Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Golden Village

Sweeny Bob’s Barber Shop, in Cartmel, is moving premises after eight years in the village. Phillipa, who usually cuts my hair, will be spending more time at her shop in Ambleside instead. I’ve no idea where I’ll go for a trim from September onwards, but the good news for racegoers is that she’ll still be around for the forthcoming August Bank Holiday weekend.
We’ve received many a call from visitors to the racecourse camp site, who have woken on race-day morning to discover that they’re experiencing a bad-hair-day. Fortunately, Phillipa is there to help - whether it’s a shave, a blow-dry, or a short-back-and-sides. If you’ve booked into one of the restaurants, and require a bit of post-camping styling, I’d recommend making an appointment - because the queue can extend past the Mallard Tea Room on busy days, which is useful if you’re in need of a bacon sandwich.
The same goes for anyone who’d like their nails done - or needs a body-wrap, a facial, a massage or waxing: The beauticians at Park Lane, just 30 yards from the Course Enclosure, have a small number of appointments available this Sunday – the day between the races. I’m not actually sure what a body-wrap is, but it just goes to prove that everything you could possibly want (and probably anything you forgot to pack for the races) is here in the village.
Left the cork-screw at home? Go to the Red Pepper cook shop. A stick to prod the track with? Look no further than the Larch Tree gift shop. Enhance your picnic with a trip to Cartmel Cheeses, the Unsworth’s Yard micro-brewery or the Cartmel Village Shop – which also happens to bake the famously delicious Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding.
From Friday evening, until the Tuesday after Bank Holiday Monday’s races, there’s really no need to go any further afield. There are four pubs to choose from (a different one for every evening), in addition to L’Enclume (recently named the Good Food Guide’s ‘Best Restaurant’ for the fourth consecutive year), Rogan’s Bistro and The Priory Hotel. The Ilex Bistro and Bar is little more than a mile walk through the woods to Holker Hall.
And to feed the soul, at 11.00am on Sunday morning, there is the Steeplechase Service at the Priory – after which one of Jimmy Moffatt’s horses will be blessed, by the Racecourse Chaplain Nick Devenish, by the porch of the church.
It’s all so idyllic that, if Cartmel was any bigger, I’d be tempted to call it the Golden Town (which just happens to be the name of this week’s selection – in the first race on Saturday). Perhaps we should re-name the horse: Golden Village in Need of a Barber.   

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Sputnik Sports Services

Long suffering readers of this blog will appreciate the truth of the adage: You can't believe everything that you read on the internet.
So I hope that you won't be too concerned to learn that I am currently working on a plan to broker a new sponsorship arrangement with Sputnik International, the Kremlin backed multi-media news agency recently accused of infiltrating British institutions for propaganda purposes. Having donated more than two hundred thousand pounds to Edinburgh University and eighty five thousand pounds to St Anthony's college, Oxford, I'm sure they could make a meaningful contribution to the Cartmel economy - where Russian visitors to L'Enclume are already commonplace.
Sputnik International has close links with the Russkiy Mir Foundation, a government funded organisation established by Vladimir Putin to promote the Russian language, headed up by former KGB chief Vyacheslav Nikonov. The launch of Sputnik Radio, in Scotland, appears to be the latest blow in a propaganda battle which started when Winston Churchill sent emergency aid packages to Russia, during the Second World War, containing condoms packaged with the words "Extra Small" - to make the point that British soldiers were made differently from their Russian counterparts. 
Sputnik International don't appear to have a racing correspondent, so I'm hoping to fill that gap as part of our proposed partnership: this week's selection is Ivan Grosny (otherwise known as Ivan the Terrible) in the Betfred Ebor at York. 
Ivan The Terrible - Tip for the Ebor
To gain some insight into the world of Russian racing, I turned instead to TripAdvisor - where the Central Moscow Hippodrome has accumulated four and a half stars from 29 reviews. I can't read the 28 reviews in Russian but, according to CraigWorldWide, the hippodrome is a good place for people-watching and, although it can be quite cold, it's much better with a cup of coffee and a sandwich - which reminds me a bit of Brighton.
Cartmel Racecourse also has four and a half TripAdvisor stars, based upon 170 reviews - of which 149 rate us either 'excellent' or 'very good'. NatwichFlatley goes as far as nominating Cartmel "The best racecourse in the World!?!".
There are some honest niggles within the reviews too: the viewing isn't great if you like to see the whole race - although we do usually have four or five giant screens showing the racing and there can be few (if any) racecourses with more furlongs of accessible running-rail to see the action close up. One or two reviewers commented on the price of the food concessions, although many also mentioned the voluminous picnics which racegoers are encouraged to bring with them - there are plenty of alternatives to purchasing a burger in a bun.
To help our own propaganda efforts, if you have a good time at the races - please tell all your friends and family (or TripAdvisor if you prefer). And if you don't have a good time, please tell us why - and we'll do our best to improve the services we offer.
Until next time... or as they say in Russia: Do Svidaniya!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Home of Steeplechasing

