An interview with Teh Choon Beng first published in Equinews Vol 2/97
Choon Beng, if I may I would like to start by asking you what made you choose to become a trainer and what do you need to do to become a top class trainer?
Tunku Ahmad, I believe my choosing to become a trainer was due to my love of animals especially horses. Also because my father was involved in the racing industry, I was already familiar with the lifestyle of a trainer which looked pretty good to me. The leading trainers of the day commanded my attention and admiration with their style, smart attire and flashy cars. You don't need to be a Harvard or Oxford graduate to become a top trainer. Firstly, you need good old common sense and plenty of it. Then you need the kind of judgment that we horse people call "the catch of the eye" and of course, you do need an ounce or more of good luck. Finally I believe you need some racing know how because without it, you can never get to the top as a trainer.
How would you compare MRA racing today relative to the time when you were training and why has Hong Kong racing gone from strength to strength whilst MRA racing has progressively declined?
MRA racing today is more betting orientated than when I was training and there are fewer sporting owners in the game. There are many reasons why racing in Hong Kong has gone from strength to strength over the years. (a) it attracts large crowds and being the only form of legalised gambling in Hong Kong, it has an enormous betting turnover (b) it is very professionally managed and the rules of racing are strictly enforced (c) it has good facilities for racing and for the public (d) it has top jockeys and trainers with strong and colourful personalities (e) it has good relations and strong support from the Government.
Racing on the MRA circuit has stood still and even declined because it is not seen as an attractive form of entertainment and therefore does not get the sort of crowd support it needs to make progress. The prize money in Malaysia is miserable and does not encourage owners to bring in quality horses or attract top international jockeys to come to ride in Malaysia.
In addition decisions made by the MRA Clubs lack uniformity and consistency and action by MRA officials needs to be professionally executed both in regard to clarity and speed of action. Punters and the general public need to see justice being delivered with speed and clarity in order to restore their confidence in the system.
Government support for racing is almost non-existent even though the industry directly and indirectly employs a large number of people, provides a significant amount in tax revenue and offers an attractive source of entertainment to the Malaysian public and incoming tourists. This inability to attract Government support for the industry points to the need for stronger leadership from the MRA working as a unified team to improve relations with the Government.
How can MRA racing in Malaysia and Singapore get back to the glory days of the past or is it too late?
There is a need in most of the Clubs to upgrade the facilities offered to members and the general public. We need to satisfy existing club members and attract bigger crowds to our race meetings. This means also that the public must feel that they are getting a "fair go" when they place their bets.
The stakemoney has to be increased to attract more sporting owners. There is some talk that the influence of the betting syndicates has reached the stage where they have taken over certain stables. The MRA has to be stricter in its efforts to tackle this problem.
At the Committee level the members of the Clubs should be looking to elect individuals who are committed to the racing industry, its well-being and improvement. We need to have Committee members who are interested in horses, have an owners view of racing, protect the public interest, take an interest in the industry and are prepared to work to improve the quality of the MRA horse population and the number of people attending race meetings.
What do you think of the quality of MRA jockeys today and why have we not produced our own Malaysian Dettori?
I think it is obvious that the quality of MRA jockeys has declined sharply over the years. Before we can even think about producing a Malaysian Dettori, we need to strengthen the existing guidelines for MRA jockeys. It is also apparent that currently there are insufficient top riders around to provide the exposure young Malaysian jockeys need to learn from on the race track. There is also the point that our jockeys do not realise their full potential because they are not properly taught or professionally managed. Top riders need good managers and good owners to flourish and no doubt an overall racing atmosphere that places less emphasis on betting.
Now that you have become a Committee member of the Penang Turf Club, what do you consider to be the most important contribution a Committee man can make to MRA racing?
Tunku Ahmad, you have been a senior member of the Selangor Turf Club for a long time. I'm sure that you would agree with me that when I suggest that the most important contribution a Committee man can make to MRA racing is not to play "politics" along with being willing and able to give time to the Club. If a person was to accept and hold office, he must find the time to attend meetings and discussions pertaining to racing. At the same time, he should also be willing to work and act rather than just meet and talk. It also seems to me that if he has no real interest in the racing industry, he should not hold a high position within it. Finally, yet another important contribution that a Committee man can make is to be able to accept changes when it is judged to be for the better of the industry.
Finally on the social side, I know you are a keen golfer and I would like to ask if your golf has improved now that you are relieved of the stress factor as a trainer?
Believe it or not, my game was better when I was a trainer, even a stressed one! In the four years before my retirement, I could play around Handicap 18. However, since becoming a Committee members, my game has gone from bad to worse. Near the end of my training career, I would play golf as frequently as five or six times a week. Nowadays though, I get to play about once in twelve days. I have hopes though that I'll be playing more frequently again soon.