Robert Mabbett, SIS/Racing Post BSMOTY 2016 winner, talks to SIS about his trip of a lifetime to Singapore

Since winning SIS/Racing Post Betting Shop Manager of the Year 2016, Robert Mabbett has had a hectic 2017 from interviews with the likes of Channel 4 and Sky Sports to receiving VIP treatment at the Cheltenham Festival and presenting the winner of a best turned-out horse at Aintree.

With special thanks to Singapore Turf Club, the sponsors of the 2016 competition prize, Robert has most recently returned from a trip of a lifetime to Singapore with his wife Nadine and accompanied by Nigel Boardman, SIS Major Account Manager. We caught up with Robert to find out about his experience in the Lion City.

Day 1 – Arrive in Singapore

We arrived in Singapore on Thursday 6th July and the first thing that hits you as you leave the plane is the humidity and the heat, it was 36 degrees! We were pretty tired after our 13-hour plane journey so being greeted by our taxi driver waving a sign with my name on it at arrivals was a welcome sight. On the journey to the hotel, we couldn’t keep our eyes off Singapore’s towering city landscape and I was amazed just by how clean and well-kept the city was.

Singapore Turf Club had booked us into the Regent Singapore which was a lovely hotel and the staff were very accommodating. Our hotel room on the 9th floor had everything we needed including two balconies where we could enjoy incredible views of the skyscrapers. We did not want to waste too much time in the hotel so set out to explore the city. Just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel, we found ourselves on Orchard Road where there is a myriad of eateries and shops. Not having any experience of the local cuisine we decided to play it safe for the first night and eat at the Hard Rock Café.

Day 2 – The Carbine Club Singapore Gentleman’s lunch

Nigel and myself were invited by the Singapore Turf Club to a Gentleman’s only lunch at the Grand Hyatt Hotel organised by The Carbine Club Singapore. The lunch is run every year to celebrate the Emirates Singapore Derby. This gave my wife Nadine some time to relax before a busy few days ahead.

We travelled to the Grand Hyatt by taxi which I would highly recommend as the best way to get around Singapore as they are not that expensive and there are so many of them around! On arrival we were taken to a private room where we met members of Singapore Turf Club and the other lunch guests. It was great to meet so many people from different corners of the industry including special guests Henry Plumptre, CEO of Godolphin Racing who oversees all of Sheilkh Al Maktoum’s racing operations and Kevin Naughton and Greg Radley from Sky Racing International. To add to the racing theme, all the waiters were dressed up as Jockeys!

Then came the surprise, we were seated at our tables and out of the blue, the lights were turned off and all the walls in the room disappeared to reveal the kitchen, the head chef and his staff. It was the last thing that I was expecting! And so lunch was served. It was a buffet lunch served at our table on revolving centres so we could help ourselves to as much as we liked. This was my first taste of real Singapore cuisine and it did not disappoint. One of the main dishes was a slow cooked beef which literally fell off of the bone! We also had the opportunity to hold the Melbourne cup, the prize for Australia’s biggest horse race which is worth over $200,000 and made from 18 carat gold. No surprises then that we had to wear gloves to touch it!

 Day 2 – Evening at the races

After the lunch we made our way back to the hotel where we all got ready to head to the Victoria Racing Club Trophy evening races at the Singapore Turf Club Racecourse. Again it was a short taxi ride up to the racecourse and on arrival the huge grandstand was spectacular to look at. Once there, the atmosphere much reminded me of UK horseracing in the early days as swarms of people turned up just for the pure thrill of betting. It was great to be a part of it! We were escorted to a large viewing balcony where we were joined by a lot of people from the earlier lunch and treated to a lovely buffet style dinner.
The event was made up of 12-14 handicap races and in comparison to the UK, there wasn’t a bookies’ favourite. The favourite was simply the horse with the most money on it to win! Whilst taking a walk around a very different looking parade ring, with rubbery foam tiles replacing grass, we met with one horse owner who was adamant his horse was going to win and was persuading people to bet on his horse. Much to our surprise his horse did in fact win!