For almost as long as I can remember, I have wanted to scale the heights of the steeplechasing world; only now am I beginning to realise that I was born in entirely the wrong country.

Britain stages more steeplechases than any other nation. We even stage the Grand National, the most famous steeplechase of them all. So it is galling to discover that, having been blessed enough to be born British, it should turn out that the best practitioners of the sport are bred and nurtured in a far-off land.

I know what you’re thinking: Ireland isn’t all that far away. But I’m not talking about the Irish, despite the genius of Arkle and Paul Carberry (the most skilful jockey on the planet, who retired this week through injury).

Nor am I talking about France (the source of recent chasing greats such as Kauto Star, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre), Germany, America, New Zealand, Australia or any of the other countries which we regularly see represented by horse-flesh at racecourses up and down the country.

Because while I was leaping about my childhood garden, pretending to be Red Rum (and occasionally Zongalero - second in the 1979 Grand National), there were children of my age in Kenya who were already training at high altitude and covering distances in excess of 70 miles per week.

My garden antics led to an enthusiasm for athletics – and a sporting career which peaked in 1987, when I won a race at Dover, setting a new school record for the 2000m Steeplechase (due, in no small part, to the fact that no other students had a desire to run over a long distance whilst jumping obstacles and pretending to be a horse).

Since then, there have been eight runnings of the men’s Olympic 3000m Steeplechase; all eight have been won by a Kenyan. On two occasions (Barcelona in 1992 and Athens in 2004), Kenyan athletes took gold, silver and bronze. Since 1998, Kenyans have occupied at least two of the three positions on the podium following every Olympic steeplechase final.

It would be easy to predict a further gold for either Ezekiel Kemboi or Brimin Kipruto, who have shared the last three Olympic titles between them – but my selection for this week (breaking all my rules about not putting money on any creature with fewer than four legs) is their compatriot: Conseslus Kipruto, in the final of the 3000m Steeplechase, in Rio, on Wednesday 17th August.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The 2017 Cartmel Fixture List - So Many Reasons to Celebrate

There’s no Jump racing in Britain at the moment, because the jump jockeys have all gone on holiday. In desperation, I've scoured the entries for this weekend and I’ve spotted a jump-trainer, Alan King, with a runner on the Flat at either Windsor or Leicester on Sunday. So this week’s selection in Sir Nigel Gresley, wherever he runs.

