The Emirates Singapore Derby rides into town this month. Alan Grant explains how to make the most of the turf
Picture the scene: the buzz of a big crowd; the pageantry of the pre-race ritual where jockeys dressed in fine silks trot their trusty steeds around the parade ring; the rush to the totalisator windows to place bets just before the races start; and, of course, the jolt of adrenalin as the horses come round the final bend and head for the winning post.
‘It is an incredible sport, with a lot of thrills and excitement. It’s a pure rush,’ says Soong Tze Ming, senior vice-president (racing) of the Singapore Turf Club. ‘What is more stunning than a field of 16 beautiful thoroughbreds burning up the track at about 70kph?’
Sound tempting? Then join the rush on 15 July when the Turf Club in Kranji hosts the $1m Emirates Singapore Derby, one of the most prestigious races on the local racing calendar.
There are three options for the paying public. For a no-frills experience, $3 will get you into the non-air-conditioned lower public grandstand on Level 1. There’s an edge to the atmosphere down here, as this is where the majority of the 15,000 to 20,000 punters who attend each race day gather to compare tips and put their betting systems into practice. The public area in front of the stand stretches to the rails of the course, allowing close-up views of the finish line, while a giant electronic screen provides multi-angle coverage. If you get hungry, it’s strictly hawker fare served in two food courts, plus a few drinks stalls scattered around the hall.
Things get slightly more expensive – and comfortable – as you go up in price and elevation. The upper public grandstand on Level 2 ($7) is air conditioned and free from the heat, humidity and smoke that fills the halls underneath. There is a more sedate air to things up here, and a better view of the track.
Paul Lancaster, who describes himself as an occasional race-goer, introduced his friend Tony Smith to horse racing during the recent Singapore International Racing Festival. Even though they paid for the air-conditioned public grandstand, the British expats spent the majority of their time downstairs in the Level 1 area. ‘There is a better atmosphere down there,’ says Lancaster. ‘You feel as if you are in the mix of things.’
The top-priced option is a $20 ticket to the @Hibiscus Lounge. Situated on Level 3, the lounge offers a panoramic view of the racecourse and access to the Club Level facilities, including a bar and the Owners’ Lounge. Watching the races while sipping champagne in a reserved booth outfitted with an LCD monitor certainly has an element of decadence about it.
‘If you want to feel the raw energy and charge of horse racing, Level 2 is the right place to go. It has a more casual and vocal crowd. You can taste the excitement when you see the runners approach the winning post as everyone will be on their feet. I reckon it’s similar to soccer spectators in a stadium cheering their team on, but in much more comfortable settings,’ says Turf Club senior VP Soong. ‘Whereas @Hibiscus Lounge is for those who prefer the obvious comforts – nice table arrangements, a set meal, fine wine, the works. It is a good place to bring a date, or celebrate an occasion with a group of friends.’
The dress code for the @Hibiscus Lounge is smart casual, but for Derby Day, which conjures images of top hats and tails, fancy frocks and headgear, why not enter into the spirit of things by dressing to impress (a coat and tie or national dress is required in certain areas on race days). To further follow tradition, it is customary to wear black and white on Derby Day. ‘The Emirates Singapore Derby is definitely the fashion event of the racing calendar,’ says Soong.
Betting is fairly simple (there’s even a guide on the Turf Club’s website that you can study beforehand), but if you do have problems filling in the coupons, friendly staff are on hand to help. There are numerous betting windows throughout the grandstand, but place your bets early – race-goers tend to procrastinate, resulting in a mad rush in the final minutes before the off.
You can bet as much as you want, or as little as $5 for a win or place.
Cheaper $2 bets are available for more exotic selections, but these involve picking at least two horses (hence increasing the odds of winning). Be sure to check out the parade ring behind the grandstand, where the striking contrast between the sport’s main players is best viewed, as the diminutive jockeys sit atop their magnificent equine athletes. About 20 minutes prior to each race, the horses are gently trotted around the ring by their handlers, with jockeys mounting their steeds just before heading out to the course. The idea is to let the punters see how the horses look physically. If a horse you fancy is snorting excessively or otherwise acting temperamentally, it might be time for a rethink.
If you can’t make it for the Singapore Derby, there are plenty of other opportunities to seek your fortune, with race meetings held throughout the year on Friday nights or weekends. There are eight to ten races per meeting, at roughly half-hour intervals.
As with any gambling event, part of the thrill is the prospect of winning – and the fear of losing – money. So remember to bet sensibly and within your means. And don’t worry if you lose your shirt and can’t afford a cab back into town – the Kranji MRT station is only a few minutes’ walk away.
Emirates Singapore Derby: 15 Jul.
For information, call the Turf Club at 6879 1000 or visit www.turfclub.com.sg. For information on @Hibiscus Lounge bookings, call 6879 1715.