Friday, 19 May 2017

Funland's £1 Champagne Offer

If ever we needed proof that snobbery is alive and well in the horseracing industry, we received it following Epsom’s recent announcement that Poundland is to become the proud sponsor of an enclosure at the forthcoming Derby meeting.
 
I love Poundland. Where else can you buy three cans of Vimto, four Snickers bars, twenty disposable plates (floral design), thirty party balloons and eight plastic cocktail glasses for just £5? Add a picnic blanket and a cool-bag for your trip to the races and you’ll still get £3 change from a tenner.
 
I particularly like buying their After Eight Mints, which come in a slightly smaller-than-normal pack size: just right for a treat on the journey back from the shops. And so much healthier than those big packs, which have the additional inconvenience of being more difficult to hide in the glove compartment of the car. When I mentioned this to Lois, who is busy packaging tickets for the May Bank Holiday race-meeting, she suggested that boxed chocolates are usually intended for sharing. Can this really be true?
 
Either way, Epsom have been accused of diminishing the brand value of the World’s most important Classic as well as being condescending towards their customers; the theory being that the 'poor Poundland people' will have to stand and watch as the Millionaires, across the track, live it up in the Champagne drenched grandstands. Only I suspect the customers on Poundland Hill won’t care one iota. They’ll be enjoying a fantastic party with a picnic procured from an inexpensive retailer – laughing at the absurdity of the fellows dressed like penguins on the far side of the course.
 
When you’ve backed as many losers as I have in recent weeks (this weekend’s selection is Aclaim in Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes) it’s nice to pick up a bargain – so, in honour of Epsom’s latest sponsor, we’ve come up with a pound offer of our own. We’re giving up to twenty four restaurant customers the opportunity to purchase a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne for just £1. Yes just £1!
 
Anyone who books (or who has already booked) a seat in one of our restaurants during the Cartmel May Meeting will be eligible. There is still limited availability in both restaurants, although we’ve fewer spaces in the Louis Roederer Restaurant, located in the Grandstand, than the Conservatory Restaurant, which is situated in the marquee running parallel to the finishing straight. Just like the team at Epsom, we’re confident that whichever facility you find yourselves in, you’ll enjoy a great day at the races.
 
The £1 offer is strictly limited to 24 bottles (and one bottle per party - we’re not completely crazy), so telephone the racecourse office as soon as you can. Unlike the After Eight Mints, each bottle is standard sized – so ideal for sharing with friends. Although, if you decide to keep it for yourself, as the person that making the booking, you’ll still be welcome. No one here is going to judge.
 

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Our Survey Says...

Sometime, maybe as long as two years ago, I came across some fascinating research that had been conducted into a matter of vital national importance. Apparently 60% of us own a favourite mug which we don’t like to share with anyone else – and a third of us would feel ‘totally devastated’ if that mug was broken. The bad news is that, on average, each mug has a lifespan of just three years – making for a nation which must be nigh on inconsolable.

I never suspected, for one moment, that this was a spurious survey conducted on behalf of a multi-national company in a cynical attempt to get us thinking about steaming mugs of Heinz Soup. Having googled the story again, I see that I was probably fooled, although it’s quite plausible that the surveyed population could simply have consisted of a small sample of the office team at Cartmel – where we all have our own individual mugs.

I have three mugs that I don’t like anyone else to use – and total devastation wouldn’t cover my feelings if any of them were broken. In fact I did drop the Sporting Life mug a few years ago, but the tears eased once I realised that I could glue the handle back on. It now sits high on a shelf where I can admire it, but not fill it with coffee. Then there is the blue stripy mug which Mrs Garratt gave me to take to work on my first day at Cartmel – which was lost in the Stewards' litter bin for several weeks, but always manages to find its way back to my desk eventually.
 
The mug which came to hand, when I sat down to write this week's blog, features an attractive sponge-ware design of a racehorse and was given to me by a racehorse owner as a generous ‘thank you’ for a pleasant day spent with friends at Cartmel races. When the same owner called me to say that there was no two mile novice hurdle race, at our May Meeting, for horses without a handicap rating aged over four years, I was compelled to act.
 
Never let it be said that we don’t respond to feedback, especially when we've been softened up in advance. Following a short consultation with the BHA and the race sponsor, we decided to open the ‘Tash & Rob "I’ll Give It Six Months" Wedding Novices Hurdle’, from a race restricted to four-year-olds to one for all ages. There’s no limit to what can be achieved with a decent cup of coffee in your hand – except perhaps tipping winners, where nothing I try seems to help. This week’s attempt at a tip is Zubayr in Haydock’s Swinton Hurdle on Saturday.
 
