought but they proved too troublesome. In 1867 , the administration of Singapore was transferred from the Indian Government to the Colonial Office in London. By then the Singapore Sports Club had made improvements to the grandstand and tracks of the racecourse. In appreciation , the government gave the Club a 999 year lease on the site at a pepper corn rent providing that the field was cleared of brushwood and maintained in good order for public races and rifle practice by the troops. In 1896 the Straits Racing Association was established to manage racing in Singapore , Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh.
The racecourse was used as a golf course , rifle range, polo field and grazing pasture on non racing days. The local population used this area for picnics. As horse racing became more popular the racecourse was upgraded. In 1904, the old stables and other buildings were torn down to make way for new ones. In 1910, a new tote, which replaced the old attap-roofed shed, and a new imposing grandstand, were built. World War 1 slowed the activities at the racecourse. Races were still held to raise funds for the war. The racecourse was also used as a runway. In March 1911, Frenchman Joseph Christiaens flew and landed one of the earliest planes on the racecourse. Another landing was by Captain Ross Smith on 4 December 1919, who was making a pioneering flight from England to Australia. The racecourse hosted grand parades, including the King's Birthday Parade and the Centenary Day celebrations, the later held on 6 February 1919.
In 1924, the SSC was renamed The Singapore Turf Club which signalled enthusiasm in horse racing. In 1927 The Singapore Turf Club decided the racecourse was too old and too small to meet the growing popularity of racing. The growing city boundaries around the racecourse also made it impossible for the club to extend it's grounds. After negotiating, with the Chairman of the Singapore Improvement Trust, RF Farrer, the Club was allowed to sell off it's original home to SIT for $1.5 million. STC then bought part of the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate for it's new and bigger racecourse.They bought 244 acres for $850000. The Club shifted to the new racecourse at Bukit Timah on 15 April 1933. In 1935 the old racecourse was renamed Ferrer Park, after RJ Ferrer , who was the President of the Minicipal Commissioners from 1919 to 1931. Governor Robert Black officially opened the Athletic Centre and new cinder track at Ferrer Park. In it's heyday in the 1950's and 60s the stadium was the hub of the countries trackand field. It was later used for Soccor and Hockey. On 7 August 1971 a new Sports House was officially opened at Farrer Park which housed 14 Sports Associations and 7 affiliates. It was razed to the ground by an early morning fire on 6 June 1985 and today is the site of the Farrer Park Primary School.
The new racecourse at Bukit Timah was opened on 15 April 1933 by Sir Cecil Clementi. It was designed by architects Swan and McLaren who also designed Raffles Hotel and Victoria Memorial Hall. Built at a cost of $3 million, the new racecourse comprised a 3 storey grandstand, 2000 teak armchairs, a tote house, a jockey's stand, , luncheon and tea rooms, stables , syces' quarters and a secretary's bungalow.
Horse racing was suspented during the Japanese occupation of Singapore. The grandstand and surrounding buildings were repurposed as hospitals, while the stables and syces' quarters were converted into military carparks. Fruit trees were grown in the fields and the best horses were shipped to Japan. The Club was reopened in 1947 after the committee had spent 2 years removing damaged military vehicles, as well as repairing the buildings and the tracks.
Sunday racing was introduced in 1959, and , in 1960 members of the public could attend the races if they paid the admission fee of $4. Initially , only club members and horse owners could attend the races. In 1981, the North Grandstand , which was constructed at a cost of $18 million , was opened and this enabled 50000 more people to be accomadated. More races were added in the same year and microwave links were established with racing centres in Malaysia, enabling racegoers at these centres to watch the horse races in Singapore live.
In 1964, Tan Sri Runme Shaw was the first Asian to be elected as Chairman of the Club and he retained that position for 19 years. In the ensuing years , prominent local businessmen such as Loke Wan Tho, banker Tan Sri Tan Chin Tuan , Shaw's nephew, Shaw Vee Meng and Rajabali Jumabhoy also joined as the club's committee members.
The Turf Club was graced with the presence of England's Queen Elizabeth during her State visit in 1972. A special race , the Queen Elizabeth 11 Cup , with prize money of $35000, was held in honour of her visit.
The STC's location on prime land at Bukit Timah made it imminent that it would have to move to a different location. In March 1993, it was announced that the Club's 135 hectare site would be used as a residential development after 1995. Work began on the new 81.2 hectare racecourse in Kranji in 1996.
In March1998 The Singapore Turf Club was dissolved, but the Bukit Turf Club was appointed to take over it's racing and 4-D (four digit) draw operations. In 1994, the new STC was formed when Bukit Turf Club changed it's name to Singapore Turf Club. Horse racing back then was run as a private Club , the last being chaired by Mr Tan Sri Runme Shaw of the Shaw Bros Group. In 1988, when ex Minister EW Barker was Chairman, late Lee Kuan Yew was trying to convince him to rejoin politics which Mr Barker had refused. On visiting Mr Barker at the Bukit Turf Club , late Mr Lee saw the nice green racetrack environment and commented "no wonder you don't want to come back to politics". That year the Totalisator Act was put up and the Government took over control of the Bukit Turf Club, citing financial and audit control risks with private clubs sitting on too many cash reserves. At that time, Club reserves stood at $382 million.
In August 1999 , the STC moved to it's new premises. This $500 million Kranji Racecourse was opened on March 4th 2000 by the President of Singapore SR Nathan, with the $3 million SIA International Cup as its opening race. Saimee Jumaat , riding Ouzo, was the only local jockey in the 14 horse field , but beat some of the best jockeys in the world to take first spot. The event was witnessed by a 28000 strong crowd and was the first horse race broadcast live in Singapore and worldwide.
Kranji Racecourse comprises two main racing tracks as well as another five tracks used entirely for trackwork. The 41 floodlight masts placed strattegically around the main track enable night racing to be held. The Club's air-conditioned stabling complexes can accomodate over 1600 horses. The opening of an on site veterinary clinic in March 2012 means that high quality veterinary care can be speedily and efficiently delivered to horses. The Club's fully air conditioned five storey Grandstand has a seating capacity for 13000 and can accomadate up to 30000 racegoers.
There is no doult the 81.2 hectare property will be developed one day to include Shopping Centres, Restaurants, Equstrian Centrs, a Polo Club, Hotels, Apartments and Parks but in the near future and Post Covid I know common sense will prevail and the core business will be the focus of the site. Long may horse racing continue in Singapore.