Last lap before winner of Miss Universe Singapore is crowned
Pageant finalists make final public appearance at Singapore Turf Club
For as long as she can remember, Miss Universe Singapore (MUS) 2017 finalist Cara Neo has loved horses.
Growing up, she visited the zoo almost every week. In primary school, she also received copies of Anna Sewell's novel Black Beauty every year for her birthday or Christmas when she was in primary school.
She had posters of horses in her room and even had a life-size toy pony.
The entrepreneur and professional mermaid told The New Paper: "I collected anything horse-related and read up on them, such as the different breeds, their body parts and how to take care of them.
"They are such beautiful, magnificent and empathetic animals, so I have always been drawn to them."
It took a lot to rein in her excitement when she watched a horse race at the Singapore Turf Club (STC) at Kranji last Sunday.
Some of the top 20 MUS finalists attended the annual Sakura Day @ The Racecourse, which was held in conjunction with the Group 1 Panasonic Kranji Mile, the first leg of the Singapore Triple Crown series.
The event was the finalists' final public appearance, and they met the VIPs. They also took photos and interacted with the other guests.
Cara, whose favourite breed of horses is the Lipizzaner, said: "I watched horse racing on television when I was young, but I felt more involved watching the race at Ktanji as there was a bigger sense of excitement."
Finalist Setia Vegawati, 26, has always been in touch with horses - she has been horse riding almost annually in Indonesia since she was six.
The dance specialist, whose father is Indonesian, said: "When I visit my relatives (in Indonesia), we go to ranches and bond over horse rides."
Even then, she admitted she faced difficulties using five-inch heels and a gown for her official MUS photo shoot with the horses at STC. The spread later appeared in TNP.
She said: "Although I was not scared and the horse was tame and loving, it constantly rubbed its head against my body, which threw me off balance at times."
Last Sunday was Setia's first time watching a horse race at a track.
She said: "It was really interesting, and when the horses were getting closer to the finishing line, I felt the adrenaline rush... I would love to go back and visit the horses at STC."
During her MUS photo shoot, finalist Ashley Rita Wong, 24, had an instant connection with Silver Fly, one of the STC horses.
The private tutor said: "I have heard about how people get bitten by horses, but I threw all caution to the wind because of my love for animals.
"It was not yet my turn for the shoot, so I went up and started petting and smelling the horse. I even gave it a small kiss, which it returned."
The moment was captured on camera, and she nailed the impromptu shoot in five minutes.
On meeting the finalists for the first time, the chairman of STC, Mr Lim Joo Boon said: "I look forward to seeing their performance at the final (on Wednesday)."
Mr Vince Toh, chief financial officer of STC, said: "After welcoming the finalists to the Singapore Racecourse for their individual photo spreads and official press conference (in August), as well as engaging them for two corporate social responsibility activities in the past few weeks, STC is pleased to once again host the finalists, and (now) at the Racecourse for the Group 1 Panasonic Kranji Mile, one of the most anticipated races in Singapore.
"This being their last public appearance before the final, I am glad to see that they had an enjoyable afternoon at the races before they begin their homestretch towards the grand finale."