In a survey of our own, conducted with racegoers attending last season’s August meeting, we discovered that the five words most commonly used to describe the event were: FANTASTIC, FUN, BRILLIANT, GREAT and ENJOYABLE. The atmosphere was awarded an average rating of 9.2 out of 10 by all respondents, while the overall experience received a score of 8.9. We were pleased with that, but we couldn’t ignore the relatively low score (just 5.6 out of 10) for seating. Of course racegoers are welcome to bring their own folding seats to Cartmel - but we’re still going to take delivery of 160 extra seats next week, with tables, in readiness for racing over the Whit Holiday weekend.
 
We also have plans, at the busiest events, to provide assistance for those racegoers who arrive late – and find themselves at the back of the car park – to transport their picnics, folding chairs and less mobile relatives to the main public enclosures. We hope that this will help even more customers to fully enjoy their day. 
 
If you tell us what you think about the races, we’ll do our best to make them even better - as long as no one messes with my coffee mug.

 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Racing Brains

Fantastic news! According to a report in The Times last week, doctors could soon be able to scan our brains and tell us how much longer we have to live. One simple MRI scan can measure the volume of brain tissue that each of us has remaining. We’ll then be presented with something akin to an advent calendar, helping us to count down a finite number of birthdays, Christmases and Cartmel race-meetings.
 
The prediction is the result of a trial involving a group of people born in Lothian in 1936. Following a series of scans, a computer estimated the ages of 669 individuals based on the condition of their brains. Individuals were much more likely to die early if they possessed brains that looked significantly older than they should. So the optimistic theory goes like this: if we know our brain is shrinking at a dangerous rate, we might do something to expand it – like taking exercise, eating spinach or working out who’s going to win the Ramside Event Catering Handicap Chase at Hexham on Saturday (Rolling Thunder is my selection for the weekend).
 
On the other hand, we might simply get depressed, drink more whisky and forget why it was we went to the doctor’s in the first place. Certainly, if you live in East Lothian, you’ve got more pressing things to worry about this week, like the outcome of Thursday’s local council elections which, apart from anything else, will help to determine which individuals sit on the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee whose purpose is to oversee business at Musselburgh Racecourse.
 
The committee is comprised of four elected councillors and three racing nominees, supported by the highly professional executive team at the racecourse. Unfortunately, a series of disagreements between the groups has led to a stand-off which jeopardises the proper governance of the track. The situation has now deteriorated to the point whereby the British Horseracing Authority has opted to issue Musselburgh with a temporary licence only. If the situation isn’t resolved soon, the BHA could effectively remove Musselburgh’s right to stage racing for the remainder of the year.
 
As you might expect, I’d count several of Musselburgh’s executive team and racing-nominated committee members as friends. I’m not impartial. However, I think that it is fairly safe to say that any person, with a reasonable knowledge of the racing industry, would tell you that the executive team at Musselburgh perform to a very high standard. I’m struggling to understand how the current crop of elected politicians assist them in that role.
 
I wonder whether the good doctors of East Lothian might consider scanning the brains of the newly elected councillors at the end of this week, not so that we can tell how long they’ll live – just to check that they do in fact have brains and that they’re capable of using them for the benefit of Musselburgh Racecourse and the wider industry.
 
 

Friday, 21 April 2017

Jockey Fuel

It’s funny what Her Majesty’s Customs & Revenue officials believe constitutes business entertainment. If I attended a hospitality event and was offered a paper plate with one slice of lean meat, a green salad without dressing and a glass of water, I might wonder whether the host really wanted my business at all. But according to the tax regulators, Cartmel Racecourse is unable to reclaim any of the VAT incurred on the refreshments that we provide to jockeys in the weighing room. They seem to believe that we entertain the jockeys, while of course it is usually the other way around – it wouldn’t be much of a race-meeting without any riders for the horses.
 
Many people assume that jockeys don’t eat anything, but in fact most of them graze all day. Nutritionists advise that they should consume as little fat as possible – so they don’t usually go for butter on their bread or olive oil on their lettuce. Too much protein can result in the unwelcome addition of weight, too little reduces vital strength – so the jockeys prefer to pick at wafer thin pieces of ham or chicken between races.
 
