It would be unfathomable for horse racing as a sport to die out in the UK or another major jurisdiction such as Ireland or Hong Kong.
But that’s exactly what has happened in one of the leading Asian countries for horse racing.
Racing fans in Singapore have been hit with the devastating news that the Singapore Turf Club, the premier horse racing operation in the country, will close its doors for the final time in 2024.
After 180 years of racing excellence, Singapore Turf Club will be winding up its operations as our land will be returned to the government by March 2027 for redevelopment.
— Singapore Turf Club (@SGTurfClub) June 5, 2023
The club, which has been in existence for a whopping 180 years, will cease racing by the end of 2024 and close altogether in 2027, at which point the land will be handed back to the government.
Fittingly, the final race ever to be held on Singapore soil will be the 100th staging of the Gold Cup in October ’24.
Although details are sketchy, it’s been confirmed by the Singapore Turf Club chairman, Niam Chiang Meng, that the government simply wants the 127-hectare site in Kranji back – bringing the curtain down on racing.
“We are saddened by the decision of the Government to close the Club,” Meng commented.
“At the same time, we understand the land needs of Singapore, including housing and other potential uses such as leisure and recreation. We will do our best to ensure business as usual for the club until our final race meeting.”
Why Did Horse Racing End in Singapore?
One of the problems facing the government in Singapore is a fast-growing and ageing population – which has more than doubled since 1980 alone.
But with a scarcity of free land and open space – Singapore is roughly the size of New York City, there are limitations on the building of necessary housing stock in the country. And so the government has embarked on a prolific campaign of ‘land reclamation’.
The Singapore Turf Club is just one of the casualties of the programme, which threatens to turn the rural suburb of Kranji into an increasingly urbanised space.
The government will have also noted the sad decline in spectator numbers at the Kranji track, which almost halved from 11,000 in 2010 to just 6,000 in 2019. After the health emergency ravaged the leisure sector in many Asian countries, the average attendance at a Turf Club raceday had slumped to just 2,600.
History of Horse Racing in Singapore
Way back in the mid-1800s, Singapore was one of the first countries in Asia to embrace the sport of kings.
The Singapore Sporting Club, as it was then known, was entrusted to run horse racing on behalf of the government at the Farrer Park track. The first race, held at the venue in February 1843, commemorated the founding of Singapore in 1819. It was declared a national holiday, with winning connections taking home the-then princely sum of $150.
The action continued unchecked for the best part of a century before the decade between 1924 and 1933, when a name change – Singapore Turf Club replacing the old ‘Sporting’ moniker – was followed by the switch from Farrer Park to the Bukit Timah racecourse.
The Singapore Tote Board took over all betting operations, and the loss of racing will see the country’s economy take a hit – the Tote makes the equivalent of around £660 million each year in Singapore.
By 1999, Bukit Timah was replaced by the new Kranji Racecourse, which was built for the not-inconsiderable sum of nearly £300 million. But the development pushed Singapore racing forward exponentially, with a capacity of 30,000 and the ability to host night races boosting interest in the sport.
Kranji’s sizable infrastructure helped to enhance the popularity of some of the key races in Singapore. The Singapore Gold Cup, the Raffles Cup (named after the British colonialist who founded the nation) and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup were just some of the most prized renewals – albeit they largely evaded global interest as the Turf Club operated a strictly policy that only domestic horses could compete.
Back in 2000, the Singapore Airlines International Cup was opened up to attract international competition – the £1.8 million prize pool, and £500,000 winner’s share, making it one of the most lucrative races on the planet at the time.
Meanwhile, fans of the sport would soon get their own Singaporean hero to cheer. Rocket Man, trained by Patrick Shaw, was trained on local soil and made his name with a series of eye-catching performances at Kranji – winning the International Sprint and the Lion City Cup (twice).
But it was victory in the 2011 Dubai Golden Shaheen that saw Rocket Man add Singapore to the global racing map, while second-place finishes in the same race a year later and the Hong Kong Sprint saw connections trouser a cool £500,000 in prize money.
Sadly, that would prove to be the swansong of horse racing in Singapore, with the slow decline setting in thereafter.