I was surprised and yet not shocked by the decision to shut down the Singapore Turf Club. Urbanisation has crept up once again to kill a sport seen largely as a luxury we cannot afford. By Oct 5, 2024, the last race would have been run – and we will wave goodbye sadly to an activity which has been around on this island since 1842. We are unsentimental to the point of unfeeling. We have bulldozed the National Theatre. What’s Kranji? What’s heritage?
I have no inking what racing was like in Farrer Park (where Race Course Road is next to). I started getting interested in my youth in the racing in Bukit Timah through my uncle.
He was staying in the main family house in Geylang. He then moved out to Opera Estate. In those days, only Rediffusion – a cable broadcasting service – was allowed to carry live commentaries on racing. It had not reached the then outlying ulu estate. So every Saturday and Sunday, my uncle had to come to my house to catch the broadcasts. He was a moderate bettor, mostly with bookies. In those days, the only off-course betting was in Robinson Road if you did not fancy travelling all the way to Bukit Timah.
Some days when he was late, he would call me to take down the results. That was how I got involved with racing and became knowledgeable about jockeys, trainers and horses.
I remember jockeys like Merv Posner, Teddy Larkin, Garnet Bougoure, J Johnson (usually called “JJ”), and Martin Sng. Posner, an Australian jockey, was a prolific rider. He would bring in sometimes four or five winners a day. Bougoure was a successful rider but went on to become a good trainer.
Already in the early years, there were also major stables supporting the industry. They included Goodman, Lucky, L and T and Shaw stables. Shaw stable gave its horses names connected with its entertainment business. They included Cinema (several horses got this name – Cinema I, II, III), Stage On, Entertainment (I, II, III, IV), Showgirl. Shaw bought a horse called Steve which ran unbeaten in Singapore. It was sent to England, where it raced as New World.
In honour of the horses which have given racing enthusiasts such great excitement, I will offer a small list of the unusual ones.
Here’s to the mudlarks (horses which would come alive only in the rain).
Las Vegas and Ten No Trumps
The tote board would usually show $110 for a $5 bet. But when the sky darkened, the clouds burst, and the heavens cried, some punters who had taken a risk and betted on either horse earlier on at high odds would be laughing all the way to the bank.
And on a wet track (the heavier, the better), Las Vegas or Ten No Trumps would jump to the front at the start and lead all the way to the finishing line. As the Hokkien punters would say, “Boh beh chau.” Yes, it’s No Horse Run. Meaning no other horse was running in the race. These two horses would not just win; they would put 10 lengths between them and the rest. The well-known Malaysian race caller, Noordin, liked to say in his very colourful way, “And you can throw away your glasses and collect your money!”
Showgirl, Batu Karang and Jerantut
Not all horses liked to lead. There were those which were perennial slow starters. It would take a while for the engine to get going but once they got into stride, they would fly. Showgirl and Batu Karang were a pair of from-behind flyers on a slightly wet track.
At the home turn, Showgirl would be switched to the outside lane. With a clear path ahead, it would begin to go past every horse and sweep its way to the front. Loads of stamina, with more energy as it just surged ahead, leaving every other horse fat-footed. Similarly, Jerantut, the famous grey from the Sultan of Pahang Stable. Always from the back.
Finally, the world-class horses:
Amusement Park, Jumbo Jet and Rocket Man
Shaw stable’s Amusement Park was a world-class sprinter. Its duels with Distine captured headlines.
Jumbo Jet was considered good enough to be invited in 1972 to the Washington DC International Laurel race. According to leading English jockey Lester Piggott, who rode it in the race, Jumbo Jet was in a position to win until it fell halfway.
Rocket Man was a world-record sprinter.
To all the colourful horses in Bukit Timah and Kranji, thanks for the memories.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also the managing editor of a magazine publishing company