Some like sweets too – but sugar doesn’t just boost short-term energy, it also helps to pile on the pounds, so jockeys are advised to opt for carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index such as sweet potato, fruit, pasta or rice. Such foods are filling without being fattening and their bulk helps to reduce hunger – which is good for jockeys like Henry Brooke, who rides Blakemount (this week’s selection) off a weight of 10st 12lb in Saturday’s Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
 
Whatever the jockeys choose to eat, we’re fortunate that one of the racecourse’s newest sponsors happens to control several links in the local supply chain – enabling us to source the best quality local produce for our riders. You might have seen the fleet of McClures delivery vehicles buzzing busily around the Lake District. Their distinctive logo features a healthy looking green apple, with a bite out of it, in place of the letter ‘C’. Originating from their base in Windermere, where they also operate a cash-and-carry store, the McClures vans service an area which encompasses the whole of Cumbria, North Yorkshire and North Lancashire.
 
Appropriately, for one of the largest suppliers of food ingredients across the region, McClures will be sponsoring the first race on Barbecue Day, Monday 24th July. If you haven’t brought your own food from home, there’s quite a big chance that you’ll consume some of their produce during your visit to the races – because as well as the healthy fresh stuff, they also supply a huge array of local delicacies, fattening puddings and sauces for normal people who don’t ride horses at 30mph over fences and aren’t counting calories. And if you’re staying away from home, you’ll probably enjoy a McClures breakfast – because they supply most of the hotels and guest houses in the area too.
 
So next time you pass one of those vans, with the jolly green-apple logo, give the friendly driver a wave – he might be delivering the food which fuels our jockeys.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Beggar's Breeches

Twas in the January snows of 1799, that a beggar came to perish in the parish of Cartmel. Found on the high road between Backbarrow and Cartmel, the beggar was in a poor state and unable to walk. He was therefore conveyed to Cartmel by horse and cart, where he was given tea and refreshments.

Unfortunately he died the following day at Garrat House - which is funny. Not, admittedly, if you are a hypothermic beggar in the eighteenth century. But quite peculiar if your name happens to be Jonathan Garratt and you manage Cartmel Racecourse more than two-hundred years later. Because there is a direct link between the beggar and the racecourse.
 
Soon after the beggar died, a dispute broke out between the Overseers of the Poor and the coffin maker; the Overseers suggesting that it would be a shame to put the parish to unnecessary cost… and that perhaps ash or sycamore would be the least costly material for the beggar’s burial. However, on examining the deceased’s clothing, it became apparent that his pockets weighed heavy – and 185 golden Guinneas were found in his breeches.
 
Now it is important, in a Christian county like Cumbria (although this part of the world was called Lancashire at the time), that a wealthy man is buried properly - so the beggar was afforded an oak coffin and warm ale was provided for all the mourners. To this day, the people of Cartmel continue to enjoy a good funeral and so I’m sure that there were plenty in attendance.
 
There being no credible claims on the remaining Guineas, the money was used to purchase some land, the rent from which has been used for charitable purposes in Cartmel ever since. It so happens that one of the fields purchased with funds from the beggar’s breeches is the very field that the racecourse rents in order to park horseboxes on racedays. And our rent helps to contribute towards the cost of books for local school children.
 
But long before horseboxes, some of the rental revenue was used to set up a Grammar School. And being too small, in recent decades, to suit the purposes of Theresa May, the school house has been re-purposed. If you’ve been to the races you might have noticed it - overlooking the north bend of the racecourse as the horses turn away from the roadside-straight.
 
The historic building has recently been lovingly and painstakingly renovated to bring it back to its former glory – and the good news is that you will be able to stay there, as the new owners will be running the Cartmel Old Grammar Country House as a hotel. The bedrooms have beautiful sweeping views across the fells and the racecourse, there is a private lounge and terrace for guests – and at least five of the rooms will be ready in time for the races in May. Available rooms in Cartmel, at race weekends or at any time throughout the Summer, are like hens’ teeth – so book now by calling 01539 535809.
 
The beggar of Cartmel has long since departed on his Celestial Path (this weekend’s selection could run at either Newton Abbot on Saturday or Ffos Las on Sunday) – but if you have any spare change in your breeches, you know which horse to put it on.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Journey to the Highlands

I’m not going to Aintree this weekend, preferring instead to settle down in front of the telly in a highland lodge. That’s right, while Highland Lodge – the horse trained in Cartmel by Jimmy Moffatt – is leading the field over the Grand National obstacles, I shall be hundreds of miles away sitting in a holiday cottage in the Scottish Highlands. And of course, because the law of coincidences dictates that the Grand National winner always has to have a suitable name, I’m certain that Highland Lodge will win. I hope Jimmy is grateful for the lengths I’ve gone to, to secure his winner.
 
