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Published: January 12th 2015
I’m really not much of a gambler, but I do enjoy horse racing. The first horse race I ever went to was at the St. Joseph County Fair more than thirty years ago. It was a cool, drizzly day, and the bleachers were old, splintery wooden benches with no shelter from the weather. I sat there absolutely transfixed, and watched a whole afternoon of racing, fortified only by the occasional cup of bad coffee. I’ve visited much nicer tracks since then.
I’ve wanted to go to the Singapore Turf Club for quite some time, but never quite made it. Either there was no racing on the calendar, or my schedule didn’t fit with the racing program. But not this year! The stars aligned and I was able to finally get to see horse racing in Singapore.
Horse racing has been a fixture in Singapore since 1842 when a few English racing enthusiasts asked the colonial government for a piece of land on which to hold horse races. There were given a plot of rather swampy land off Kerbau Road, an area where buffalo (kerbau is the Malay word for buffalo) and other livestock were kept. The first meet was
good luck horse
A lucky horse pulling a cart of riches your way.
held in February 1843 to celebrate the 24th
anniversary of the founding of the colony. (Of course, Singapore had existed well before Sir Stamford Raffles made his infamous deal with the Sultan of Johor, resulting in Singapore becoming an English colony.)
In the off season, the race track was used to graze sheep, and sported a nine-hole golf course. On at least one occasion it was used as a landing strip for aircraft. Eventually, as the city grew, the Singapore Sporting Club outgrew this location and moved about five and half miles north-west to Bukit Timah. The Kerbau Road site is now Farrer Park, and the Bukit Timah location is now a huge shopping mall known as the Turf City Shopping Mall. In 2000, horse racing moved to a beautifully upgraded track in Kranji, even further outside downtown.
So, I decide to start my 2015 off right by heading to the Singapore Turf Club in Kranji. This is a new adventure for me, and what better way to start a new year than with a new experience? The Singapore New Year’s Cup is run – quite appropriately – on New Year’s Day. This is a stakes race with
a purse of S$200,000. Not bad money for a two minute run.
Getting to the track is easy; take the MRT from anywhere directly to Kranji. From downtown with an E-Z Link card it costs less than S$2. Once off the subway, you walk down a covered walkway, past a barrage of signs warning about public gambling, and you are at the gates. You can even use your mass-transit card to pay for your entry fee.
Now the Chinese, perhaps unfairly, have been stereotyped as great gamblers, and also as rather superstitious people. On the off-chance that this stereotype is true, Singapore Turf Club puts every sort of good luck charm it can think of on display.
The first thing you see when you enter the gates is a life-sized statue of a spotted horse pulling a cart with heaped with gold (well, gold-colored at any rate) ingots. Spotted horses are considered to bring good fortune, and the implication is that a horse will bring cart loads of riches to you. Just past the horse is a sculpture of numbers, with the number eight being bigger and bolder than the others. In Chinese, the word or “eight”
and the word for “wealth” sound similar. In Cantonese, “eight’ and “fortune” also sound similar.
The theme of the number eight is repeated inside the grandstand. As I was wandering around looking for something to eat, I came across Food Hall 18. Hmm, says I, are there really seventeen other food halls at this track? If so, where are they hidden? It wasn’t until I stumbled across Food Hall 8 and Food Hall 28 that it dawned on me I was being offered good luck with every bite.
Even the names of the races are geared to promoting good fortune in the coming year. There was “The Good Health Stakes,” “The Happiness 2015 Stakes,” and, my personal favorite, “The Prosperity 2015 Stakes.”
This is a beautiful racetrack. The paddock, while open air, is covered to protect you from the sun and the rain. The viewing stands are banked so everyone can get a good look at the horses before they walk onto the track. For the price of admission you can watch the races from either inside (in the air-conditioning) or outside. Even the cheap seats in the grandstand have a great view, and the huge tote
board shows the action up close when the horses are on the far side of the track.
Patrons of the Kranji race track are not quiet, reserved onlookers. Oh no, they scream, they shout, they thrown bet slips in the floor. It makes for a fun and exciting experience. I watched five races, bet on four, and came in in the money on all four. I got to see some beautiful animals run at an absolutely top-notch racing venue. All in all, a pretty good start to the New Year.
Tot: 2.051s; Tpl: 0.016s; cc: 36; qc: 135; dbt: 0.0302s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb