Shock, sadness and anger at Kranji over news of S’pore Turf Club closure
Bombshells that normally rock Kranji are either a 100-1 outsider romping home or prize money getting slashed.
But punters and racing stakeholders have always bounced back from such setbacks.
This time, however, the end of Singapore horse racing spells the point of no return for the community, who reacted with disbelief and sadness on Monday.
The Singapore Turf Club (STC) addressed the rumours of closure that have been swirling for around a week. It convened two separate emergency meetings, with its president and chief executive Irene Lim speaking to staff at a townhall, and the trainers shortly after.
Local racing operations at Kranji will cease in 2024 with the last meeting scheduled on Oct 5, coinciding with the 100th Grand Singapore Gold Cup.
Later in the afternoon, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Ministry of National Development confirmed in a press conference that the 120ha of land occupied by the Singapore Turf Club since 1999 will be returned to the government by March 2027 for redevelopment.
Noting that it was “absolutely devastating”, Danny Pillai, 75, a retiree and ardent racing fan, said: “Suddenly you feel so lost as you and your kakis look forward to every weekend’s races, which you have religiously been following for almost half a century since the Bukit Timah days.”
Violet Lee, the former STC manager (international racing and sponsorship) and 1984 Miss Singapore Universe, rued not only the loss of a rich chapter of Singapore’s history, but also a significant contributor to its coffers.
“Indeed very shocking, so much history there and full of enchanting stories of man and horse. Horse racing is part of our heritage and history,” she said. “Racing supports charity and nation building. Very sad that it’s now gone.”
But the ones who will be hit the hardest are those who run the show every week – owners and trainers, as well as jockeys to a lesser degree.
Leading trainer and president of the Association of Racehorse Trainers Singapore (Arts) Michael Clements tried to put up a brave face as he echoed the sentiments of the other 21 trainers.
“The club is going to make various announcements today and tomorrow. The management will then be engaging with trainers one-on-one to understand the impact,” said the Zimbabwe-born Singapore citzen.
“I feel we have a pretty good chance of getting an extension. You can’t wrap an 181-year-old industry in 16 months.”
He noted that the “exportation” of horses will need more time.
“We have new horses who were just bought, and owners have been busy buying horses to bring in,” he said. “They say horses will be repatriated after October next year. But... they can’t close it so quickly.”
Eric Koh of Team Cheval and racing manager to champion owner Falcon Racing Stable was one who invested at yearling sales as recently as last week.
Interestingly, he said he had heard whispers about Singapore racing’s impending swansong, but “thought racing still had a lot of potential”.
The former STC stipendiary steward was deflated he “backed the wrong horse”, but vows to fight on for a solution.
He added: “I’m all for Singapore racing... So even if this thing has been brewing for a few months, I still bought new horses.
“We also race horses in Hong Kong, Ireland and Australia, so I can still carry on. But it’s just a shame I won’t have horses in my own home ground anymore.”
Koh felt that there was “no balanced consideration” before the decision to discontinue horse racing was made.
He said: “The stakeholders and the whole industry were not consulted. Whatever basis to build upon should come from grassroots evidence, rather than plotting to shut down the industry. The decision to me was inadequate.”
Similarly, Jason Ong, one of Kranji’s up-and-coming young trainers, could not contain his disappointment as he faces an uncertain future.
The 35-year-old noted that they were unaware of the upcoming closure and that the STC “should have told us not to buy horses any more”.
Among the various measures the Governent will put in place to help stakeholders include horse maintenance and exportation.
While the details have not been fully ironed out, Ong, whose father Boon Hin owned Kranji legend War Affair, said: “I think the club should be held accountable. They gave us false hopes.”
To four-time Singapore champion jockey Vlad Duric, it is not so much about losing his rice bowl.
For expatriate jockeys, the length of their stay hinges on the licensing committee’s annual decision.
Having spent 11 years at Kranji, the 45-year-old Australian said: “Just very saddened by the news. Singapore has so much history, over 180 years of existence, and it’s coming to an end.
“But I feel even more sorry for the staff at the Singapore Turf Club. Be it the syces, the trainers, the farriers, the vets, it’s horrible for them.
“The ones to suffer the most are the owners, though. I know a few owners who have put in some amount of money in racing when things were looking up again after Covid-19. This will come to them as a shock.
“I myself will stick around for as long as I can as the trainers are friends I’ve got close to. We’re like family, and we’ll stick together till the end.”