Of course I should be at Aintree. But when it comes to the Grand National I just wonder: Is it almost as much fun to travel, as it is to arrive?
 
For the last eighteen months, ever since Highland Lodge won over the National fences in the Becher Chase, we have believed that Pit Farm Stables housed the winner of the World’s greatest race. Unfortunately the horse narrowly failed to make the cut in last year’s Grand National, being balloted out of the top 40 at the final declaration stage. So, in a funny way, we were still able to claim that he was a moral winner.
Highland Lodge
 
Having been beaten by the narrowest of margins in this season’s Becher Chase, Highland Lodge proved once again that he was a natural over the big fences. For eighteen months his owner, Simon Wilson of Bowes Lodge Stables, has lived the dream of a Grand National winner. And now, within the shadow of the post, the horse has been sold to Mr and Mrs David Thompson – the same couple that bought Party Politics on the eve of his Grand National success in 1992.
 
Now I don’t have any privileged access to the affairs of Bowes Lodge Stables, but it occurs to me that Grand National runners are unlikely to change hands for small sums – and I am sure that if Highland Lodge goes and does the business on Saturday, Simon Wilson will feel just as much a winner as he did eighteen months ago when he lifted the Becher Chase trophy. And the Thompsons? Well they will be over the moon – because to own a horse with a great chance of winning the National, as it canters down to the start: that’s great too. And if he wins – the purchase price will look like a grand investment. Everyone’s a winner!
 
And what about Jimmy? I haven’t spoken to him recently, but if I know Jimmy, he’ll just be hoping that the horse does himself credit and comes home safely. Because above all, Jimmy exists for his horses. He cares for them, nurtures them and loves training them. It’s his life – and to have one that could win the most famous race in the World… That’s a dream come true.
 
I could tell you that Blaklion has the best form, or that Doctor Harper could be an exciting outsider. But there’s only one result for the 2017 Grand National: for the last eighteen months everyone in Cartmel has enjoyed a fantastic journey and on Saturday we’ll all arrive - at Highland Lodge.
 
 

 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Tetrapod Racing in the Borders

Some time, soon after planet Earth was created, organisms began to evolve and seek new environments. And then, in the year 35,001,346 BC (or thereabouts, because we can’t be exact about these things) a creature crawled out of the water near Kelso in the Scottish Borders and headed on to dry land.
 
Of course there were already animals that lived on land – spiders, insects and the like – but this was the first one with a back bone, legs and most importantly of all - the will to win. At least I assume it must have been pretty determined because its descendants developed into horses and greyhounds, as well as lots of less desirable creatures like rabbits and humans.
 
We know this because a team of palaeontologists from the National Museum of Scotland recently found a fossil on the banks of the Tweed, of a two-inch long tetrapod (a four-legged beast) known as Aytonerpeton Microps or ‘Tiny’ for short. Tiny comes from a period known as the Tournaisian (360-345 million years ago) which has previously yielded very few fossils at all – and represents the missing link between fish and things that don’t swim quite so well, like me.
Tiny - never really raced at Kelso  
 
Tiny’s body has only been revealed because the palaeontologists didn’t break open her rocky hiding place, which would have destroyed her delicate remains. They scanned it instead, using super-high-tech equipment, before recreating her likeness with a 3-D printing machine.
 
Why am I telling you this? Well, I believe that it is in the nature of all of us to evolve and seek new environments. That’s why, after six and a half years of enjoying my dream job at Cartmel Racecourse, I’ve decided to take on another dream job in the Scottish Borders. Just like Tiny, I’m going to use my legs to walk the track at Kelso Racecourse.
 
Kelso, like Cartmel (and many of the objects found in the National Museum of Scotland) has a great heritage. It is a grand track with a deep sense of history and community. Unlike Cartmel, the racing at Kelso takes place predominately in the Winter and so, for the time being, my focus will therefore remain exclusively on ensuring the success of our busy Summer season in the Lake District – which commences with the Bank Holiday weekend on Saturday 27th May.
 
And even once my family and I have relocated to the Borders later in the year, I’m sure to be making regular trips down the road to Cartmel, where I’ll remain available to the fabulous team that we’ve built up at the racecourse. We’ll soon be recruiting a new Head of Racing for Cartmel to ensure that nothing stands still – but for now I’m looking forward to playing my role in ensuring that both racecourses evolve successfully for the future.
 
Sadly Lincoln Racecourse failed to make the evolutionary cut. Which is why this week’s selection, Dolphin Vista, will be attempting to win the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster Racecourse.