Singapore Turf Club
The Singapore Turf Club, renowned for its horse racing events, is the oldest existing club in Singapore. It was founded by Scottish merchant William Henry Macleod Read, and began as the Singapore Sporting Club (SSC) on 4 October 1842.1
The SSC was renamed the Singapore Turf Club (STC) in 1924, but it was de-registered at a later date. The new STC was eventually formed in 1994 when Bukit Turf Club changed its name to Singapore Turf Club.2
Today, the STC’s horse racing events take place at Kranji Racecourse. These happen on selected Fridays, Sundays and public holidays of each month. Guests must be 18 years old and above to enter the racecourse on race days.3
The Singapore Sporting Club (SSC)
The SSC built a grandstand and track on swampy land near the junction of Bukit Timah and Serangoon Roads, in what is today Farrer Park. After the colonial authorities gave their approval, this piece of land was levelled, drained and cleared of trees and tall bush within four months.4
The first race the SSC held at the racecourse took place on 23 February 1843. This race marked the 24th anniversary of the founding of Singapore by Stamford Raffles.5 The track measured 83 yd (75.9 m) and 300 residents comprising mainly of British, and several Germans, Portuguese, Jews and Americans arrived in their horse-drawn carriages for this momentous event. Read took home the prize money of $150 after he won the first Derby, which was called Singapore Cup.6
During the first two decades of the club’s opening, horse racing was largely favoured by amateurs who were expatriates or members of the Malayan royalty. Owners trained and rode their own ponies. Burmese and Chinese ponies were used before Australian griffins were brought in for the first time in the 1880s. The sale of Australian horses took place in Commercial Square (today’s Raffles Place) until 1886, when the venue was changed to Abrams Horse Repository in Coleman Street.7
Jan 1891: The SSC Committee allows club members to play golf on the racecourse on condition that it did not interfere with racing or training.8
1896: The Straits Racing Association (known today as the Malayan Racing Association) is formed to control and regulate racing in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh. It establishes the ‘Rules of Racing’ and publishes the first racing calendar.9
Dec 1898: The SSC Committee allows members to play polo on the racecourse on Mondays and Thursdays.10
1910: Revamped facilities like new stables and a larger grandstand are built to house a larger audience.11
1918: The club donates $78,000 to the war effort. A further $198,000 is raised through lotteries.12
Becoming the Singapore Turf Club
Renaming and move to Bukit TimahIn 1924, the SSC was renamed Singapore Turf Club (STC) to reflect its racing activities.13 As racing fever caught on, the facilities at the old racecourse became inadequate. Hence in 1927, the STC sold the old racecourse to the Singapore Improvement Trust for $1.5 million, and purchased 244 acres of land from the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate for $850,000.14
The new racecourse at Bukit Timah was opened on 15 April 1933 by Sir Cecil Clementi. It was designed by architects Swan and MacLaren, who also designed Raffles Hotel and Victoria Memorial Hall. Built at a cost of $3 million, the new racecourse comprised a three-storey grandstand, 2,000 teak armchairs, a tote house, a jockey’s stand, luncheon and tea rooms, stables, syces’ quarters and a secretary’s bungalow. Initially built to accommodate 250 horses, its capacity was expanded over the years to house over 700 horses.15
Suspension and reopening
Horse racing was suspended during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. The grandstand and surrounding buildings were repurposed as hospitals, while the stables and syces’ quarters were converted into military carparks. Fruit trees were grown in the fields and the best quality horses were shipped to Japan. The club only reopened in 1947 after the committee spent two years removing damaged military vehicles, as well as repairing the buildings and the tracks.16
Growth of horse racing
Sunday racing was introduced in 1959, and, in 1960, members of the public could attend the races if they paid the admission fee of $4. Initially, only club members and horse owners could attend the races.17 In 1981, the North Grandstand, which was constructed at a cost of $18 million, was opened and this enabled 50,000 more people to be accommodated. More races were added and in the same year, microwave links were established with racing centres in Malaysia, enabling racegoers at these centres to watch the horse races in Singapore “live”.18
In 1964, Tan Sri Runme Shaw was the first Asian to be elected as chairman of the club and he retains the position for 19 years. In the ensuing years, prominent local businessmen such as Loke Wan Tho, banker Tan Sri Tan Chin Tuan, Shaw’s nephew, Shaw Vee Meng and Rajabali Jumabhoy also joined as the club’s committee members.19
