British racing culture is hindered by the only thing that hinders anything in Britain; the weather. Not so in Penang. With the sun shining and a healthy stack of Ringgits, there is one obvious choice of how to spend a Sunday, and that is at the races.
Established in 1864, the Penang Turf Club is one of the oldest institutions in the State of Penang. Located just off Jalan Scotland, motorists pass the neat hedgerow separating the grounds and the road, and are even able to view the race-meet dates on an electric billboard which is updated regularly. Race meets are busy affairs with races held live at the Penang Turf Club interspersed with races re-broadcast from Singapore and Hong Kong. As such, the day runs at a frantic pace, one race following on immediately after another, even often running at the same time.
Entering through the turn-styles, visitors make their way up a narrow ramp on the way to the common betting area. In no time the air fills will a clamour and hum that can only mean serious betting is underway. What the communal betting hall lacks in comfort, it more than makes up for in atmosphere. A largely empty space filled with rows of chairs and benches, surrounded by betting booths and television screens, the usual congregation is made-up of mostly men sitting cross-legged in their seats peering over race programmes in dread anticipation. Punctuating the everlasting din are singular cries and whoops building up to a predictable crescendo as each race ends and a winner is announced. Some slap their programmes and make an angry strike through their booklet, while others leap up to collect their winnings.
Even though an atmospheric setting, the betting pit – for want of a better word – lacks élan, is dark, and smacks of being the place for serious, habitual attendees. If you are looking for a special day, sprinkled with a little glamour and Ascot-like pomp, the boxes are the place for you. In stark contrast to the pit, and running along the edge of the racecourse, are the boxes. After paying a nominal entrance fee – – the glass-fronted boxes are light, airy and come with comfortable folding chairs. Each box comes with its own betting station and televisions, making them immediate VIP areas by convenience. In addition, each box comes with its own terrace outside almost directly opposite the finishing line, so guests can feel the trundle of hooves as their horse finishes. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are brought down from the bar upstairs upon request. A group of over twenty tourists can request special packages and dress is strictly smart casual.
As an aside, while by no means aficionados, we at the Penang Free Sheet have acquired some useful betting tips. The standard bets are as follows: RM10 on a win/place, RM2 on a forecast, RM2 on a trifecta (meaning a bet that correctly predicts first, second and third place). At the end of the day, it is a good idea to use the trifecta bet as the odds sometimes jump up into the thousands, and a RM2 bet can lead to a nice little win indeed. However, it is important to remember that each race – unless a very special meet – usually only contains three or four ‘goers’ – horses that hold even a chance of winning. So, choosing a winning horse – or making a bet ‘to win’ – may not always be the safest or most consistent bet to make. Forecast or trifecta bets can usually be the more lucrative.
However, the Penang Turf Club is more than just a racecourse. It also boasts the Penang Turf Club Equestrian Club that caters for those experienced or learner riders who like to take part in show jumping, dressage or good horsemanship under qualified riding instructors. In addition, the Turf Club grounds contain a 9-hole golf course made of cow grass fairways and rough Serangoon greens. Hardly is there a more picturesque golf course, some holes taking you past colonial bungalows, dense jungle and waterfalls.
Visit www.penangturfclub.com for the latest race dates and times.
Address: Penang Turf Club, Race Course, Batu Gantong Road, 10450 Penang
Tel: 604 – 2385100 (hunting line)
Tel: 604 – 2385228 (Racing Dept)
Price: Standard entrance, RM6; Air-conditioned Viewing Terrace, RM20