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. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Young Jockeys and Old Horses

As if it wasn’t already difficult enough to get a leg-up in horseracing, this week the BHA announced that it was going to make it tougher to become a jockey. No longer will the main qualification be for applicants to weigh less than an empty packet of crisps.
 
From 1st April it will be necessary for aspiring apprentice and conditional jockeys to pass a pre-licence assessment and to undergo a lengthier training course. There will also be ongoing training for those that succeed in obtaining their licences. Statistics show that nearly a third of wannabe jockeys never get as far as winning a race, while only 12% are successful enough to ride out their claim – the weight allowance that is granted to trainee jockeys which encourage racehorse owners to give them rides against more established riders. The new regulations have been devised to ensure that racing’s resources are targeted at those that are most likely to succeed.
 
There is no truth in the rumour that Knockara Beau, George Charlton’s 14-year-old gelding, will be retiring from racing in order to enrol at the Northern Racing College. However, having narrowly missed the cut for the Pertemps Hurdle at Cheltenham last week, it would be no surprise if the veteran was granted an honourable retirement after one final bash around Kelso this weekend. Knockara Beau, who famously beat the champion stayer Big Bucks in the Cleeve Hurdle, already has five Kelso victories to his name. He is my selection this weekend to make it one more, off a handicap mark of just 134 – the lowest rating he has held since the start of his hurdle career in 2009.
 
Selections based on sentiment rarely pay off in racing. Backing an ‘old favourite’ like Knockara Beau is a sure sign that you (like me) have become a na├»ve and inept, fluffy, mug-punter with nothing but feathers for brains and a wallet full of fivers that are destined for the bookmaker’s satchel. But it also demonstrates that you have heart; you understand the romance of National Hunt racing and, because of that, you’re capable of accessing riches that extend way beyond the reach of mere money. At least that’s my excuse…
 
Sentimental punters are also more likely to back the winner of the Grand National – a race which, in each of the last five years, has returned a winner at odds of 25/1 or more. In a sport which is dominated by youngsters, seven of the last ten National winners were aged ten or older. All of this is good news for Highland Lodge the 33/1, eleven-year-old, chaser who was confirmed as one of 79 remaining entries for the big race in just over two weeks’ time. Trained by Jimmy Moffatt in Cartmel, he’ll be the sentimental choice of everyone who lives in Cartmel and anyone who’s granny once enjoyed a remote holiday in the Highlands – if that includes you, good luck!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Check Your Tickets

Unfortunately there is no blog today as your correspondent is lost among the drunken hoards at the Cheltenham Festival and there just isn’t time to write.
 
The first day crowd was more than 66,000 strong, a bit like staging three-and-a-half Cartmel fixtures all at the same time. It’s definitely a hoard, but perhaps it’s not quite fair to call it drunken – as I’ve given up alcohol for Lent and I notice that my sister and niece, who I met up with on Wednesday, are drinking Fanta at £3 a bottle from the fish and chip van above the Parade Ring. The Fanta might be expensive, but the chips are excellent – especially with smokey-baconaise.
 
Despite not having to waste time in the queue for the bar, my lack of preparation means that I’m having to dedicate serious effort to form study. And it so very nearly yielded results. In the first race of the second day I identified Willoughby Court as the likely winner of the Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle. And then, because I recently read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase to my daughter, it seemed obvious that Neon Wolf was the one for the forecast.
 
I backed Willoughby Court on the Tote and shouted home the winner of the first as if I’d had at least £100 on his nose (it wasn’t that much). And then I backed Might Bite in the RSA Chase, in spite of the negative comments made about the favourite’s chances at our preview night last week. He shone like the proverbial star in the paddock, but so nearly threw away the race by ducking towards the horse-walk after the final fence. I’m sure he can win any Grade 1 staying chase in the country, as long as the exit to the stables is located on the far side of the winning post.
 
So far so brilliant. The chips are on me! The rest of our small party is in the money too – with wins on Special Tiara in the Champion Chase and several placed horses at decent odds. And we bump into lots of friends, because that’s what a day at Cheltenham is like – a convergence of like-minded, jump-racing-obsessed fanatics from every corner of the country. I even spoke to one who told me that Saphir Du Rheu, this week’s selection, is in the best form of his life ahead of the Gold Cup on Friday. He’s 50/1 and is being prepared for a tilt at the Grand National but, trained by a Champion trainer, he’s been ignored by punters and has a decent each way chance.
 
