15-minute meeting ends 180 years of horse racing in Singapore

    The 100th Singapore Gold Cup in October 2024 will mark the end of horse racing in the city-state as its only track is closed for redevelopment.

    The decision made by the government in June came like a thunderbolt to horse trainer Mahadi Taib.

    Mahadi said executives of the Singapore Turf Club, which manages Kranji Racecourse, the third track in its 181-year history, informed him and other horse trainers suddenly during a meeting on June 5 that the club will be closed down and the land rented from the state will be returned.

    “One hundred and eighty years of prestige but the meeting was 15 minutes,” Mahadi said.

    “Everyone was sad. We don’t know where our direction is,” said the 52-year-old who had imported horses in recent months to revive his business after the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The club owned by the Tote Board, a statutory board under the Finance Ministry, will end its operations following the Singapore Gold Cup to be held on Oct. 5 next year.

    After the race, around 700 horses will be sent overseas in batches until March 2026, according to the government, and the land will be returned to the state in March 2027.

    The government, which owns the majority of the city-state’s land, has said it plans to use the site for public and private housing amid surging demand from young couples and foreign buyers following delayed construction during the pandemic.

    Singapore, which says it is studying other possible uses for the site including leisure facilities, has been supporting money-spinners such as two casinos that opened in 2010 and Formula One racing introduced in 2008.

    Indranee Rajah, who serves as second minister in the Finance and National Development ministries, told at a press conference in June that the decision was difficult but necessary.

    “As you know, Singapore is land constrained and we do need this land for other uses,” Rajah said.

    Kranji Racecourse, which occupies 124 hectares of land in a quiet leafy area in the northern suburbs of Singapore, was built at a cost of S$500 million ($372 million) and opened in 1999. It is located between a World War II cemetery and a semiconductor wafer fabrication park.

    The Singapore Turf Club, the first horse racing club in Southeast Asia, was established in 1842 during the British colonial era.

    Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, known for her love of horse racing, visited the club’s second racecourse in 1972 and the current Kranji track in 2006. Its annual Queen Elizabeth II Cup was launched in 1972.

    Singapore’s decision to end horse racing has been met with shock and dismay among trainers, owners and fans.

    Michael Clements, president of the Association of Racehorse Trainers Singapore, said, “It came as a total surprise to us. There was no dialogue whatsoever between the government and the club” before the announcement.

    Australian horse trainer Steven Burridge, 68, who belongs to the association, said, “The government wants to take the land back, fair enough, but they should have done it in a better way with a 10-year-plan, scale down in 10 years.”

    The closure of the horse racing track will affect the livelihoods not only of the 350 people employed directly by the Singapore Turf Club but also about 350 others who work under around two dozen trainers, including 30 jockeys.

    Sugumaran Kerishnan, a 52-year-old track manager who has worked with the club for 13 years, said he was prepared to move overseas to secure a job related to his experience.

    The club’s horse trainers from Australia, Britain, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries have been negotiating with the club’s management to soften the blow of the closure, including by ensuring the remaining races go ahead amid an expected exodus of workers.

    The news of the club’s closure came as income from horse race betting declined over a decade from 20 percent to 8 percent of the total revenue of the Tote Board, which also administers lottery funds and casino levies.

    With around 550 races a year, average attendance fell from 11,000 in 2010 to 6,000 in 2019 and about 2,000 after the pandemic, according to government data.

    Tan Kian Seng, 65, a retired cook and regular weekend racegoer, was among the spectators at Kranji Racecourse on a recent Sunday.

    “The news is so sudden,” he said. “I like coming here because I don’t need to spend much aside from the S$6 entry ticket.”

    “We are all silver generation here. For us, it’s the cheapest kind of recreation around. But we will have no other place to go after this.”

    Cadence Wong, the organizer of an online petition demanding that the government reconsider its decision, said Singapore should save horse racing because it is an essential part of national identity. The petition had garnered 3,200 signatures as of early August.

    “It would be a terrible shame for Singapore to lose reputation on the world stage and for a sport that provides jobs and enjoyment for so many,” Keith Power, who signed the petition, wrote on the website.