The final furlong of horse racing in Singapore is approaching, signalling the end of a more than 180-year-long sporting tradition. The Singapore Turf Club, the nation’s solitary racecourse, is slated to host its last meeting next year.
The government intends to reclaim the sprawling 120-hectare site, re-purposing it for a mix of public and private housing, bidding farewell to a cherished institution. Even Queen Elizabeth II, a fervent racing enthusiast and esteemed racehorse breeder, left her indelible mark on the course, with an event named in her honour.
During her visit to Singapore in 1972, Her late Majesty presented the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and she graced the feature race once again in 2006.The Singapore Turf Club acknowledged the profound legacy of horse racing in the country, saying in a statement released on Monday, “Horse racing has a long and distinguished history in Singapore.”
While the races will carry on until the grand finale, which is the 100th Grand Singapore Gold Cup, scheduled for the 5th of October 2024, the Club vowed to maintain the noble traditions of sportsmanship, safety and integrity until the very end.
The Origins Of Horse Racing In Singapore
Horse racing in Singapore can be traced back to 1842, which was when a group of enthusiasts led by Scottish merchant William Henry Macleod Read established the Singapore Sporting Club. They meticulously transformed a patch of marshy land in Farrer Park, situated in the heart of Singapore, into a flourishing racecourse.
The first races weren’t held until the 23rd and 24th of February the following year, designed as a celebration of the 24th anniversary of the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles, with a little over 300 people in attendance for the races.
In 1924, the venue was re-christened as the Singapore Turf Club, solidifying its reputation as the equestrian hub of the nation. Horse racing quickly captured the imagination not only of Europeans but also attracted affluent Malay and Chinese racegoers, becoming a pastime cherished by a diverse range of communities.
As the popularity of horse racing surged across the island, the course relocated to a larger expanse at Bukit Timah in western Singapore in 1933. The move enabled the sport to accommodate the burgeoning number of enthusiasts flocking to witness the thrilling races.
Queen Elizabeth & Racing In Singapore
In February of 1972, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, visited Singapore along with Princess Anne. They were there as part of a state visit and for the inaugural running of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
A crowd of more than 26,000 people turned up to see the Royals, who wouldn’t return to the racecourse for more than 30 years. In the meantime, history was made in 1981 when Irene Pateman and Paula Wagg became the first two women to be granted permits to ride and take part in races at the course. Seven years later and the Singapore Totalisator Board was formed.
In 1989, Colonial Chief became the first horse to top $1 million in prize money, which happened thanks to victory in the Second Hong Kong Invitation Cup, but it wasn’t until August two years later that locals final had a horse bred in Singapore to celebrate. That was Tuneful Melody, who won the $250,000 prize attached to the Raffles Cup.
When Queen Elizabeth II finally returned in 2006, she did so to the newly built Kranji Racecourse, which had first opened its doors in August of 1999 and officially opened a few months later. The state-of-the-art racecourse, with a staggering price tag of S$500 million boasts a majestic five-storey grandstand, capable of hosting up to 30,000 eager spectators.
Closing The Doors On Racing In Singapore
Despite its remarkable facilities and grandeur, the Singapore Turf Club has witnessed a gradual decline in attendance over the past decade. As a result, the government of Singapore has deemed it necessary to repurpose the prized land in order to address the pressing demands of future land use.
In a bid to meet the nation’s evolving needs, the government highlighted the scarcity of land in the city-state and its ongoing commitment to comprehensive land use planning for present and future generations. The Ministry of National Development also indicated its intent to explore alternative uses for the land.
The possibilities of what the racecourse might become include the development of leisure and recreational facilities, ensuring that the legacy of the Singapore Turf Club will live on even after the racing itself has been drawn to a close. In spite of the fact that the last race run at the course will be the 100th Grand Singapore Gold Cup, which is scheduled to take place on the 5th of October next year, the statement from the government said that the club would ‘close by 2027’, with the statement saying, “Singapore Turf Club will close its facility by March 2027.”
Club Chairman ‘Saddened’
The Chairman of the Singapore Turf Club, Mr Niam Chiang Meng, said that the Club was ‘saddened’ to learn of the government’s decision to close the club, but also that there was an understanding from all concerned that there was a need to find more land in Singapore. He said, “We will do our best to ensure business as usual for the Club until our final race meeting.”
He wasn’t the only person to talk of being shocked by the closure, with a local racing fan declaring that he was ‘absolutely devastated’ by the news, having been watching racing in Singapore for ‘almost half a decade’.
It isn’t just the loss of racing that those in Singapore will feel, but also the loss of the money that hosting racing events brings to the country. Owners, trainers and jockeys will be the hardest hit. One, Michael Clements, hopes that there will be an extension to the closure, saying, “I feel we have a pretty good chance of getting an extension. You can’t wrap a 181-year-old industry in 16 months.”
Regardless, it is clear that racing’s days in Singapore are numbered. Those associated with the sport will doubtless start looking for new homes before their current one closes for good.