ThoroughBred Racing

Backers pushing for Thailand to become new international racing hub

Backers pushing for Thailand to become new international racing hub

Thailand is being touted as the new Asian racing hub capable of replacing the doomed Singapore industry with plans to build a racecourse on a greenfield site in the country’s capital with the capacity for up to 1,500 horses. Influential Singaporean owner Eric Koh, a former steward and now an entrepreneurial restauranter, is acting as an honorary adviser to the Thailand Horse Racing Association as plans are drawn up to professionalise and grow the cottage sport into a flourishing industry with international appeal.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed between property developer JCK Co Ltd, a publicly listed company on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, and the owner of a parcel of land near Bangkok’s international airport which has been deemed suitable for a new racecourse and training centre to be constructed.
Koh revealed more certainty over the proposal would be known in the coming months, but he hopes construction of the racecourse could be completed in three years’ time, and he believes the Thai population would support racing in droves. “I think using Hong Kong and Singapore as the model, they [Thailand Horse Racing Association] would like something of a similar scale,” Koh told ANZ Bloodstock News.
“I think they have the passion, the enthusiasm and the population to sustain that vision because, population wise, there’s [about] 72 million people and that’s way more than Hong Kong [7.5 million] and Singapore [5.9 million] has. “Walking into their racecourses is like walking into a full Sha Tin or Bukit Timah racecourse, so the passion and interest for horseracing is definitely there. “There’s also the fact that the Thais love to gamble, so I think there’s the potential if racing is run professionally.”
 The desire is for the new track to race twice a week, requiring a horse population of about 1,500, a number which Singapore had during its halcyon period in the late 2000s, with initial prize-money about on par with what neighbouring Malaysia races for, which is approximately AU$4,750 to a little over AU$12,000 per race, whereas Singapore conducts races with prize-money from approximately AU$22,000 to healthy sixfigure pots.
 “Our initial prize-money target, because that will have to come from betting revenue, so as betting revenue grows with the betting licence and the totalisator licence, which we will be applying for with the racecourse operations, so I am expecting a very quick increase in prize-money that will grow in tandem with the betting revenue,” said Koh, who manages the Singapore racing interests of Thailand-based Falcon Racing and King Power and his own Team Cheval racing portfolio.
 “So, for a start, I would see prize-money at probably on par with Malaysia in year one and in year three we should be looking at something near to what Singapore has been offering.”
There are about 1,200 horses in training at Sha Tin and Conghua to sustain the Hong Kong racing industry and Koh envisages owners and trainers would be heavily reliant on Australian and New Zealand-bred horses to meet the needs of the Thailand Horse Racing Authority. Koh said: “My projection would be very similar to what we have in Singapore where 82 to 85 per cent of the horses come from Australia or New Zealand.” Thailand Horse Racing Association’s Stud Book manager Teeraporn Pamornsakda confirmed the organisation was keen to expand the local industry.
“We have been instructed from Mr Eric Koh about methods of developing the Thailand horseracing industry which commit to raise the level of racehorses and the new racecourse to meet international standards,” Pamornsakda told ANZ Bloodstock News. “At present, it is in the process of asking for permission to construct the new racecourse from government.” As things stand, the Royal Bangkok Sports Club conducts horseracing about twice a month, but it is effectively a private organisation which was first established in late 1904.
The Royal Thai Turf Club which raced at Nang Loeng racecourse in Bangkok was decommissioned in 2018 with the 32-hectare venue repurposed as a memorial park by Thailand’s King Rama X. Koh said those behind the new racecourse project would hold talks with the Royal Bangkok Sports Club about it becoming a partner in the new development. “As it is now, I just would like to get in place a good regulatory system, so I am starting to work with the Royal Bangkok Sports Club,” Koh said.
 “This project, in terms of the regulatory side of things, will start with them immediately and it depends what their land lease is and what their plans are.” Koh added: “They [Royal Bangkok Sports Club] run their own tote, so it’s just a small racing operation, and the Thailand Horse Racing Association, the chairman and the committee, have got a vision to professionalise horseracing in Thailand, which is why they have appointed me to be their adviser to help them build a new racecourse.” ANZ Bloodstock News has learned that there are also other parties keen to invest in the burgeoning Thailand racing industry, with advanced discussions underway about building racecourses in other regions of the country. Koh is also aware of the potential for a Thai racing circuit to be developed.
“I think there will be a few training centres spread across the country and that’s where the whole regulatory side will come in,” he said. “If we are going to be inclusive and if we are going to put horses at all these training centres, then the controls and regulations need to be strictly imposed to ensure the integrity of the races and things like that.” The funding of such a large-scale development will be significant and outside venture partners could be called upon to help underwrite the racecourse. “This is a project that involves not just horseracing as there’s plans for an 18-hole golf course, there’ll be malls and hotels,” Koh said.
“It’s a fully fledged integrated project, so in terms of shareholders or partners, to make it a viable and sustainable project, maybe we need to be open to having other partners who can contribute to horseracing. “While they can self-fund the development, they are keeping their options open with good partners who can help support and give horseracing a boost, then we should welcome them into the project as well.” Singapore racing is slated to end in 12 months’ time, but there is a danger the 180-year-old industry could close before that intended date as participants seek alternative careers or countries to be able to continue to train and ride.
While it won’t be immediate, Koh hopes the respective groups behind the Thailand investment can reap the rewards by making it a destination desired by international participants and horses. “When the time comes, we’ll open it [Thai racing] for international applicants and we’ll see who is interested – trainers and jockeys,” he said. “To rationalise [this development], we want to make it an international racing hub that could possibly replace Singapore. “We want to be global and international and then, of course, the staging of international races will come in time.” Thais love to gamble, so I think there’s the potential if racing is run professionally – Eric Koh Your Essential Dai