Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Bukit Timah Turf Club

For many of us, the act of prancing around to a chubby Korean guy is probably the closest any of us will get to experience what horse-racing is really like, and while the history of horse-racing stretches back to 1842 when the first racecourse was built on where else but along Race Course Road, many will possibly remember the Bukit Timah Turf Club as the iconic site where horse-racing flourished in Singapore.

The 1983 Gold Cup race . Image taken from Singapore Press Holdings, 1983.
The 1983 Gold Cup race . Image taken from Singapore Press Holdings, 1983

It all started in 1927, when the Singapore Turf Club purchased part of the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate and opened it within six years in 1933. Initially restricted solely to members and owners, it stopped operations during the Japanese Occupation and only reopened in 1947 after extensive restoration.

Closeup of horse racing. Image taken from Singapore Press Holdings, 1983.
Closeup of horse racing. Image taken from Singapore Press Holdings, 1983

Amazingly it was only in 1960 that members of the public were allowed to attend the races, and with that probably came an interesting myriad of characters housed in the grandstands that overlooked the racetrack.
On one side you had the mostly-male working class punters hoping to make it big, their hopes resting in betting slips that were often strewn across the floor at the end of the day, while up in the boxes you had the well-dressed individuals just looking to spend another Sunday away, chatting with friends while throwing in a random bet or two without much concern.

The working class crowd clamouring in the grandstands. Image by Wong Kwan, 1959
The working class crowd clamouring in the grandstands. Image by Wong Kwan, 1959

Women Punters at the Singapore Turh Club. Image taken from Singapore Press Holdings, 25 March 1952.
Women Punters at the Singapore Turh Club. Image taken from Singapore Press Holdings, 25 March 1952

In 1981, to meet the increasing demand of crowds, the North Grandstand was opened at a cost of $18 million and allowed a total of 50,000 people to the races.
Yet just 12 years later in 1993, it was announced that the prime land that Bukit Timah Turf Club sat on would be released for residential development, with the new 81.2ha site at Kranji opening in March 2000 with the S$3 million SIA International Cup as its opening race.

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