Sunday 1 August 2010

All tied up for free food at the Singapore Turf Club

A few weeks ago, a New Paper colleague bragged about the wonderful free food he enjoyed at the Emirates Singapore Derby.

Naturally, I confronted another colleague, TNP's wily horseracing insider Tan Thean Loon, and demanded to know why I wasn’t invited.

Fearing for his life, Loon whimpered something about The New Paper Trophy race coming up and getting me an invite if I was interested.

I told him: “As long as there’s free food, I’m there!”

I had never been to the Singapore Turf Club before, but it had long held a certain fascination for me, especially since it moved to Kranji in 1999.

Living just one MRT station away, I had always wondered what laid beyond the line of tall trees blocking the view of the race track from the Kranji train platform.

On weekends, you can’t help but notice that the passengers boarding and alighting at the station consist mostly of one demographic - men of a certain age wearing their raceday best, which for them, means shoes and a shirt with sleeves and a collar.

If Wikipedia should ever have an entry on the “uncle” look, it would have a picture of one of these heroes.

The New Paper Trophy race was on a Friday night. Being a cheapskate, I decided to make it a date night with my wife since the food was going to be free.

I arranged to meet Loon inside the turf club. Stepping into the lower grandstand reminded me of the last time I was in Paris - I was overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette smoke.

Fortunately, the free food was in some VIP room upstairs on the "club level", which was air-conditioned and smoke-free.

But as Loon was taking my wife and me to the lift, we were stopped by a turf club employee. She said I had to wear a tie and tuck in my shirt.

I said I didn’t have a tie.

She took out a fat, shiny, pastel blue tie from under her desk and told me to make sure I returned it later.

Right, as if I was going to keep it.

Loon had warned me about the dress code, but had erroneously told me I didn’t need a tie even though he was wearing one himself. I let him live anyway.

Ironically, before we were stopped, I was actually worried about being overdressed after seeing the berms-and-sandals crowd at the lower grandstand.

I haven’t worn a tie since my last failed job interview, much less a borrowed one that didn’t quite go with my $10 Cotton On shirt I bought on sale two Christmases ago. But for free food, I was willing to make the fashion sacrifice.

“Just be grateful they didn’t make you cut your hair,” my wife snarked.

It seemed unfair to me that women weren’t also required to wear a tie – perhaps around their mouth. I kid because I love!

With its lower grandstand, upper grandstand and club level, the turf club takes its class segregation very seriously, even integrating it into its building plans and enforcing it with sartorial requirements.

It may deploy the latest in modern information technology to assist punters in losing their money, but the turf club is still proudly old-fashioned, preserving anachronistic, almost surreal traditions like special days where ladies get to wear funny hats.

I had to wear a funny tie.

But the black pepper baby lobster made it all worth while.

Then my wife wanted to play the ponies and asked Loon for advice on how and what to bet. And just like that, we lost $30 in a single race (three times what I paid for the shirt I was wearing).

It’s true what they say: There’s no such thing as a free meal.

I was devising several satisfying ways to kill Loon when my wife won most of our money back in the next two races, including The New Paper Trophy race.

So Loon got to live to offer racing tips another day.

But we were still down by a few bucks. I looked down at my borrowed tie and wondered how much I could get for it on eBay.

I should’ve just eaten more baby lobster.

I've already made a date with my wife for next year's New Paper Trophy race.

- Published in The New Paper, 1 August 2010