It was only when I tried to collect my winnings on Willoughby Court that I found that the kind lady at the Tote had misheard my request – and given me a ticket for Skipthecuddles (eighth) instead.
 
Nothing to pick up, lot’s more form study to do, no time to write a column…

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Expert View

It's questionable whether I should publish this blog-post at all - giving away (as it does) all the privileged information purchased at Thursday's Cheltenham Festival Preview Night in the Cartmel Grandstand.

It'd be easier to pretend that there were no useful tips at all: Marten Julian doesn't know what will the Champion Hurdle, John Sexton has never backed the winner of the Coral Hurdle, Jimmy Moffatt fancies a non-runner in the County Hurdle and Brian Hughes doesn't care what wins the Cross Country Chase.

But the four expert panellists did express a few opinions: most of them were pretty keen on the chances of Altior in the Arkle Novices Chase as well as Douvan in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. What? Not happy with odds of 4/6 for the double? What's wrong with you - it's surely better than backing losers! Okay, they also suggested that, for the OLBG Mares Hurdle, it might be wise to check which horse was trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh. If you didn't pay for a ticket to the preview night, I don't think I can tell you any more...

Except that I'm just too excited...

Marten, Jimmy and John all like the chances of Holywell in the Ultima Handicap Steeplechase. I'm fairly sure that Jimmy said the horse could find his way around Cheltenham with his eyes closed, but I hope he doesn't try.

When it comes to the Champion Hurdle, John thinks that this could be The New One's year. Jimmy says that he'd have to grow an extra leg (The New One, not Jimmy) if he were to have any chance. He's convinced Yanworth is a certainty and a great price at 3/1. Brian says that Jimmy will refund all bets if Yanworth gets beat... which sounds like quite a good offer, but I can't find it on any of the bookmakers' websites.

Brian rides Cyrus Darius in the Champion Hurdle. He reminds us all that he proved himself a good horse by winning as a novice at Aintree, before needing some time off. Having enjoyed a winning prep race at Kelso, he could easily surprise a few people by finishing in the top three at 40/1.

Jimmy also has a big priced selection for us - his own Bon Chic who 'could easily finish in the top eight' at 100/1 in the Mares' race. The only problem is that, regardless how many places they pay prize money for, I'm pretty sure the bookmakers will only pay out on the first three. Not many people have both ridden and trained winners at the Cheltenham Festival - so I'm going to back Jimmy's mare in any case, even though Marten Julian promotes Colin's Sister and Lifeboat Mona as viable each-way alternatives.

Edwulf and Beware The Bear get favourable mentions for the National Hunt Chase, ahead of my fancy Champers On Ice. I've mentioned him here anyway as I'm pretty sure he's going to win, just like all my other selections.

Brian Hughes knows what it takes to win the Close Brothers Steeplechase because he won it last year. It's obvious that he doesn't really want to tell everyone - but he's really excited to be riding Double Ws.

On to Wednesday and everyone likes Neon Wolf with the possible exception of Marten, who just feels that his jumping isn't quite as proficient as it could be. Messire Des Obeaux and Willoughby Court are his alternatives.

No one fancies Might Bite, the short priced favourite for the RSA Chase, with Royal Vacation receiving several votes and John Sexton opting for Bigbadjohn... obviously.

'I Shot The Sheriff...', wails Jimmy when it comes to the Coral Hurdle. But he did not shoot the deputy. Brian rides Hawk High who will apparently benefit from blinkers and (possibly) from the step up in trip.    

Finally we get to Thursday and Marten's three-star-nap of the meeting. Except Brian Hughes doesn't rate Politologue's chances, pointing out how wound up the Nicholls' trained horse gets before his races. What a dilemma - I'm pretty sure that Paul Nicholls is a good enough trainer to have identified this problem and I'll be surprised if the horse isn't walking around the parade ring with tampons stuffed in his ears. Stick with Politologue.

Vosne Romanee, a previous winner at Cartmel, received a mention ahead of the County Hurdle and looks to have been laid out for the race by Dr Richard Newland. I like it when the Cartmel form gets franked at Cheltenham, especially at 33/1.  

There were loads of other horses mentioned too. Far too many to mention here. But you have to take it all with a pinch of salt because no one mentioned Saphir Du Rheu, the 66/1 winner of the Gold Cup. Honestly! and they call themselves experts...