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Monday November 20, 2006

Turning points at the racecourse

DATUK Sir Clough Thuraisingham’s leadership brought many momentous changes, as he nurtured the Club’s transition from a European concern to a local one. Among these changes were the construction of labourers’ quarters, improvements to the stables and an increased level of concern for the well-being of the Club’s staff. 

It was also during Datuk Sir Thuraisingham’s tenure that radio broadcasts of race proceedings began in Malaya. This was in 1954. Just two years later, Datuk Sir Thuraisingham added another notch to his list of achievements when he successfully replaced the Club’s old attap shed with a $1mil grandstand.  

Built to accommodate the growing number of race fans, the new grandstand was declared open by the Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, on April 3, 1956. This development helped to further improve the Club’s growing reputation for being an exceptional and professional facility. 

Datuk Sir Clough Thuraisingham and Datin welcoming Tunku Abdul Rahman to the official opening of the newly built grandstand in 1956.
The Club’s progress faced a slight hiccup in 1957 when the “Great Floods” hit Kuala Lumpur. Water-logged roads made it difficult for outstation horses to reach the Club by land, but the Club surmounted the problem by arranging to have the horses brought in by ferries. 

Despite the fact that the grandstand was under less than three inches of water, the foreign riders refused to cooperate. Datuk Sir Thuraisingam decided to rope in the entire team of track riders and riding boys to carry on with the races instead. 

The inauguration of the prestigious Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Gold Cup, in 1959, was another milestone. This Class 1, 1,200m race with a $9,100 purse, was won by Take Easy, owned by Loh Chin and trained by veteran K. R. Daniels, with legendary jockey Moses Lee on board. The year also marked the changing of race days from Wednesdays to Sundays, enabling more fans to attend the races. 

Around the same time, efforts were being made by the Straits Racing Association, which later changed its named to the Malayan Racing Association or MRA, to standardise racing and punting as well as to forge a solid identity for horse-racing. As a direct result, betting at the Selangor Turf Club and other turf clubs in the MRA circuit was formalised and regulated under the Racing (Totalisator Board) Act 1961. 

Another unforgettable incident in the Selangor Turf Club’s eventful history occurred in 1962, when a fire broke out at the Griffin Inn, causing some of the horses to break loose. Fortunately, the horses were successfully rounded up the following day. 

In the years that followed, a Royal Stand was incorporated into the grandstand to cater to the growing interest in the “sport of kings” among local dignitaries. The new venue was officially opened by the Club’s patron, Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1966. The Club later paid tribute to Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s first Prime Minister, in 1968, renaming the Selangor Gold Cup to the Tunku Gold Cup. 

The old judges and stipes stand was the last to be demolished following the opening of the new grandstand.

Big names in the race  

The Chairman’s post was passed on to Datuk Lee Kok Chee in April 1972. During Datuk Lee’s time, the Club began to actively seek affiliation with overseas racing clubs. It was indeed a boom time for the Club as great jockeys such as Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Yves St. Martin all came to ride.  

The 1970s also witnessed the transformation of the administration and management of horse-racing to more sophisticated methods. The totalisator was computerised in 1976, and a new computerised sell-pay system was introduced just three years later. 

The Selangor Turf Club’s success continued well into the early 1980s as professional horse-racing grew more popular. It kicked off the new decade with the introduction of the Piala Emas Sultan Selangor in 1980 to commemorate the birthday of His Royal Highness, the Sultan of Selangor. 

Computerised telephone betting was launched in 1982, replacing the old manual system, while closed-circuit television (CCTV) coverage linking the MRA circuit turf clubs began in 1983. This was followed by the installation of a central computerised betting system linking the Selangor, Perak and Penang turf clubs in 1987. 

It was around this time that the government expressed its interest to turn Jalan Ampang into Kuala Lumpur’s “green lung”, to help ease traffic congestion in the densely populated area.  

This was to mark the beginning of the Club’s plans for relocation from Jalan Ampang to Sungei Besi. The Club’s first off-course betting centre opened in Sungei Besi in 1985. 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II watching the QE II Commonwealth Cup race at the Ampang Racecourse, accompanied by Prince Philip and the late Datuk Ronald Khoo Teng Swee, in August 1992.
Datuk Ronald Khoo Teng Swee took the helm as the Club’s third local Chairman from June 1987 till his untimely demise in March 1998. He played a vital role in the advancement of the local horse-breeding industry, culminating with the approval of the Malaysian Stud Book by the International Stud Authority in 1996. 

He also served as Keeper of the Asian Stud Book and was Chairman of the Totalisator Board of Malaysia from April 1991 till March 1993. 

The Club played host to the Queen Elizabeth II Commonwealth Cup in October 1989 to commemorate the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  

The Club bought 255 acres of mining land in Sungei Besi in 1988 for its relocation. Work began in June 1990 on a new race course equipped with the finest racing, stabling and training facilities. There were plans for 720 stables, an equine hospital, an equine swimming pool, a 200m turf racing track with two elevated bends and a grandstand that can accommodate up to 25,000 people. 

The last race was run at Jalan Ampang in August 1992, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter for the Selangor Turf Club. 

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