Fortunately, to ease the boredom between obscenely short Flat races (some of them less than 60 seconds in duration), the BHA chose this week to announce details of the 2017 fixture list. Now, we don’t require many excuses to stage a party at Cartmel - but just in case you're in need of a few ideas – here are some reasons for you to celebrate at the races:
Saturday 27th May is Mothers’ Day in Bolivia. Everyone has a mother – so even if you’re not Bolivian, we recommend that you bring yours to Cartmel.
Bank Holiday Monday, 29th May, is Oak Apple Day – celebrating the restoration of the English Monarchy following King Charles II’s triumphant return to London on 29th May, 1660. Despite the day being abolished in 1859, it’s still celebrated in some parts of the country – notably in Worcestershire where the locals fix oak leaves to the lapels of their jackets. Anyone not wearing an oak leaf can legitimately be pelted with bird’s eggs or thrashed with nettles; we don't encourage the pelting or thrashing part of the celebration here.
The final day of the May meeting, Wednesday 31st May, coincides with the 30th year of World No Tobacco Day – so if you’ve given up smoking, or never even started, come and enjoy your tobacco-free day with us.
June 30th is Independence Day in Congo, Teachers Day in the Dominican Republic and Asteroid Day across the rest of the world – commemorating the day in 1908 when a massive asteroid disintegrated about six miles above Siberia, knocking down 80 million trees across an area of 830 square miles. We have lots of lovely trees at Cartmel, which we prefer asteroid-free.
The middle day of our nine-day season takes place on Sunday 2nd July, which also happens to be the exact middle of the year – with 182 days of 2017 falling both before and after. The precise middle of the year is about an hour before the first race, at 1.00pm, due to the clocks going forward for British Summer time. It’s also World UFO Day.
Saturday 22nd July is the date to bring any friends who happen to be rat catchers – as this is one of two dates in the year when we celebrate the Pied Piper of Hamlin, although I’m not certain whether that’s because he got rid of all the rats or because he took all the children… Either way, it might be best to bring the kids on Monday 24th July, which is the start of the school summer holiday and Children’s Day in Vanuatu.
The August Bank Holiday Meeting is a good time to bring the family together – Saturday 26th August being Women’s Equality Day in America and Monday 28th August being National Grand Parents Day… in Mexico.
So many reasons to celebrate – just nine dates to put in your diary.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Lost in the Fog

It takes someone with a peculiar kind of vision to build a racecourse – but even so, back in 1802, most people must have thought that the third Duke of Richmond had completely lost his marbles.
Goodwood may be one of the most beautiful racecourses in the country, but the track plots a precarious path along a high ridge of the South Downs and boasts some unusual cambers. Unlike Cartmel, there is no circuit for the horses to go round and around. In the longest races the horses start near the Grandstands, gallop away, disappear around a short loop and then head back down towards the stands again – in a similar format to Salisbury and Hamilton Park.
Shorter races are started far away from the stands at various points around the loop. In 1988, during the 1m 2f Festival Stakes, the runners set off in the wrong direction – taking the shortest way around the loop instead of the longest. The race was made void (depriving dual Eclipse Stakes winner Mtoto of the first prize money), although the starter’s error had a happy outcome – with the accidental discovery of a new starting position for 1m 1f races.
It’s possible that, on some days, no one would have noticed the horses galloping in the wrong direction, as the racecourse is vulnerable to sea frets – a thick fog which rolls in on the tide. During the first half of the 19th Century, it is claimed that John Barham Day (a prominent racehorse trainer) won a major sprint by sending one of his opponents in the wrong direction. The racecourse wasn’t fully enclosed at the time and Day met a stable-lad, who happened to be leading the favourite for the race, lost in the fog. Day, who trained at the nearby village of Findon, knew exactly which direction the horse should have been heading - but he still sent the unfortunate lad back down the hill and away from the track.
It’s one of those lovely stories, akin to the tales of crooked-goings-on behind the trees on the home bend at Cartmel – before a sixth camera was installed to capture the action there. But don’t expect any such skulduggery ahead of the Stewards Cup on Saturday; Goodwood enjoys a reputation heavily laced with old-English charm, but it is now a thoroughly modern racecourse boasting world-class facilities for both horses and racegoers.
The Stewards Cup is usually won by a sprinter on the upgrade – a useful performer with the potential to become a Group race winner. Step forward Dancing Star, who runs in the same colours as the popular 1992 winner Lochsong – known to her many fans as the ‘pocket rocket’. A filly, just like Lochsong, and trained by Andrew Balding, whose father trained Lochsong, Dancing Star is out to repeat a little piece of history for her connections.
Having already won four of her seven races, including one at Goodwood in June, Dancing Star is our tip for the weekend. Let’s just hope she runs in the right direction.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Rewind and Replay

The steeplechase track at Cartmel has the longest run-in of any jumps track in the country. No one will know that better than Henry Brooke - who jumped the last fence bare back on Monday, completing the final five furlongs of the race with the saddle hanging half way around Altruism's belly.

Having lost the lead (and almost his saddle) through a blunder at the second last obstacle, Altruism battled back manfully and failed by just 3/4 of a length to reel in his stable-mate, Fantasy King, at the finish. Fortunately Henry Brooke managed to cling on to all of his tack and managed to weigh-in successfully for second place.

