I’ve been reading colonial-era newspapers from Southeast Asia for quite a while now, and I’ve always skipped over the sections on “turf club news,” that is, news about horse races, as I’ve always assumed that this was a strictly European (and particularly British) activity.

Then today I saw a list of the names of horse owners and their horses at the Jesselton Turf Club in British North Borneo in 1925, and I realized that the world of horse racing in the colonial world was much more cosmopolitan than I had assumed.

Jesselton

Here, for instance are some of the names of the owners and their horses:

Mr. Lo Tian Yin – Rosop

Mr. Voo Tiau Ken – Copra

Mr. Miko – Limbai Padang

O. T. Genang – Bintang Pindah

Mr. Abdullah – Lucky Boy

Mr. Binut – Alang Laut II

Haji Taba – Langkon

O. K. Matjakir – Kijang Kalabu

O. K. Saman – Rapnap

Mr. E. G. Grant – Lady Eva

. . . and the British North Borneo Government’s Maisie

Hyderabad

Realizing how many “natives” were involved in this “British gentlemen’s” sport, I looked around for some pictures of horse races in the colonies and found the above one (from the British Library) of the grand race stand at Hyderabad. It’s a bit difficult to make out who exactly was there, but it was clearly more than a British sport.

Singapore

This then made me look to see what academic works have been written about the role of horse racing in empire. I didn’t find much. A little bit appears to have been written about the history of sport in Singapore, and it notes how wealthy Chinese became involved in the horse races. But it’s obvious that there must be a lot more that can be said.

It looks like there were turf clubs in virtually all of the British colonies. It would be interesting to see what role they played in the local societies and how this might have different from one locale to the other.