By Frank Lee Trillington
It has been in the works for three years, but now with the soon-to-be opening in Colombo, Sri Lanka of the Sapphire Sri Lanka Gemstone Racing Club (SSLGRC) it’s all systems go with such ambitious plans that they make Peter V’landys’ Everest “concept” look like Tommy The Tank Engine. This is a racing club that really wants to took its horn and with absolutely no tunnel vision and a refusal to be derailed.
Let’s not forget that when horse racing started in Asia around 1860, it began in India, and what was then known as Ceylon- today, Sri Lanka. Both countries were the first outposts for journeymen Australian jockeys like Ted Fordyce aka The Railwayman. Fordyce ruled horse racing in both neighbouring countries, but Ceylon was where he became the equivalent to what Joao Moreira is today in Hong Kong.
With Sri Lanka having recently reopened the Royal Turf Club in Nuwara Elya, foreign investment has been pouring into a revitalised Sri Lanka from Japan, Mainland China, the Philippines and Honduras to create the world’s first resort racecourse.
Set to open its barriers in March 2018, the new course, able to hold races up to 5000 metres with an Olympic size swimming pool in the middle of it, boasts a Clubhouse offering state of the art technology when it comes to betting facilities, and with all patrons having free access The Sapphire Boom Boom Room featuring international names such as Bruno Mars, James Blunt, Rihanna, Tom Jones and, what the club hopes will be the return of Bros.
There will also be restaurants carrying such global brand names as Wolfgang Puck, Jamie Oliver, the Lok Yu Teahouse, and McDonald’s.
Horse racing will be held throughout the year with a major race offering a reported US$20million in prize money each month plus US$5 million in sapphires and the gemstone Sri Lanka is famous for, the black opal.
According to Vinay Sapuradnekarnam, the Club’s Executive Director of Creative Planning, the Sapphire Sri Lankan Gemstone Racing Club will completely change the concept of horse racing. “Every race meeting will last five days with race goers offered the opportunity to take a break to play golf or go snorkelling at our adjacent 18 hole golf course and specially created lagoon area,” he explains. “There are also luxury aromatherapy scented villas located behind the clubhouse for those wishing to chillax.”
With state of the art quarantine and stable facilities including horse therapy equipment, the club has over 700 horses, mainly from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, Mongolia and Calcutta, already stabled. There’s room for another 500 horses.
According to Mr Sapuradnekarnam, the club hopes to attract world class trainers through what he describes as a “free flowing rotating system”. “Trainers will be able to take short or long term retainers and hand over their stables to whoever they wish.” The club’s Wish List for trainers include Australians Chris Waller, Gai Waterhouse and Darren Weir, South Africa’s Mike de Kock, Andre Fabre from Europe, and from Hong Kong, John Size, John Moore, Gary Ng, and former punishing jockey-turned-trainer from Macau, WH Rambo Tse, pictured below.
Though every race is a multi million dollar tour de force, the Island Paradise Elephant Sapphire Cup, worth over US$35 million, and scheduled to be held in the first week of November, will be the world’s richest race and run over a period of five days as a racing carnival. The club hopes to have Melbourne Cup winning jockey Michelle Payne and VRC CEO Simon Love as special guests.
During these five days, the horses will run over a series of distances- 1400, 1600, 2,400 and 3,200 metres, and with the winner based on a points system. “We want to give all entries a chance to win,” explains Mr Sapuradnekarnam, adding that the club is considering adding an extra race on its all-weather track. “In the event of a tie, there will be a race-off over 1000 metres.
“There will also be extra points for a jockey’s riding style, and a special prize for the most outstanding silks, which will be sponsored by Versace. We’re confident that Donatella Versace will attend along with a host of other celebrities including the Kardashians.”
Already a number of names have been mentioned for the coveted role of CEO- Bill Nader, former Director of Racing with the HKJC, below, former Hong Kong trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee, departing CEO of CricketHK Tim Cutler, former Champion Jockey of Macau John Didham, also pictured below, and Sri Lankan cricket legend Mahela Jayawardene.
“We want our racing to be exciting, entertaining, supernatural, fly, and daringly different,” says Mr Sapuradnekarnam. “For example, though we shall soon name our official race caller, some races will be sung, especially the long distance races, where the idea is to have a superstar like Celine Dion give a ‘live’ performance of My Heart Will Go On. Other names on our list of singing race callers include Adele and Señor Julio Iglesias.”
With its own airlines offering regular flights at a budget fare to and from the island paradise, the new racing club has high hopes of working with other racing clubs, especially during their off seasons or winter months, and be seen as the Ibiza of horse racing with an EDM festival- Electronic Dance Music- and with everything filmed to be an ongoing online reality series along the lines of “The Bachelor”, though the concept remains a tightly guarded secret.
“All I can say is that the concept will have a horse racing theme to it mixed with romance,” says Mr Sapuradnekarnam, who mentions Australian race caller and reality star Anthony Manton, below, as being someone the club would like to invite to be part of the series.
Too ambitious? Not according to the very confident and dynamic Executive Director of Creative Planning of the new racing club. “This has been over three years in the planning, we have the right business partners, we don’t need any funding, we have learned from the successes of other racing clubs, and are now at a point in our business strategy where we wish to be seen as an addition to what they’re already doing as opposed to being competition. We hope they see us the same way as we will be offering a completely different racing product.”