Last Updated on 2023-06-08 , 9:59 am
If there’s one thing most Singaporeans might think of when we hear the word ‘turf’, it’s probably the Singapore Turf Club (STC).
(Or Surf and Turf if you’re atas, but that’s beside the point.)
However, while most of us know STC as Singapore’s only horse racing club, that will no longer be the case in a few years.
By March 2027, the area STC currently occupies at Kranji will be returned to the government.
In a joint statement released yesterday (5 June) by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Ministry of National Development (MND), it was mentioned that “Singapore is a city-state with limited land”.
“The Government continually reviews its land use plans to meet today’s needs while ensuring there is sufficient land for future generations. Local horse racing has also experienced declining spectatorship over the years,” the ministries explained.
In particular, it was highlighted that the land that STC currently occupies, which is around 120ha, will be converted into housing spaces and other developments.
To put it into context, 120ha of space is around the size of 200 football fields and is larger than the entirety of Gardens by the Bay, which occupies 101ha of space.
Redevelopment of STC Area to Better Serve the Community
During a press conference that took place at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) yesterday (6 June), Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah revealed that deciding to close down STC was “not an easy decision but necessary”.
“There have been increasing needs and demands for land, and the Government regularly reviews our land use plans because we want to ensure that resources are optimised to meet Singaporeans’ needs,” she emphasised.
She also talked about how the government has taken plans for the next generation into account as well.
MOF and MND’s statement also indicated that they will “holistically master [plan STC and its surrounding areas] to better meet our future land use needs”, adding on to the “other major plans for Singapore’s northern region”.
Other plans include the redevelopment of Woodlands Checkpoint, improving Woodlands Town through the Remaking our Heartland programme and upgrading Lim Chu Kang to a high-tech agri-food cluster.
In particular, for STC, it was indicated that the area will be potentially used for “housing, including public housing”.
However, MND is also in the process of analysing the area and figuring out if the space can be used for other purposes as well, such as leisure and recreation.
“MND will also take into consideration the needs and requirements of various equestrian entities that intend to continue operating in Singapore, including compatibility with other land uses being considered for the area,” the statement assured.
Reduced Spectatorship for Horse Racing Over the Years
Although STC was founded in 1842 and has continued promoting horse racing for more than 180 years, it was also revealed that horse racing in Singapore has experienced reduced spectatorship over the years.
Ms Indranee also indicated that closing STC would not likely have a “significant impact” on the government’s finances.
Based on statistics provided by STC, the average number of spectators per race dropped from approximately 11,000 to around 6,000 from 2010 to 2019.
This number decreased even more after the COVID-19 pandemic, with the average attendance dropping to around 2,600 for each race day after STC reopened in April last year.
For context, STC has around one race day per week; ten to 13 races are held every race day.
In total, around 550 races take place at STC every year.
When speaking about the revenue, STC’s chairman Niam Chiang Meng disclosed to The Straits Times that approximately $400,000 is made from each race.
In total, horse betting in Singapore rakes in around $1.1 billion every year.
This figure includes the amount of money people spend on betting on overseas races.
Similar to the spectatorship, the total amount made from horse wagering has fallen from $1.8 billion in 2010, which was when Singapore started to have integrated resorts.
Regarding this, Mr Niam explained that the interest in horse racing dropped around this time as other types of sports betting started becoming more prominent.
According to him, other countries like the United States and Britain also saw similar declines in interest.
Employees to be Retrenched in Phases, Most Have an Emotional Bond With the Place
After STC’s last race on 5 October next year, which is the 100th Grand Singapore Gold Cup, its 350 employees will begin going through the retrenchment process.
According to MOF and MND’s statement, the retrenchment process will occur in phases, with the first phase commencing about 16 months from now.
“In the lead up to the closure, MOF and MND will work with Tote Board and STC, as well as other relevant stakeholders and agencies during the transition period to ensure that their respective needs are addressed for a smooth transition and closure of STC,” the statement added.
Afterwards, these employees will “receive retrenchment packages aligned with the Ministry of Manpower’s regulatory requirements and guidelines”.
The guidelines will consider various factors, such as how long the employee worked at STC.
Apart from that, transition support will also be provided in the form of counselling, job placement assistance, personal career guidance, and skills training courses to help them find new jobs.
As for how the employees are reacting to the news, several of them expressed sorrow upon learning of the information during a town hall meeting yesterday (5 June).
In particular, two employees told CNA that they feel especially sad as they have seen STC through its different phases and have helped STC become what it is today.
Mr R Jayaraju, STC’s Head of Tracks, also revealed that STC’s closure would take place in three phases.
After races conclude, the horses will be moved out of the facility before assets are returned to the government.
Mr Jayaraju, who has been working at STC for 22 years, expressed his disappointment at the club’s closure but acknowledged the importance of national development.
Mr Teo Yam Choon, STC’s Assistant Manager of Property and Facilities, expressed similar sentiments as Mr Jayaraju.
In particular, Mr Teo, who has worked at STC for 33 years, highlighted that he and his colleagues have gotten to know each other well over the years.
He even likened the relationship with his coworkers to that of a family.
Regarding the aid they will receive, both Mr Jayaraju and Mr Teo expressed interest in being a part of the reskilling plans.
Mr Teo also said that his colleagues with less experience should also see their job at STC as a ‘stepping stone’ that will help launch them into their future careers.
Beyond that, the Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers’ Union (SMMWU) shared that after the town hall, STC’s management and union had consultation sessions on Monday (5 June) for employees’ individual concerns to be addressed.
Support to be Provided During the Horse Exportation Process
As of now, STC houses around 700 racehorses and 38 livery horses within its premises, with the latter being horses that are kept for personal use.
After STC’s last race on 5 October next year, STC will start the process of horse exportation.
The process should conclude by March 2026, and STC will still continue to “honour its existing contractual obligations” with tenants and owners of the livery horses.
“The Government will also provide a timely update on the land use plans to ensure sufficient time for affected stakeholders to make the necessary arrangements,” the joint statement explained.
It was also announced during the press conference at MCI that the government will collaborate with parties like the Tote Board and STC to honour STC’s heritage and local horse racing.
More About STC’s History
Prior to being located in Kranji, STC used to be in Bukit Timah before it moved to its current location in 1999.
Back then, the move was also to make way for housing and other purposes.
After moving into the Kranji premises, STC’s new features, such as a five-storey grandstand, allowed the club to accommodate up to 30,000 audience members.
Other features like night masts also meant that new events like night racing could take place in Singapore.
Beyond its premises, the Tote Board was responsible for managing the club when the board opened in 1988.
More recently, Singapore Pools assumed responsibility for managing horse wagering in Singapore in 2019.
Regarding the future of horse betting in Singapore, Tote Board’s Chief Executive Fong Yong Kian revealed that Singapore Pools will still provide options for people in Singapore to bet on overseas races.
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