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Singapore racing’s passionate owners, trainers and fans deserve clarity on the Turf Club's direction, writes Michael Cox.
On Monday at the Magic Millions National Yearling Sale, a Whatsapp message pinged between Kranji’s trainers, owners and bloodstock agents at the sale grounds, and those watching the sale online back in Singapore.
Rumours can spread fast in Singapore – and beyond through its high connected racing fraternity – and it must be said they are often wide of the mark, but the specificity of this rumour, the consistency of the details from message-to-message, gave it an alarming air of authenticity.
This was not a case of Chinese whispers, everybody was reading and hearing the same line: horse racing will end in Singapore by 2026. The Singapore Turf Club to shift to simulcast racing only.
Some messages added that an announcement is imminent, by the end of June at the latest, and that the move would be part of a Singapore government audit into public land use.
“It’s fair to say the trainers are unsettled,” one trainer told Asian Racing Report. “We haven’t heard anything official but the type of people the rumour is coming from, and the consistency of it, makes it feel like it isn’t completely made up.”
That the rumour gained traction during a yearling sale – and the year stated for racing to cease is 2026 – added to the sense of unease. If true, then those spending in a super competitive market for a yearling in Australia today could be buying a horse for a 2026 Singapore Derby that won’t exist.
And even if the rumour isn’t true, then like the conspiracy theories that gain most traction, it is built on a foundation of facts and previous events that make it believable.
Racing moved to its current base at Kranji in March 2000 and the spacious and tree-laden 126 hectare facility had the jurisdiction shaping as a new Hong Kong. A brand new racecourse, protected tote, sparkling new stables and booming turnover. Big crowds and prizemoney. It seemed a can’t miss proposition.
Here we are 23 years later and an alarming message once thought inconceivable – racing will cease within three years in Lion City – seems entirely plausible.
The establishment of a casino in 2010, and a conservative, controlling government that won’t relent on tax and is ultra-restrictive on marketing, hasn’t helped. As explained many times on this website, over-regulation of this type cultivates fertile ground for black market growth. Sure enough, over the last decade, turnover has plummeted as punters flock to the outlaw exchanges. In turn the horse population has dropped, racedays were slashed from the schedule and public interest waned, leading to even less turnover.
Already in a death spiral due to these factors, Covid caught a club out that wasn’t ready for a sudden mass transition to online wagering. Kranji racecourse is now an aging facility, and like the future of the sport in Singapore, isn’t looking as sparkling as in its peak. That was probably around 2010, when a sprinter named Rocket Man wowed adoring fans and a little-known jockey named Joao Moreira was beginning his meteoric rise.
Singapore Turf Club officials declined to comment on this story and today representatives from Singapore’s trainers association will meet with officials, seeking clarity and some certainty.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the rumour and reaction to it is that it comes at a time when there are signs of life at Kranji, at least from the participants and investors.
A group race schedule and return of events that had been stripped from the programme provided structure and last weekend the buzz was back for the Kranji Mile meeting, which was simulcast to Hong Kong. “The third floor grandstand section was packed with owners, many of whom were buying horses on the Gold Coast this week,” one bloodstock agent told Asian Racing Report.
Indeed, at last weekend’s Inglis Digital sale two of the top five lots – stakes-placed three-year-old El Padrino and three-time winner Shadow Vampire – went to clients of leading Singapore trainer Michael Clements via Bevan Smith Bloodstock. Gandharvi Bloodtsock, backed by a fresh new face to the scene, Kuldeep Singh, has also bought new energy and investment. The restricted maiden for two-year-olds on Saturday boasts a full field, an indicator that Kranji’s horse population – that at one point seemed to have reached a critically low level – looks to be on the up.
From Singapore’s talented cohort of horse men and women, passionate owners and a dedicated fan base, there is a serious will for Singapore to be the rising force it once was, and should be. The question is, after 180 years of racing in Singapore, is that passion for the actual sport of horse racing matched by the Singapore Turf Club’s board and officialdom?
In 2018 Singapore Pools took over horse betting operations from the STC, and in April 2019 the STC issued a press release headlined “Singapore Racecourse – A space for more than just sports entertainment.”
It outlined plans to ‘repurpose’ Singapore Racecourse, it would be a “new outfit”, said then-STC CEO Chong Boo Ching, it would be a “unique destination providing more lifestyle, community and recreation programs besides horse-racing activities.”
Theme parks, malls and residential developments were all mentioned before Covid stalled talks, but horse racing was meant to be the centre piece.
“The hope was that racing would grow around that,” one trainer said of the so-called “master plan”.
The race club that relinquishes control of betting, sees the real estate dollars and ‘sells the farm’ is an old racing story.
The history of racing in Singapore is strong and the elements of a successful jurisdiction are still present, but if officials are not proactive and advocate to the government, then the sport is in danger.
And for the sake of the participants and investors, now, more than ever, Singapore Turf Club’s executives should speak publicly and provide clarity on the sports future in the city.
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