Shock and anger at Singapore racing’s sad demise

An email, 15-minute meeting and 180 years of history ends as trainers and staff scramble and ask ‘what happens to the horses?’ after a stunning announcement that the Singapore Turf Club would cease racing in October 2024.

Racing will cease in Singapore in October 2024 following the STC's shock announcement on Monday. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist

Michael Cox



It was Monday morning when the email landed: 11.01am on June 5. Zane Turner, assistant vice president (racing support), was the person tasked with summoning the Singapore Turf Club’s (STC) trainers to a meeting with its president and chief executive Irene Lim. It was to be held in the unsuitably-named ‘Progress 1 & 3 meeting rooms’ on Level 2 of the club’s administration building; the mail gave the invited less than three hours’ notice; the meeting was scheduled for 1:45pm that same day, with a stated duration of just 15 minutes.

“This meeting is of utmost importance and we look forward to your attendance,” Turner signed off the mail.

The trainers arrived at ‘Progress 1 and 3’ and found that there was nothing at all for themselves to look forward to. Rumours had been circulating for more than a week that the STC would cease racing by 2026: there was heavy trepidation among the horsemen.  

“I had a gut feeling going into the meeting,” Michael Clements, president of the trainers’ association and the current premiership leader, told Asian Racing Report. 

Lim addressed the group. Her manner was uncomfortable, ‘sheepish’ even, as she told the trainers of the industry’s fate: horse racing in Singapore would cease within 16 months. She took three questions from the floor – the first being what will happen to the horses? – and left for a news briefing. A STC press release was issued.


Kranji’s last race meeting is scheduled for October 5, 2024 and the 120 hectares upon which the racecourse and stables sit will be returned to the Singapore government by March 2027 for needed housing, as well as possible leisure, and recreation facilities.

Despite a general acceptance among trainers of the government’s need for land, and that the decision will not be reversed, there are moves afoot to lobby for an extension. But there is also anger and exasperation among stakeholders at the way in which the STC has handled a weighty matter of such grave importance to the people who work in Singapore’s racing industry and their families.

“We go into a meeting on three hours’ notice, we get 15 minutes of her time, and they tell us that it is all over. They didn’t handle the situation well,” said local trainer Jerome Tan. 

“It is quite heart-breaking. We have wasted so much of our time, and our career is only going to last another 16 months.”

Across the island from the Kranji meeting, downtown at the 1930s-built Ministry of Communications and Information building with its colourful, painted window frames, Indranee Rajah, Singapore’s second minister for finance and national development, addressed a press conference.

“This was not an easy decision, but necessary,” Rajah told the media. “As you know, Singapore has land constraints and we do need this land for other uses: there have been increasing needs and demands for land, and (the) government regularly reviews our land use plans because we want to ensure resources are optimised to meet Singaporeans’ needs.”

But the second minister also made much of the decrease in attendances at Kranji, as did local media outlets: Rajah noted that between 2010 and 2019 average attendance on race days dropped from about 11,000 to 6,000, and, since Covid, they had fallen to 2,600. Yet nothing was said of the government’s restrictive tax, or the long standing restrictions that have prevented the Singapore Turf Club from promoting and marketing the sport to the city state’s population.

Attendances at Kranji have dropped dramatically. (Photo by Neville Hopwood)

The once vibrant Kranji crowd. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)

Back at Kranji, despite the gut feeling going in, Clements told Asian Racing Report that hearing the news left people “flabbergasted”, and that included Singaporean trainer Jason Lim, 42, currently second in the premiership.

“I had heard the rumours two weeks ago but I thought it wasn’t possible, we have 180 years of heritage,” said Lim, who after national service achieved a horse training diploma in Australia and became a work rider at Kranji. “It was the only career I have ever wanted, the only thing I ever wanted to be. This came as a shock and thousands of people are affected by this.”

Much of the shock people felt was due to the failure of the STC’s senior figures to communicate the probability of Singapore racing’s fast-approaching demise to the trainers, jockeys, and its rank-and-file employees. The timeline of the rumours arising, through to the hastily-arranged trainers’ meeting, and the official government announcement, has drawn participants to the conclusion that the recent rumours were a deliberate information leak.

One jockey, speaking under anonymity, said: “It’s unfortunate that it is closing but the current model was unsustainable, it was a sinking ship and they were very happy to let it sink, it is disgraceful how they have handled it but totally unsurprising.

“Did those people that have left the club over the last couple of years already know the club’s future? Governments don’t make these sorts of decisions overnight.”

One trainer said that “the sickening part of it is that we have been busy buying horses, and all the while they have been planning this. I think the anger is that there was no dialogue whatsoever … The history of the place, the livelihoods at stake … and there was zero dialogue.”

Jockeys and trainers have expressed shock and disbelief over the STC's announcement. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

The slated closure will end 180 years of racing history in Singapore. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

Another trainer speaking anonymously pointed to what they considered to be the weak management of the STC in recent years: “Generally the club has been mismanaged, and by people with little experience in horse racing, but worse still, no connection to the relevant people in government. The advocacy wasn’t there for us, they were just looking after themselves.”  