Day 3 – Marina Bay

We asked someone for their advice on the must see places in Singapore and they suggested Marina Bay and Sentosa. So on Saturday we chose to go to Marina Bay. We took a short taxi ride there and started our visit in the Gardens. The gardens are made up of man-made super trees which are amazing to look at especially when they are all lit up. We definitely made the most of our time there where we roamed the streets filled with both high end and high street shops and we also visited the Science Museum, home to Nadine, not my wife but one of the most realistic female humanoid social robots in the world. Unfortunately for us the robot was only in operation at certain times and not during our visit. A few tips for anyone visiting Singapore is 1) make frequent trips to the ice cream huts to help you cool down and 2) stop off at the small street vendors to sample some of the best tasting food around!

Day 4 – Singapore Derby Day

On arrival at the Singapore Turf Club racecourse for Derby Day, you could already tell that there was a certain grandeur to the event that we didn’t see at the evening races. Everyone was dressed up to the nines and all the Emirates staff came dressed in their uniforms. There was also a best dressed competition and I spotted a guy in a sparkling tuxedo who was a definite contender! We were seated in the same viewing balcony but this time there were no partitions separating the rooms which created more of an atmosphere. The food was really nice and I decided to try a noodle dish called Laksa which I highly recommend.

The racing was also of a higher quality with jockeys from the UK, Australia and America and the main race was won by a New Zealand-bred called Infantry.

I had very little betting success on Friday backing only 1 winner so a change of strategy was needed for Derby day. With only pools betting available in Singapore there is no point in getting your bet in early as you cannot take a price so I decided to pick a few horses in each race and watch the markets to see which horse was being backed before making my final selection. I landed my first winner with ‘Lim’s Regard’ in the 4th race. Don’t expect to get rich though as my selection which started at $60 about 11/1 returned at $11 which was 6/5. This does not seem to put the locals off however. We took a trip downstairs to the betting halls and they were alive with hundreds of people enjoying the racing, an electric atmosphere and the roar as a race neared its climax was deafening! For me betting wise I should have listened to the advice of Mark Worwood, Head of Wagering for Perth racing whom we had the pleasure of meeting. He was backing top Australian jockey Wally Pike who had a successful afternoon landing 2 winners and a 2nd place in the Derby.

Day 5 – Sentosa

On our last day we decided to visit Sentosa, a popular island resort off Singapore’s southern coast. There are three ways to get to Sentosa; take the Sky train, travel by cable car or walk across using a travellator. We opted for the latter! There is so much to do on the island including a Universal Studios and a Madame Tussauds. We decided to go to an augmented reality museum called Trick Eye Museum. You can see from the photo we had a lot of fun there!

We also took a walk to end of the Island where there was a fabulous beach and the views were somewhat surreal, on one side we could see the sand and sea but when you look out at the ocean beyond the buoys you can see these giant cargo ships!

It was really interesting to experience first-hand what the betting and horseracing culture is like in a different country but also to meet people from all over the world and hear about the challenges they face in their own countries. In Britain we face a challenge to keep people coming into our betting shops with younger customers using more and more technology such as tablets and smartphones to place their bets, whilst in Singapore despite offering nowhere near the range of products we do their betting shops are full, you even need to pay to get in! Millions of people go racing in Britain each year and big festivals such as Cheltenham are seeing record attendances. In Australia attendances at racecourses are very low despite their incredible appetite for racing, they broadcast racing from 9am with races every 6-7 minutes well into the evening.

I would like to thank the Singapore Turf Club for their wonderful hospitality, it really was the trip of a lifetime! I would also like to wish the candidates nominated for this year’s Racing post/SIS betting shop manager of the year the very best of luck and I look forward to meeting the final 24 at Doncaster racecourse in October. For one worthy winner it will be a truly life changing experience.