Carnival shows how far Lion City's racing has come in the past decade

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 May, 2009, 12:00am

The overriding reaction from visitors to the Singapore international carnival last weekend was to marvel at just how far racing on the island republic had come.

It is, after all, just 10 years since Singapore made that historic decision to split from the Malaysian circuit and run a standalone racing centre along the lines of the successful Hong Kong model.

Sure, there have been some detours along the way but Sunday's outstanding meeting at Kranji was a vivid reminder of the extent of the journey made by the Singapore Turf Club.

Chalk and cheese have far more in common these days than the Singaporean and Malaysian racing products.

Attendance on Sunday was 25,000, and any more would simply have made it less comfortable for those present. The club says another 17,000 attended its various off-course betting centres around town.

Turnover was S$23 million (HK$122 million), up 6 per cent for the corresponding meeting 12 months earlier, though it includes S$6 million bet on the 11 races at Sha Tin.

The phrase that was repeatedly heard from visitors was 'so much more professional'.

The club has been paying serious attention to those jurisdictions they think offer world-best practice and they've been modelling aggressively.

The return of the KrisFlyer Sprint in 2008 has been a masterstroke, and the race must now be under serious consideration for inclusion in the Global Sprint Challenge. Last year, they had the good fortune to lure Australia's cinderella horse Takeover Target, and he won the race.

This year he returned, but had to face more formidable opposition in a race worthy of world ranking.

International television coverage of the two big events was of a high standard, to the extent the TV boys in Hong Kong confessed to taking notes of innovations that seemed to work.

The icing on the cake for Singapore's industry was that it had a horse that was truly competitive at the top level. In running second to Sacred Kingdom by a neck, Rocket Man served notice he would be a true international force, sooner rather than later.

Behind the scenes, the Turf Club is building more barns behind the back straight and when they are finished in October, Kranji will be able to accommodate 1,500 horses.

The agenda is racing twice a week, all year round, and the club believes it needs a horse population of 1,400 to sustain that. It is spending S$200 million to build a magnificent uphill, polytrack gallop to add enviable variety to the training facilities.

Singapore's collective attitude has also matured beyond recognition, as illustrated by a response from senior vice-president Soong Tze Ming.

While visitors were hailing the meeting the best ever, Soong's cool reply was that it was merely 'a stepping stone' to where they want to be. And that sort of forward-thinking, goal-oriented attitude will always take an organisation a long, long way.