No horsing around before a race
Behind the scenes at Singapore Racecourse at Kranji, horses and jockeys undergo gruelling training, weight control and rigorous testing for prohibited substances
Singapore Turf Club (STC) returns millions of dollars annually to the local community by channelling wagering surpluses to its parent, Tote Board, for grant making initiatives.
The generation of these funds involves many unsung heroes who work tirelessly behind the scene to prepare and make each race day a safe and successful one.
Each week, the Singapore Racecourse at Kranji comes alive with racing fans, ground crew, racing team members and yes, horses. While the racing fans follow the horses as they parade and race, the team works hard behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly.
“The easiest way to describe horse racing here is it’s very similar to running the 100m, 200m at the Olympics. The horses and jockeys are all athletes,” said an STC spokesman. And like athletes, race horses need to train for the races.
“Training is at 6am from Monday to Thursday. The trainer tells the rider how far and how fast to go,” he said.
There are several training tracks at the Singapore Racecourse.
“One of them is the uphill training track. It is a poly-track, made of the same artificial surface as the main track where the horses race,” he said.
Some 1,400 horses call the Singapore Turf Club home.
“The majority of these horses are owned by Singaporeans. The rest are owned by expatriates or overseas owners,” said the spokesman.
Similar to all competitive sports such as football, athletics and swimming, the competitors are tested to ensure they are free of prohibited substances and in this case, the competitors are the horses and jockeys.
On race day itself, the grooms lead the horses to the pre-race area, where they are checked to confirm their identity before blood samples are taken for testing.
“This is to ensure that the horses are not given prohibited substances,” he said.
And to ensure that the samples taken are not tampered with, the vials are number-coded before being sent to the laboratory for testing. “It takes 60 to 90 minutes to test for prohibited substances present in the horse’s system,” he shared.
Some of the substances used would not show up until after the race is run.
“The top three horses, and other randomly selected horses for each race will have to undergo a second round of blood and urine testing to make sure that they indeed pass the tests,” added the spokesman.
It is well-known that jockeys — males and females alike — need to be small in stature. This has to do more with their weight and they have to stay light, that is why some struggle with their weight throughout their career.
At most, jockeys have to be a svelte 49kg to 52kg, so they have to watch what they eat because extra kilos gained will slow down the horse.
At the same time, every horse in a handicap race has to carry a certain amount of weight “to level the playing field,” the STC spokesman explained. To ensure this, all jockeys must weigh out before a race to make sure they and their kit, including the saddle, are of the right weight.
“If a jockey and his kit is lighter than the weight the horse has to carry, the difference will be made up by thin lead weights in a special saddle cloth,” he said.
And once a jockey has weighed out, he hands the saddle to the trainer or the assistant to saddle up the horse.
“The trainers prefer jockeys to be as close to the allocated weight as possible, as it is harder for the horse to carry lead weights than a human who can move with it. Many jockeys would follow a very strict dietary regime in order to make up the weight.
“Some would even go as far as controlling their water intake before the race,” he said, adding that after the race the jockey must weigh in with all his kit, to confirm that the horse carried the right weight during the race.
GOING TO WAR
After the weigh out, trainers saddle their horses and give final instructions to the jockeys, who are in the colours or silks that identify the owners of the horses. Like athletes, the horses need to warm up so they walk or trot around the parade ring before moving over to the starting gate.
Each horse will be carefully loaded into its drawn starting gate and the jockey readies his mount for the signal to jump for the race. The moment the starting gates open, it is war. The jockeys become fierce rivals and the horses aggressive beasts.
And to ensure there is safety for both jockeys and horses during a race, an ambulance and a vehicle ferrying the vets follow closely behind the competition on the service road next to the track.
The race is completed once the horses finish past the winning post. The winning horse gets the honours with commemorative photos taken with its proud owners. And all the horses are then led back to their stables for a good wash down and some light bites before retiring for the day. All in a day’s job for both horses and jockeys until the next race beckons.