SINGAPORE – The much-anticipated meeting between Singapore racehorse trainers and Singapore Turf Club (STC) president and chief executive officer Irene Lim on Friday turned out to be as anti-climactic as a “dead heat”.
It was the first time the two parties met since Monday’s announcement that horse racing would cease from October 2024, with the 120ha of land occupied by the Kranji racecourse to be returned to the government for redevelopment.
Unfortunately, not much more information emerged from the discussion.
Michael Clements, president of the Association of Racehorse Trainers Singapore (Arts) and spokesman for the 22 trainers, came out of the 1.5-hour meeting feeling none the wiser.
He said the trainers’ main aim at the meeting was to highlight the plight of their ground staff – from the stable hands, syces, track riders to the local jockeys.
The Zimbabwe-born naturalised Singaporean decried the way this group of essential cogs to the racing industry wheel had been left out of the retrenchment assistance plan proposed by the authorities.
But the response from the STC was to take note of their grievances. They also asked the trainers to “draw up a list of other concerns”.
“I told them that our stable staff who fall outside of the club were just being treated as collateral damage,” said Clements.
“Only the staff inside the club were given assistance, and owners were given incentives to stay till the end of next year.
“We told Irene that was one of our main concerns, but we have many others.
“So, she told us to come back with all our concerns and they will be looked into at another meeting with us soon. They will then get back in due course.”
However, the meeting was not without its fair share of drama. At some stage through the session, tempers flared from the floor, and the room was soon less than a quarter full.
“Three quarters of them were too upset and emotional, they walked out,” said Clements. “Only Tan Kah Soon, my vice-president, and a handful, and myself stayed.”
Invariably, the meeting was then adjourned, with no further issues ironed out – not even the extension of time Clements was quoted as being bullish about on Monday.
“I feel we have a pretty good chance of getting an extension. You can’t wrap an 180-year-old industry in 16 months,” the 2020 Singapore champion trainer then said as his first reaction to the shocking news.
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Not only was the topic not broached with the STC management, it would appear Clements has had a change of heart.
His new tone was more one of resignation to his fate.
The 57-year-old figured that even if their wish was granted, they would be on a hiding to nothing.
“We did not give any legs to the extension of time. We thought what is the point of dragging this all out over a longer period of time,” he said.
“They have already made their call. The practicality of an extension just does not add up when the government has already made their decision.
“Who would continue to train horses when it will stop in the end? We can make representations, but we wouldn’t get them, anyway.
“Already, jockeys are being offered lucrative track rider packages in Hong Kong. They’re not going to wait for October 2024.”
He added that some track riders could find work in Australia, which would mean that horses would not be trained.
“If there are no jockeys, we have no races. Trainers have also been getting good offers to look elsewhere,” he said.
“We’re done, it’s closing.”
Clements said he was not being a defeatist, just a realist. He said he and his fellow trainers – those who agree – will still endeavour to meet the Oct 5, 2024 cut-off date.
But the club should urgently respond with a concrete scheme to help those who stay to keep them afloat.
“We could come to some agreement to do certain things to help them, but right now, there is no plan in place, nothing,” he said.
“We’re trying to give them ideas to get racing to end in October. But, to me, racing may just collapse if Irene and the club don’t come up with a workable plan for all parties as soon as possible.”
An STC spokesman said that a human resource consultant would provide trainers’ staff with job-placement assistance and skills-training courses, but no further details were given.
While Clements is convinced the industry and his own Singapore career is doomed, he still hopes a solution will be found to ride out the storm.
“We have to let the dust settle, emotions are high. People are confused,” he said in allusion to the disgruntled trainers from Friday’s meeting.
“Another week or two, we may have a clearer picture.”
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