Racing

A day at the races for the Stags

Tampines Rovers Football Club soak in the electric atmosphere of Dester Singapore Gold Cup Day

Decked out in their bright yellow polos, the Tampines Rovers Football Club marched to Kranji on Sunday.

No, it wasn't for a match.

It was to soak in the electric atmosphere of Singapore's marquee event - the Dester Singapore Gold Cup Day at the Singapore Racecourse.

At the initiative of their new chairman, Desmond Ong, the Stags chilled out and soaked in a different ambience, including at the parade ring.

Ong, a top lawyer who is no stranger to the racing industry, having owned horses, sent his football team to mesh in with the Singapore Turf Club's sporting culture.

It was also to reward the team he has been helming since September for their solid performance in this season's S-League.

"I thought it'd be a good idea to try and build up a strong tie with the club, so as to promote an even stronger sporting culture entrenched in the community," said the ardent Liverpool fan, who called his racing stable Anfield Stable and is better remembered for naming two horses after late jockey Jacky Low, namely My Boy Jack and Swinglowsweetjacky. Low died in a motorcycle accident in December 2012.

"I spoke with the committee and my coach Juergen Raab, and we all thought it would be a good day out for the boys. We've got 20 players and five coaching staff here at Kranji today.

"They had a great season to finish as the top local team, only beaten by Albirex Niigata.

"They have one more game to play on Saturday against Home United, but the title is already decided and we could let the players enjoy an early reward."

More used to scoring goals on the field, the players were doing their best to understand a sport which also shared the same spirit - winning.

"I actually recently went to the races at Chester in England," said national defender and English-born Daniel Bennett, 39, one of the team's stars.

"It's quite different from Kranji as the racecourse has a lot of people standing in the centre, but I can't imagine us doing this here as it's so hot.

"Kranji is very nice, too, but I remember going to the races in Bukit Timah before it was closed. Now, we do play at the pitches at Turf City and we can see some parts of the old track there."

Skipper Mustafic Fahrudin, 36, has never been to the races as they do not exist in his hometown in Serbia and it was an eye-opener for him.

"It's something new for me. It's an eye-opener," said the defender who also plays for Singapore.

"We have no idea how to back horses. Mr Ong gave us a few tips just now, it's all good fun.

"It's a nice way to relax as we had a tough season. We finished second but it could have been better as the fans always expect us to win.

"We qualified for the Asian Champions League as the best local team.

"That's something to look forward to, but it also means we will stay in training after the S.League ends."

After working with the Singapore national team in 2014 and coaching the Young Lions in 2015, Raab was happy with his first season at Tampines.

"The team have been on target. We had a great finish and we hope we can win our last game on Saturday," said the 58-year-old German, who has been head coach of the Stags since January.

"I'm looking forward to next season, but for now, it's great to be able to enjoy a day at the races with the boys.

"Racing is not so popular in Germany. I went to a country track a few times, but that's about it. But I have to say this is a nice venue, the view to the track is fantastic.

"I'd like to thank Desmond Ong and the organising committee for such a brilliant idea, and I definitely would love to have more such visits to the races in the future."

Racing