There are some sights on a race-day, like the groom-to-be wearing a lime-green ‘mankini’, that you wish you’d never seen at all – while there are others, like Brooke's recovery, that you want to watch again and again.

Racing UK didn’t take their cameras across to the party tents in the Tented Village, so viewers at home remained blissfully unaware of the sartorial crimes that took place among the stag and hen parties on Saturday. Which is not to say that there weren't some very well dressed racegoers too - like the many ladies in hats and totally impractical heels.

Fortunately, Racing UK did capture all of the races from Cartmel on both days of the Barbecue Meeting - which means that subscribers can rewind and watch the races again and again (even the ones at Market Rasen, which they missed because they came racing at Cartmel).

The facility to rewind and replay, is one of the many benefits afforded by Racing UK Anywhere – a subscription package which allows the user to watch via a variety of platforms including Sky, Freeview, Desktop, iPad, iPhone, Android or Mobile Web. If you only ever want to watch Cartmel, you don’t even have to subscribe for a full year – day passes are available for £10.

There has been a debate in the racing press about TV coverage recently, predominately around the question of how much of each programme should be spent talking about betting and how long the presenters should develop the stories behind the personalities involved in the sport. The Racing UK presenters give added insight into the form of each race – so I’m confident that they’ll agree with my selection for the weekend, Her Majesty the Queen’s Dartmouth in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, at Ascot, on Saturday.

I like it when the presenters talk about the colourful side of the sport too - but you'll be able to watch Saturday's action on Racing UK safe in the knowledge that they won’t feature any images of racegoers wearing mankinis – even at Ascot.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Free Food and Shiny Hair

I love free food. And I’m not just talking about the delicious ham and cheese sandwich which was prepared for me moments ago by Anthea Morshead, our Clerk of the Course. Is there nothing that Anthea won’t do to ensure that racing at Cartmel runs according to schedule?  

We replaced our hanging baskets after the June meeting with some fresh displays, planted exclusively with a creamy-white variety of nasturtium called ‘Milkmaid’. The peppery leaves are delicious in a salad, while the flowers are edible too – the perfect garnish for a classy picnic or barbecue at the races. Which is my way of reminding you that, if you’re heading this way on Saturday or Monday, we’re offering a prize for the most stylish picnic at the races. There’ll be a hamper full of delicious local produce, for the winner, as well as tickets to a future race-meeting. 

We don’t expect racegoers to dress up – although you're welcome to do so if you wish... Perhaps we’ll give a prize for the most colourful wellington boots – although I hope it won’t be necessary; the forecast for Saturday and Monday is looking increasingly fine. The judges will be looking for colourful picnic blankets and innovative food – so if you’ve ever wanted to have a go at smoking cockles, under a ceramic pot, over a few oak chips (à la Jamie Oliver & friends), now is the time to give it a try.

But if it were me, I’d stick to the free stuff. At the north end of the racecourse, on the far side of the track in the overflow car park, you’ll find several patches of wild sorrel – delicious when mixed with the nasturtiums from the hanging baskets. If we’re lucky we’ll even be able to find a few un-ripened seeds from the nasturtiums which, when mixed with cream cheese, are an excellent replacement for capers and make a fantastic accompaniment to Furness Fish & Game's delicious venison burgers. The venison burgers aren’t free – but they can be purchased in packs (ready for your own barbecue) from their stand in the Tented Village.

Eat like this and you’ll be healthy too. Apparently the nasturtiums are packed full of Vitamin C and have a natural anti-biotic and anti-viral effect – staving off the symptoms of cold and flu. Plus, when mashed to a pulp and steeped in water for 12 hours, they create a beneficial hair supplement – stimulating the tiny capillaries in the scalp to promote growth.

I’ve read that somewhere – but, now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure whether you’re supposed to treat the resulting paste as a lotion or a potion. Perhaps we could experiment by giving some to the jockeys in the £10,000 Banks Lyon Jewellers Lady Riders Handicap Hurdle. Some can drink it, some can use it as shampoo – and we’ll see who has the shiniest hair. I bet it’s Lizzie Kelly – who rides this week's selection, Lyric Street, for trainer Donald McCain.