Horse racing is truly a unique sport in every aspect. Apart from being a thrilling spectacle that offered a ton of entertainment over the years, horse racing is also one of the oldest sports in the world that managed to survive for hundreds of years.
But just when we thought the sport was set for brighter days with a rise in popularity and new countries getting interested in the sport, we get a reality check like the Singapore situation that reminds us that we still have a long road to go in order to make horse racing a powerhouse yet again.
One of the things that makes horse racing special is the tight connection with its history and heritage. We’ve seen that horse racing is a sport that values tradition, and it is sad to see these values erased in modern times.
Singapore is closing an incredible era of horse racing by closing its city-state’s only racecourse, just so the land can be redeveloped for housing. Remember, Singapore doesn’t have many racing tracks like North America, and the Singapore Turf Club was the only way for the sport to survive.
It is sad to see that a 15-minute meeting can erase more than 180 of exciting horse racing history.
History of Horse Racing in Singapore
It all began on October 4, 1842, when William Henry Macleod Read, a Scottish businessman, and many other horse racing fans joined together to bring horse racing to Singapore. By providing monetary prizes to horses who won races, the goal was to stimulate the importation and improvement of horses in the colony.
There were already hundreds of ponies and horses on the island; all that remained was to lay a track. In less than five months, a grandstand and a track sprouted from a marshy plot of ground in Farrer Park.
After establishing the Singapore Sporting Club, the next step was to hold the inaugural race. The Singapore Cup was held between February 23 and 25, 1843, to honor the 24th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ establishment of Singapore. The day of the inaugural race was proclaimed a national holiday. Over 300 racing fans descended to Farrer Park Racecourse.
Horse racing captured the community’s attention, and interest in the sport expanded. The Singapore Sporting Club changed its name to the more appropriate Singapore Turf Club in 1924.
That same year, on October 18, the inaugural Singapore Gold Cup was run on grass over 2,200m. It is still the crown jewel of our local grass. The 2022 event will take place on November 19th at Kranji Racecourse. 2022 is a significant year for the Singapore Turf Club as they marked the 180th anniversary of the racetrack, which sadly, will be gone soon.
The End of an Era
The Singapore Turf Club (STC) confirmed on Monday that the site on which the Kranji racetrack lies will be renovated, signaling the Singapore government’s intention to abandon horse racing.
The final race meeting will take place on October 5, 2024, before the sport’s 180-year history in the Lion City comes to an end and the site is returned to the government in 2027.
“We are saddened by the decision of the Government to close the Club. At the same time, we understand the land needs of Singapore, including housing and other potential uses such as leisure and recreation,” Turf Club Chairman Niam Chiang Meng said in a press release.
But why is this happening right now? Does Singapore really have a huge housing demand and limited land opportunities?
The demand for homes in Singapore has been surging, with the first-quarter private residential property price index in 2023 up 11% over the same time last year.
And, given that the present racing club encompasses 120 hectares of land in Kranji, there will be plenty of options for individuals to build residences.
There are a lot of debates from experts around this subject, and it is not only about limited land opportunities. Some say that horse racing as a sport is dying, especially when you consider the lack of young fans.
Experts say that young people in Singapore are more likely to go to the casino, rather than bet on horses, which may be another nail in the horse racing coffin.
If we look at the numbers, the best year for horse racing history in Singapore was in 2011, when the revenue generated was around $750 million. But since then, the industry has lost its shine, and the revenue dropped to around $350 million, which is still a lot, but not as much as Singapore’s other gambling activities which achieved close to $7 billion.
The Impact of This Decision
Even though most people see the closing of Singapore’s only racecourse as not a big deal, the impact of this decision goes far deeper than you’d expect.
First of all, what will happen to the horses?
There are more than 700 racehorses in Singapore, and without a racetrack, what will be their purpose? – Well, most of them will be exported and sold.
Additionally, the horse racing industry in Singapore requires employees. There were more than 300 people working, according to the Ministry of Finance, that will be laid off in phases.
Therefore, the impact of setting an end to 180 horse racing history in Singapore has a much deeper impact than you’d think. Hopefully, things will change in the upcoming year, where the only hope for horse racing in Singapore will be relocation, or building a new racecourse.