SINGAPORE - Big-money international horse races will return to local shores in 2019, the Singapore Turf Club (STC) announced on Thursday (Aug 24).
The STC said it will reintroduce two international races over the distances of 1,200m and 1,600m which will carry prize money worth $1.35 million and $3 million respectively.
The two races will be staged on the third Sunday of May, the same time slot occupied by the previous International races, the marquee Singapore Airlines International Cup and KrisFlyer International Sprint which were discontinued in 2015. Back then, the move came as a shock to the industry as they were widely seen as the crown jewels of the local racing scene.
The $3 million SIA Cup and the $1 million KFIS had been introduced in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
The STC added that 2019 was stipulated as the time frame "to allow time for owners to invest in horses that will be competitive in those races".
The news came as the club announced a shake-up of the sport, which has seen dwindling interest in recent years. The move, it said, was to put quality ahead of quantity.
In line with this objective, it also plans to "right-size the number of races" and "adjust prizemoney to encourage quality". These, it said, "will inject much excitement" the local racing scene.
Right-size number of races
To ensure good field sizes and competitive races, 800 races will be staged in 2018, down from the current season's 900.
This "optimal" number was derived after weighing up the median number of runners per race versus a projected horse pool of 1,250 horses.
One significant measure which will be implemented from next season is a one-off increase of five rating points for all horses across the board. This one-off increase in rating points will increase the horse numbers in the higher classes and lower the numbers in Class 5, thus providing sufficient number of horses to enable more higher classes of races to be run.
The aim is to achieve bigger field sizes (10 to 12 starters) in higher classes coupled with an increase in the number of Class 3 and 4 races and a reduction of Class 5 races.
It remained confident that "over time, this will encourage the influx of better quality horses as there will be more higher class races being staged".
The one-off increase in ratings of horses will be carried out at the end of the 2017 season.
Race distances will also be capped at 2,000m, it said, "as Singapore-based horses are more competitive over shorter distances".
With this move, the distance of the Singapore Gold Cup will go down from 2,200m to 2,000m, the Emirates Singapore Derby from 2,000m to 1,800m, and the Raffles Cup and the Chairman's Trophy from 1,800m to 1,600m respectively.
The STC said prizemoney for local races will be adjusted to "favour and encourage quality".
At the top end, Group 1 and Group 2 (with the exception of the Aushorse Golden Horseshoe) races will carry minimum prizemoney of $1 million and $500,000 respectively.
The two richest feature races, the $1.35 million Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup and the $1.15 million Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby will remain at that level while the other Group 1 races will be carrying prizemoney of $1 million each. They are the Kranji Mile, Raffles Cup, Singapore Guineas, Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Lion City Cup and Patron's Bowl while Group 2 races that will be worth $500,000 each are the Merlion Trophy, Singapore Three-Year- Old Classic, EW Barker Trophy, Stewards' Cup and Chairman's Trophy.
At the other end of the spectrum, prizemoney for Class 5 races will be reduced from $35,000 to $20,000.
However, it gave the assurance that this drop in prizemoney for Class 5 races "would only affect a small number of horses" as about half of the horses presently in Class 5 will be eligible to race in the Class 4 Non-Premier races.
The prizemoney changes will take effect from Jan 1, 2018.
Chong Boo Ching, President & Chief Executive, Singapore Turf Club said in a statement: "We are delighted to present the new racing initiatives that will commence from the 2018 racing season. We are optimistic that with these new initiatives, we will not only improve the quality of local racing but at the same time, increase international following for Singapore racing."