Big-money international races are set to return to Singapore in 2019.
The Singapore Turf Club (STC) yesterday announced the introduction of two new international races over 1,200m and 1,600m, with prize money of $1.35 million and $3 million respectively.
The two unnamed races will be staged on the third Sunday of May, the same slot previously occupied by the marquee Singapore Airlines International Cup and KrisFlyer International Sprint (KFIS), which were discontinued in September 2015.
The $3 million SIA Cup and the $1 million KFIS had been introduced in 2000 and 2001 respectively. When they were dropped, the move created shockwaves as they were widely seen as the crown jewels of the local racing scene.
The reintroduction of international races was welcomed by jockeys and trainers alike.
Jockey-turned-trainer Saimee Jumaat, who retired in 2012, said the "ambitious" initiative was a "step in the right direction".
He said: "Bringing back international races is added incentive for owners and racegoers alike.
"With these international competitions, it will bring much more recognition not only locally, but also internationally.
"If we win the international race in the inaugural year, the world will follow us and will look to us."
Multiple-championship winning jockey Manoel Nunes said the move was a "positive thing for everyone involved".
"Of course we would like to see international jockeys and horses run here and (STC) also wants to see some quality horses race here," he added.
STC's move comes as it said the shake-up would "put quality ahead of quantity". To ensure good fields and competitive races, the number of races will be reduced from 900 to 800 from next year.
There will also be a concerted move to have bigger field sizes (10 to 12 starters) in higher classes, with all horses receiving a one-off increase of five rating points across the board.
Rating points are assigned to horses as a measure of their abilities. The higher the rating, the better the horse. Rating points also determine the category in which the horses race, which in turn determines prize money.
The STC is confident that "over time, this will encourage the influx of better quality horses as there will be more higher-class races being staged".
Race distances will also be capped at 2,000m, it said, "as Singapore-based horses are more competitive over shorter distances".
Accordingly, the Singapore Gold Cup distance will be shortened 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.
Said Nunes: "The changes won't really affect us as jockeys because (they) are the same for everyone.
"My personal view is that perhaps the club would also like to see some Singapore horses compete overseas, thus the changes."
Prize money for local races will be adjusted from Jan 1 next year to "favour and encourage quality".
Group 1 and Group 2 races (with the exception of the Aushorse Golden Horseshoe) will carry minimum prize money of $1 million and $500,000 respectively, a substantial increase from current figures.
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 unchanged.
At the other end of the spectrum, prize money for Class 5 races will be reduced from $35,000 to $20,000.
Chong Boo Ching, STC president and chief executive, said in a statement: "We are optimistic that with these new initiatives, we will not only improve the quality of local racing but at the same time, also increase international following for Singapore racing."