Saturday, May 12, 2012

994. Part 2. Dr Goh Keng Swee's few good men and women

Dr Goh Keng Swee's few good men and women tasked to reverse the horse racing decline - Part 2Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS13 May, 2012

Part 1 was written in June 2011; the webpage is at:

As the Club veterinarian, my job was to diagnose and treat race horses. There was no need for me to do management which would involve lots of meetings, gathering of facts and figures and making forecasts. When the Singapore Totalisator Board (STB) took over the horse-racing operations around 1988 and appointed the Bukit Turf Club as its agent, my employment contract was assigned to the Bukit Turf Club (BTC) with its own new managers.

Changes are a constant in life and this new development of a new STB and BTC was a tsunami for the employees of the side-lined Singapore Turf Club (STC) which was a private club at that time. Many of us, including the Personnel Manager, knew our days of employment were numbered as the new management would replace us in time to come. New brooms sweep clean and this is the way of life.

I had decided to go back to private practice treating dogs and cats and small animals and therefore I would just wait till my employment contract expired. I was given another one-year contract by the Bukit Turf Club and I accepted it.

In the interim period, I was part of the task force formed by the STB to reverse the decline in racing. The task force comprised a small group of people under the leadership of Mr Quek Chee Hoon, the general manager of the STB. Excluding the STB's management staff, there was the BTC management staff. The Betting Manager, the Racing Manager and the Junior Veterinary Surgeon (myself) were the main work horses, working for the dormant STC earlier and were now the employees of the BTC.

There was Ms Violet Lim, a Ms Universe Singapore, as the Manager in charge of this task force and she would be the one to produce the findings and give the recommendations to Mr Quek Chee Hoon, in my observation. Mr Quek would do his own visits and had others doing research. Once we had a meeting with Mr Quek and he said that the propeller-type aircraft door could not be closed tightly open when he flew to Sabah for a meeting, when the Racing Manager mentioned some matters about aviation.

I went with the task force to visit and research the horse-racing clubs in Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand. The members were supposed to write their comments to Ms Violet Lim. We had a tough time writing anything to reverse the decline in Singapore horse-racing, since we were not into writing reports under the old STC. Our lives were hands-on technical work and no writing management reports. Maybe the Racing Manager would compile some racing statistics for the STC Annual Report to Mr Thompson, the General Manager of the STC.

So it was up to poor Ms Lim who asked us to write our observations after the overseas trip. But she would be able to do the writing as I believe she was trained in accountancy or business-management matters. Beauty and brains are a powerful combination for the business of racing and Ms Lim was a good catch for the BTC, in my opinion.    

After several weeks, including interviewing (as suggested by me), a prominent stock broker committee member of the STC and a brother of the then Prime Minister for their views to reverse the decline in horse-racing, there would be a presentation of the report by Mr Quek Chee Hoon to the Board of Directors of the STB and the BTC in the STB office in Alexandria PSA Tower.

I did talk to the trainers and the jockeys and would submit my observations and analysis of the facts and figures by faxing a page of report with "analysis", directly to Mr Quek Chee Hoon.

For example, I had faxed once, a report that a 3-horse race should not be permitted to start as it would be easy to fix the race and "tum" the tote. At that time, there was an insufficient number of horse running per race and so 3-horse races were permitted.

As Mr Quek did not speak to me directly, there being a hierarchy of management from the Chief Stipendiary Steward as my boss to the General Manager of the BTC and then to STC, I did not expect any reply from him nor did he contact me. One day, the Racing Manager mentioned to me that Mr Quek asked him why he did not provide the "Analysis" when he submitted the racing statistics to Mr Quek. I did not inform him about my few faxed reports with "Analysis" to Mr Quek.

Finally, the big day came for presentation of the report by Mr Quek to the Board. "You have to be present," Mr Quek instructed the Betting and Racing Managers and myself through Mr Lim. Just in case, we had to answer some questions from the Board.

Mr Quek presented slides from a projector. There were no fanciful Power Point slides in 1989, if I remember correctly.  At the end of his presentation, Mr E.W. Barker, a well-respected politician, horseman and Chairman of the BTC said "Good report, well done."

Some 2- 3 weeks after Mr Quek's presentation, an inaugural racing magazine published a report on racing written by me. The Editor wanted an article on horse-racing and since I had done much research on the "racing decline", I gave him my report. It took me many weeks to compress all my research and findings into this report. It was a "monotonous black and white report" and I did not think of submitting this to Ms Lim or anybody as the report was in a mess of text, pictures and graphs that needed to be gelled to be readable.  

However, the magazine Editor had staff and produced this report in an interesting way, with colour and good layout. I hoped that this report would have an impact in an inaugural magazine rather than some pieces of written report to the STB and benefit the trainers and jockeys. I do not know whether it was of any use. A few days after the publication of this article, the General Manager of the BTC wanted to see me in his office and to let me know that all publications should be vetted first. I expected this administrative control in any organisation. So I phoned the magazine Editor to kill Part 2 of this article. It is 2012 now and I believe that the horse trainers and jockeys have a better stake in racing than before the STB took over.
Dr Goh Keng Swee's few good men and women tasked to reverse the horse racing decline - Parts 1 & 2 will be located at Horses in  

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