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Getting the turf club back on track

From carnivals to stable tours, the Singapore Turf Club is revitalising itself to fend off competition from the casinos

Race day at the Singapore Turf Club (STC) is always pumping with adrenaline as the cheers of punters fill the grandstand.

At the Emirates Singapore Derby yesterday, spectators stood, some tightly gripping their betting guides, as they kept their eyes peeled on the horses racing down the track.

The crowd, however, was not as much the spectacle that it used to be when horse racing was in its prime in the 1990s.

With years of a slowing economy and the rise of local casinos, the turf club's heyday has come and gone.

Its turnover was $1.377 billion in 2015-16, down 5 per cent from 2014-15. In 2010-11, it was $1.848 billion.

"Where gaming is concerned, the casinos have taken a big chunk of the market," admits racehorse trainer Saimee Jumaat who, together with other trainers, works closely with the turf club's management.

But that's not the end of the story.

PHILANTHROPIC MISSION

There's always a stigma when it comes to gambling, but the club does a lot of charity work as well.

MR SAIMEE JUMAAT, a racehorse trainer.

"We have a few plans to fight back," says Mr Saimee, 45, a former champion jockey who now trains for J Saimee Thoroughbred Racing.

The STC was founded in 1842 and is managed by the Tote Board. It is Singapore's only horse racing club and holds up to 900 races annually.

Under new leadership, STC, which moved to Kranji from Bukit Timah in 1999, not only aims to revive horse racing, but also plans to revitalise itself as a lifestyle hub in the north to draw more than just the punters.

"We are trying to see how we can revitalise the sport, as well as maximise the potential of the land and use it to better serve the community," says Mr Soong Tze Ming, chief operating officer of STC.

Over the June holidays, STC opened its stable gates to the public, as part of recent initiatives to attract more visitors. For the first time, the public got to see the inner workings of STC, including its training grounds and in-house vet hospital.

STC's family-oriented annual carnival, which was held last month, was also a good avenue to attract people who do not know about horse racing, according to Mr Soong.

Asked about the future of the turf club, Mr Saimee says: "There's always a stigma when it comes to gambling, but the club does a lot of charity work as well." Surplus funds from betting go towards charity and STC also sponsors schools and homes for the aged.

Mr Saimee also wants to encourage young people to get involved in horse racing. "This industry provides employment to a lot of people and it's one of the biggest sports in Singapore. It's a huge industry and it will be sad for it to go down."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline 'Getting the turf club back on track'. Print Edition | Subscribe