Meanwhile, Clements said that the way the announcement was handled left “a lot of people in Singapore stunned, because not everybody had heard the leaks, but then (for them) to just find out on a press release, it was surreal.”

Malaysian jockey ‘Harry’ Mohd. A’Isisuhairi bin Kasim rode his apprenticeship in New Zealand and made Singapore his home in 2012. The 38-year-old has a 15-month-old son and his wife gave birth recently to their daughter.

“My life had just got started really and to hear this news was quite a shock to me,” he said. “To close down the turf club isn’t like closing down a retail shop, what are they going to do?

“I heard the rumours at the races, and was hearing that racing would close in 2026, but then I received messages today … I didn’t believe it until I saw the press release. Even when I read the news, I just thought ‘it can’t be true’.

“This isn’t just a sport, it is in our blood, there are people here that didn’t even finish school, that just went straight into racing; I have been in racing since I was 18. I have a new family, so I don’t really know what to do. All I do know is that it is a great shame.”

The government has said that it will provide support for Singapore racing’s stakeholders in the way of ‘job placement assistance, personal career guidance, skills training and counselling’, as well as retrenchment payments to its 330 employees, and support payments to owners and trainers – who are not STC staff – for horse maintenance. But that is little comfort to Tan as he advances towards retirement age.

“I have been working in the stables since I was in my 20s – 30 years – there is nothing else to do. So, do I go and take re-training? Then I will be nearly 60, who is going to hire me?” the trainer questioned.

“I’ve spent three quarters of my life training horses, I don’t know anything else, what about after 16 months, who is going to feed my family? We now have to go to work every day knowing there is no future, even if you have a champion in your stable, it would not help. Do the rest of the world think this is right? Just to tell us that we have 16 months? You are telling these people to just pack up and start again?”

When asked if he was worried about repercussions for speaking out, he added, “I don’t care if they take my licence tomorrow.”

Racing at Kranji in 2008. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

As for the horses themselves, more than 700, the government has said they will be exported to new homes and costs will be covered; a monthly incentive of S$700 per month is being offered to keep horses in training, and their relocation has been verbally assured; but the uncertainty about what that will look like and the logistics of such a big task mean that some trainers have expressed their intent to push for an extension. 

“We see in the media that it is for housing, and we understand that: it was a prudent decision,” said Lim. “It is a big piece of land and I can understand why … we are land scarce, this will benefit Singapore citizens, I agree with all of that. But they need to give us more time to wind up our operations, these are racehorses we are talking about. We can accept the decision but we need more time

“We need three to five years. We are talking about 700 or 800 horses here; they aren’t dogs and cats that can just be given away. The nearest place is Kuala Lumpur, but can they take 700 horses? The dynamics of this industry are that you can’t just shut it down.”

Clements is of the view that neither the STC nor the government fully understands the situation they are now faced with.

“It is a dynamic and diverse industry, they haven’t given due diligence to the implications of this decision, and it is clear there will be a serious backlash,” he said.

“You have a bunch of owners, sitting with horses, there are horses in quarantine as we speak, there are yearlings purchased in Australia being prepared for next year.

“There is a real possibility of it collapsing in the next few months. They are trying to keep it going but I foresee trainers packing it in and owners asking what is the point?”

Queen Elizabeth II presents a trophy to jockey Richard Lim after the STC's 2006 Queen Elizabeth II Cup. (Photo by Jonathan Drake/Getty Images)

Racing under the Kranji lights in 2014. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)

Tan, for one, is of that view.

“Re-opening the club isn’t an option,” he said. “When Singapore decides to close something, it is done, there is no point fighting that war. I am not sure if there is any point fighting for an extension either.

“Three years, five years, what is the point when trainers will be leaving and staff will be looking for better offers? There is no future here. It is going to be a tough time, but I don’t think we can last 16 months.”

Lim fears the collapse will come much sooner, and gives the industry no more than “six months” before it is unable to continue.

“After Covid, people took loans from banks, or from families, to try and help racing come back. I have owners that have horses in quarantine, they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the owners are asking me what to do,” he said.

“I really don’t know what to do, it was my childhood dream to be a racehorse trainer and now it is shattered, I don’t know if I can start again.”

A disbelieving Joao Moreira saw the news from afar. The Brazilian first made his name on the world stage as a record-smashing four-time Singapore champion jockey and the city and its racing scene remain close to his heart.

“I am really upset, shocked and sad, and I am hoping somehow people are fighting hard to make it continue,” he said.

The stark reality though is that the chance to fight may well have passed in the period of officialdom’s silence. Singapore is essentially a de facto one-party state, conservative and controlling, and now that the government has made its decision public it is difficult to see any way back.

Lim perhaps spoke for many when he said, “I don’t have a plan right now. Just let me cry over it tonight, and I will wake up tomorrow and fight again.”

That fight, it seems clear, will be for no more than an extension to the stated end date. But that will be only a stay of execution for a 180-year-old racing industry now on a fast-diminishing timeline to extinction. 





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