Singapore’s horse racing community spoke of its anger and heartbreak Tuesday with the city-state’s only racecourse set to close, signalling the end of the sport there after more than 180 years.
The final race will be the 100th Grand Singapore Gold Cup in October next year, the Singapore Turf Club (STC) said, after which the land will be returned to the government for housing.
The club was founded in 1842 by a Scottish merchant and other horse-racing enthusiasts. The current racecourse at Kranji was opened in 2000, replacing the old Bukit Timah track.
“We are saddened by the decision of the government to close the club,” STC’s chairman Niam Chiang Meng said in a press release.
“At the same time, we understand the land needs of Singapore, including housing and other potential uses such as leisure and recreation,” he added.
The STC acknowledged that attendances at the racecourse had been declining over the past decade, but many of those within the close-knit industry were taken aback by Monday’s announcement.
Jockey Jerlyn Seow said she felt “nauseous” when she heard the news.
“I felt I was living my dream but now it’s shattered,” the 29-year-old said, according to Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia.
“Why does the government want to close this historic industry when there isn’t much recreation or entertainment in Singapore?
“It’s a mistake.”
Racehorse owners and trainers will be offered support for horse maintenance and exportation, the STC said.
There are about 700 racehorses at the club, according to local media.
The land will be returned to the government in 2027 and the 120-hectare (300 acres) site will be used for housing, including public housing.
“Singapore is a city-state with limited land,” the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of Finance said in a joint statement.
“The government continually reviews its land use plans to meet today’s needs while ensuring there is sufficient land for future generations.”
– Left reeling –
Singapore staged its first race in 1843 at the Farrer Park Racecourse but the sport outgrew the venue and racing moved to Bukit Timah.
According to the STC, it opened in 1933 to a 5,000-strong crowd.
In 1972 there was an estimated crowd of more than 26,000 for the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, held in honour of the visiting monarch, who was a big racing fan. She visited the club on two occasions.
Prize money reached the millions in the 2000s, with the Sg$3 million (now $2.2 million) Singapore Airlines International Cup and the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer International Sprint. Both were discontinued in 2015.
Attendances also gradually dropped off. Indranee Rajah, a government second minister, said that race-day attendances fell from 11,000 in 2010 to 6,000 in 2019.
By the end of the pandemic, the number had fallen to 2,600, she wrote in a Facebook post.
“This is not unique to Singapore. The global horse racing scene is changing as new trends come about,” she added.
But that was of little comfort to a racing community that was left reeling.
“The stakeholders and the whole industry were not consulted,” Eric Koh of Team Cheval told The Straits Times.
Punters and racing fans also reacted with disappointment.
“What a shame! 180 years of tradition just gone like that? Was it really a difficult decision? What has been done to conserve it?” one wrote on STC’s Facebook post announcing the closure.