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Many important questions remain unanswered as Singapore racing’s participants attempt to proceed in the wake of last week’s shock news that the sport will end, but one answer given has raised the ire of Singapore’s trainers.
Irene Lim has told trainers she knew last year that horse racing in Singapore was going to cease operations, but the Singapore Turf Club (STC) chief executive failed to pass on the information at the time, even as trainers and owners continued to invest in new horses from around the world.
Multiple first-hand sources told Asian Racing Report that at last Friday’s meeting with trainers, Lim was asked directly when she first knew about the closure. Her response was “2022.”
Asked from the floor to specify which month, sources said she told the group that the exact month was not relevant, despite the reality that an estimated AU$5-6 million worth of young, unraced horses purchased by Singapore owners in recent months currently await import to the city. Their racing careers will now look very different to how their owners saw things when they made the investment.
The interaction came four days after a first meeting between Lim and Kranji-based trainers, at which the STC boss dropped the bombshell that 180 years of racing heritage would cease in October 2024 and the racecourse land handed back to the Singapore government for development. Friday’s meeting was pitched as a briefing about horse repatriation and the S$700 per month payment from July 1 to incentivise owners to not take away their horses until the end date.
Lim was said to have looked uncomfortable when hit with the question of when she knew, which came after she had tried to outline to the 23 licensed trainers how she had attempted to fight for the industry and its participants. But her words rang hollow to those in attendance and at least 15 flabbergasted trainers walked out in anger when Lim let slip that she did not know that the trainers are not the owners of the horses in their stables.
“I was hoping she would shed a bit of light on our futures for my staff, for the movement of our horses, and for the wellbeing of the horses, but there was none of that,” said Donna Logan, one of the few trainers that stayed until the meeting’s conclusion.
“But there was no foreseeable future for an extension (to the October 2024 closure deadline) and she was adamant about racing on the final October date, to have the Singapore Gold Cup. She seems very focused on that, but is not telling us how we get there and how it will happen.”
Michael Clements, president of the Singapore trainers’ association, and his association’s members, outlined four main concerns to Lim: to ensure stable staff, jockeys, and all others who work in the industry are catered for, rather than just the 350 STC in-house employees that have so far been given assurances; a deep concern for horse welfare and that the STC has not planned for the complexities of the horse repatriation process; fears that the industry will lose essential workers and Singapore racing could therefore collapse before October 2024, leading to a horse welfare problem; and what happens to the young horses currently waiting to move to Singapore?
“The club has been putting on two-year-old races, and two-year-old feature races, and they brought back some feature races, so that in a way is incentivising us to talk to our owners to get horses in. They put on all those races even after they knew racing was going to end,” said Clements.
One trainer said that he has close to 20 unraced horses ready to be imported; another has a similar number and one trainer said that an owner had invested in more than 30 yearlings at recent sales, all with a view to race in Singapore.
Meanwhile, Logan, whose owners include New Zealand heavyweights Te Akau Racing and Fortuna Racing, told how the former’s David Ellis and the latter’s John Galvin had visited Singapore since Covid restrictions ended and were buoyed enough by what they saw and heard to reinvest in Singapore racing.
“Why were owners not told to not go out and buy horses?” Logan continued. “But no, instead of letting people know, they went, let’s increase stake money, let’s give back all the races we took off them during Covid, let’s make them think this place is going good again.
“There’s a lot of new horses here; why did they encourage us to do that? And they say they didn’t, but if you’re closing a business down, you’re not going to give incentives to people to come in and reinvest; increasing stake money, putting races back on that weren’t there for years.”
Fellow trainer Jason Lim said that he does not know what the next course of action will be with regards to the horses he has in quarantine at present, waiting to fly in.
“We don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’ve spoken to owners with horses in this category and we need another week to get a better idea and we go from there.
“At the moment, the whole situation is just starting to sink in and we’re looking at our options. We’re looking at questions like what’s going to happen to the horses? What’s going to happen to our staff? And what’s going to happen to the races? Are we going to stay on until the last to run the show for them? This is a question mark and we don’t know. We need more answers and we need to raise more questions.
“This Wednesday the trainers will have a dialogue with the owners and then we should have a bigger picture of it.”
In the meantime, trainers and owners have stressful uncertainty about how the STC will ensure the ongoing welfare of the 700 horses currently in Singapore should staff start to leave – with a global staff shortage in the industry, other jurisdictions in the region have already made moves – and how they will go about moving the horses out of Singapore after the October 2024 end date.
“The club hadn’t even contacted the transport companies to understand the logistics,” Logan said. “I’ve personally rung freight companies and no one from this club had contacted them; they don’t know the logistics of moving horses and the quarantine procedure. There are only eight boxes of quarantine space per month to leave Singapore and fly to Australia, so if 250 horses wish to exit Singapore to Australia, it will take some 30 months.
“New Zealand can take 52 horses and then through to Australia, but these horses can’t be left here unattended, and can’t be left not worked, they’re athletes and they need to be looked after and trained. And after we are all gone, who is going to feed, water and work these horses that are left still waiting.”
Logan added that her “major concern is animal welfare” and raised a further fear that feed supplies could become an issue in the wake of the STC’s handling of the announcement.
“I met with my feed supplier from Australia, and our hay comes from America: he said the American company is starting to back the truck up,” she said.
“They don’t want to send containers of hay because they want guarantee of payment, and they fear that a lot of these owners will not pay and then the trainers will not survive, and they’re not prepared to be the ones that don’t get paid. So, if the feed supply dwindles and becomes non-existent and the staff leave as well, what is going to happen to our horses?”
That is just one of many questions that remain unanswered.
“Everybody is in limbo as to what they do and how this is all going to be structured,” Clements added. “There are expats with families and children in school, leases on property for renewal that are for one or two years at a time, employment passes to be renewed. The club has not planned at all well, it’s evidence of management that is not in touch with the industry.”
The club’s CEO and the few remaining trainers departed the meeting with a view to meeting again in the near-future, when the trainers hope their questions will start to be answered with clarity.
Then again, one source said that when Lim did answer a question from the floor about what a trainer should do with their horses when racing in the city comes to an end, they found her answer both obtuse and chilling. She told them that if a person abandons a cat in Singapore, they can find themselves in prison.
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