2022 is a significant year for Singapore Turf Club as we mark our 180th anniversary when we were first founded as the Singapore Sporting Club back in 1842. You might be aware that we once called the racecourse at Bukit Timah home, but did you know where we were located prior to that?
Take a trip down memory lane with us to the beginnings of horse racing in Singapore and learn about the intriguing events that have occurred at the Club over our rich history.
The dawn of horse racing in Singapore
It all started on 4 Oct 1842, when William Henry Macleod Read, a Scottish merchant and several other horse racing enthusiasts banded together and introduced horse racing to Singapore. The aim was to encourage the importation and improvement of horses in the colony by awarding monetary prizes to horses that won races.
There were already hundreds of ponies and horses on the island; it was just a matter of getting a track ready. Dreams became reality in under five months - from a swampy land in Farrer Park, a grandstand and a track soon emerged.
Farrer Park Racecourse welcomed many racing enthusiasts in its day.
Racegoers lined the railings on race days and
cheered on their favourite horses.
Fun Fact #2: Racing was amateurish in the early days, with owners training and riding their own horses.
With the Singapore Sporting Club established, the next milestone was to inaugurate the first race. The Singapore Cup took place on 23 and 25 February 1843 to commemorate the 24th anniversary of Singapore’s founding by Sir Stamford Raffles. The first race day was declared a national holiday. Over 300 racing enthusiasts thronged the Farrer Park Racecourse.
Fun Fact #3: Aviation history was made in Singapore at the racecourse at Farrer Park when the nation’s first manned flight took off from it on 16 March 1911.
The rise of a new era
Horse racing caught the imagination of the community and enthusiasm for the sport grew. In 1924, the Singapore Sporting Club changed its name to the more fitting Singapore Turf Club.
That same year on 18 October, the first Singapore Gold Cup ran on turf over 2,200m. It remains to date the crown of our local turf. The 2022 edition will run on 19 November at Kranji Racecourse.
The revelry and pomp that accompanied the Singapore Gold Cup.
Fun Fact #4: Did you know that one of the oldest feature races, the Singapore Derby was first run in 1880? That’s over 140 years and counting!
Three years later, it became clear that Farrer Park was too small to accommodate the growing interest in racing. A site at Bukit Timah Rubber Estate was secured and construction began on the $3 million Bukit Timah Racecourse. It officially opened in 1933 to a 5,000-strong crowd.
The new racecourse at Bukit Timah opened with much fanfare in 1933. Thousands streamed in for the opening.
The Grandstand, Weighing Room and Parade Ring
of the Bukit Timah Racecourse.
From Douglas Graham, a visitor to Singapore in 1934: “They took us to a meeting at the racecourse which, it is claimed, is the finest in the world. This statement I took with a grain of salt, but after seeing it I felt sure the claim was justified.”
The grandstand at the Bukit Timah Racecourse was packed to the rafters on race days.
The Sport of Kings continued growing in popularity over the next decades.
It was 1972, Queen Elizabeth II, along with Prince Andrew and Princess Anne, was on a state visit to Singapore. The Club hosted a race, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in her honour and a crowd of over 26,000 turned up at the races. The Queen and Prince Philip would visit the Club a second time some 34 years later in 2006.
Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit to Singapore Turf Club on 20 February 1972.
She was warmly received by then-STC Chairman, Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw and graced the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, a race named in her honour.
On the 50th year of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup this year, the horse racing world lost a stoic champion. The Club was deeply saddened by the passing of her Majesty. A minute of silence was observed on 17 September before races commenced to honour her memory.
Making turf history
Horses and jockeys are at the heart of Singapore Turf Club. Many have gone down in the annals of history.
In 1981, local turf history was made when female jockeys, Irene Pateman and Paula Wagg from Australia became the first two female jockeys to be granted local permits to ride, paving the way for many great female jockeys to come.
The first female jockeys to ride at Singapore Turf Club.
Champion jockey Leslie Khoo was the first local jockey to win a record 13 major feature races. Jockey Abdul Mawi was the first local jockey to win the Singapore Gold Cup (now on its 98th year) in 1958 while jockey Tommy Farthing was the first to win three Singapore Gold Cups in 1936, 1939 and 1941.
Jockey Abdul Mawi after winning the Singapore Gold Cup on Straits Code in 1958.
Singapore racing gradually made its way to a bigger stage too. Jumbo Jet was the first racehorse to contest an international race in 1972 and he went on to win four major feature races in one season. Colonial Chief became the first to win an international race, the Second Hong Kong Invitation Cup at Sha Tin in 1989.
Jumbo Jet with Jockey Lester Piggot astride during the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Cup in 1972.
A victorious Colonial Chief after the Second Hong Kong Invitation Cup at Sha Tin in January 1989.
Fun Fact #5: Colonial Chief earned more than $1 million in prize money during his career, making him the first horse to do so.
The most famous local racehorse arguably remains Rocket Man, the first and only local horse to win the International Group 1 race, Dubai Golden Shaheen in 2011. The Singapore legend retired in 2016 with an outstanding 20 wins from 27 races, with earnings exceeding $6.7 million, the highest ever made by a local racehorse.
Rocket Man thunders his way to victory on the tracks.
Fun Fact #6: Did you know that legendary rock singer and songwriter Rod Stewart played his first concert in Singapore at Singapore Turf Club? It was 1995 and the Rod Stewart 'Live' In Concert was the first-ever concert held at our racetracks, drawing an audience of over 8,000 people.
The 1990s were a time of progress and transformation, with the Club expanding into a $500 million state-of-the-art Kranji Racecourse in 1999. The five-story grandstand could accommodate 30,000 racegoers.
On 4 March 2000, Kranji Racecourse was officially opened by then-President, Mr SR Nathan, to a 30,000-strong crowd. Singapore Turf Club has called Kranji Racecourse home ever since and despite the passage of two decades, Kranji Racecourse still ranks among the best in the world.
Official opening of the Kranji Racecourse in 2000, graced by then-President Mr SR Nathan (middle),
former Tote Board Chairman Dr Yeo Ning Hong (left) and former STC Chairman Mr Herman Hoscht (right).
The grandeur of the Grandstand and world-class racetracks at Kranji Racecourse.
At the end of 2019, the world was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next two years, the Club held our races behind closed doors with strict protocols and Safe Management Measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all racing stakeholders.
Finally, on 30 April 2022, the Club reopened our doors to the public. Since then, we have held seven feature races. Of these, the Group 1 races are Kranji Mile, Lion City Cup, Singapore Derby and Queen Elizabeth II Cup, with Singapore Gold Cup coming up next on 19 November 2022.
Prize presentation for Kranji Mile - the first feature race after the Club’s reopening to the public.
(From left to right:) STC President and Chief Executive, Ms Irene MK Lim, Jockey Mr Wong Chin Chuen, Trainer Mr Daniel Meagher, Tote Board Chairman Mrs Mildred Tan, Owner Mr Lim Siah Mong, STC Chairman Mr Niam Chiang Meng, Tote Board Board Member Mrs Penny Goh and STC Management Committee Member Mr Andrew Loh.
Learn more about Singapore Turf Club here.
Source: The Winning Connection, published by the Bukit Turf Club in 1992