The Turf Club was graced by the presence of England’s Queen Elizabeth during her state visit to Singapore in 1972. A special race, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, with a prize money of $35,000, was held in honour of her visit.20
Forming the new STC
The Singapore Turf Club was dissolved in March 1988, but Bukit Turf Club (BTC) was appointed to take over its racing and 4-D (four-digit) draw operations. In 1994, the new STC was formed when BTC changed its name to Singapore Turf Club.21
Move to Kranji Racecourse
The STC’s location on prime land in Bukit Timah made it imminent that it would have to move to a different location. In March 1993, it was announced that the club’s 135-hectare site would be used for residential development after 1995.22 Work began on a new 81.2-hectare racecourse in Kranji in 1996. In August 1999, the STC moved to its new premises. This S$500-million Kranji Racecourse was opened on 4 March 2000 by then President of Singapore S R Nathan, with the S$3-million SIA International Cup as its opening race. Saimee Jumaat, riding Ouzo, was the only local jockey in the 14-horse field, but beat some of the best jockeys in the world to take first spot, making the opening ceremony sweeter. The event was witnessed by 28,000-strong crowd, and was the first horse race broadcast live in Singapore and worldwide.23
Kranji Racecourse comprises two main racing tracks as well as another five tracks used entirely for trackwork. The 41 floodlight masts placed strategically around the main track enable night racing to be held. The club's air-conditioned stabling complexes can accommodate over 1,600 horses. The opening of an on-site veterinary clinic in March 2012 means that high-quality veterinary care can be speedily and efficiently delivered to horses.
The club's fully air-conditioned five-storey Grandstand has a seating capacity for 13,000 and can accommodate up to 30,000 racegoers. Admission to the Level 1 Grandstand starts at $6 for the general public. Entry to other exclusive areas such as the Marquee and Lotus Room (next to the track), Gold Card Room (Level 2) and the Corporate Boxes (Level 4) require prior reservations.24
Jul 1998: STC is awarded ISO 9002 certification.
2004: STC is re-certified ISO 9001:2000 compliant, with the certification covering the entire scope of the club's operations, from the maintenance of horseracing services and facilities to the provision of totalisator and gaming services. 2005: STC is awarded the ISO 17025 accreditation.
2014: STC is awarded SPRING Singapore’s Singapore Quality Class and Service Class certifications.25
1. Sumiko Tan, The Winning Connection: 150 Years of Racing in Singapore (Singapore: Bukit Turf Club, 1992), 9. (Call no. RSING 798.40095957 TAN)
2. “Milestones,” Singapore Turf Club, accessed 2 May 2017; Singapore Chronicles: A Special Commemorative History of Singapore (Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, 1995), 168–69. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
3. Singapore Turf Club, “Milestones.”
4. Singapore Chronicles, 164–65.
5. Tan, Winning Connection, 9; Singapore Turf Club, “Milestones.”
6. Singapore Chronicles, 165; Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 197 (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Tan, Winning Connection, 18.
7. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 197.
8. Singapore Chronicles, 166; Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 338, 344. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
9. Singapore Chronicles, 166; Tan, Winning Connection, 9.
10. Singapore Chronicles, 166; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 338, 344.
11. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 197.
12. Singapore Chronicles, 166; Tan, Winning Connection, 9.
13. Singapore Chronicles, 169.
14. Tan, Winning Connection, 9; Singapore Chronicles, 166.
15. Tan, Winning Connection, 9; Singapore Chronicles, 166.
16. Singapore Chronicles, 167.
17. Singapore Chronicles, 169.
18. Tan, Winning Connection, 9.
19. Singapore Chronicles, 167.
20. Singapore Chronicles, 168.
21. Singapore Turf Club, “Milestones”; Singapore Chronicles, 168–69.
22. Ann Williams, “Turf Club to Move to Kranji Close to Proposed MRT Station,” Straits Times, 18 March 1993, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Godfrey Robert, “Galloping to a Dream Start at Kranji,” Straits Times, 5 March 2000, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Singapore Turf Club, “Milestones.”
24. “Fast Facts: The Singapore Racecourse @Kranji,” Singapore Turf Club, accessed 28 September 2018; “Tickets and Packages,” Singapore Turf Club, accessed 28 September 2018.
25. Singapore Turf Club, “Milestones.”
The information in this article is valid as at January 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.