Thursday, 31 August 2017

Crossing Borders

When a batsman hits the ball clean over the boundary, he scores six runs. No one’s required to run for the ball, but it usually comes back eventually. And it’s not just cricket pitches that have boundaries, most modern parenting groups advise that toddlers should have them too. When a toddler crosses a boundary, he or she is likely to end up on the naughty step.
Borders are usually considered to be the same as boundaries, defining regions into countries, counties or parishes. But borders differ in one important respect: they are designed to be crossed. Notwithstanding the current negotiations over Brexit, it is generally expected that governments and businesses will join together in order to promote trade across borders. And of course we welcome visitors too – tourists, investors and migrants offering valued skills and knowledge.
So despite my move to Kelso, where the racing season commences on Wednesday 20th September, I am looking forward to regularly traversing the border between Scotland and England in order to see my friends at Cartmel. I hope too, that jump racing fans in the north of England will come to enjoy racing north of the border and that I may see some of you soon.
I was given a great send-off following the final race-meeting of the season at Cartmel on Bank Holiday Monday. Despite protestations that I’d be seeing everyone again, I couldn’t avoid being dunked in the giant water tank in the horse wash-down enclosure. That hasn’t put a dampener on my enthusiasm for supporting northern trainers – including Donald McCain, who was there at the time. McCain trains this week’s selection, Dear Sire, who is preparing to make the long journey to Newton Abbot for a valuable prize at 3.25 on Saturday.
Happiness is infectious and spreads readily through a crowd, just as unhappiness stalks remorselessly through the stalled chain of a house sale. Therefore, if you’ve enjoyed one or more race-days at Cartmel, I can honestly take very little of the credit – so much of the happiness radiates from the people that I’ve been privileged to work with during the past seven years, not to mention the racegoers who generate so much joy. It’s been great fun.
If my blog selections haven’t made you any richer, I hope that I’ve been able to share some of the joy that prevails at Cartmel. I’ll continue to write on a weekly basis (you'll be able to find my ramblings at ) and will ensure that I keep my finger on the pulse of life in Cartnel, as well as the wider northern racing scene.
I hope to see you soon. Scotland may be over the border, but it isn’t out of bounds.


Thursday, 24 August 2017

Join The Crowd

According to prison psychologists, a common refrain amongst inmates is that they "simply got mixed up with the wrong crowd." No one actually admits to belonging to the wrong crowd – or can even tell you exactly where it gathers.
If you’re heading to Cartmel this Bank Holiday weekend, you’ll obviously be part of the right crowd – but what if you find yourself at Goodwood or Southwell? Can you be so sure? This week we’re giving a few pointers to keep you on the straight and narrow.
You’ll know the right crowd when you see it – they’ll typically have a large picnic, a good selection of pies or maybe even a barbecue with some sausages from Furness Fish & Game. They’ll cheer vocally whichever horse wins and they’ll wave their Union Jacks as the brass band of the Royal Armoured Corps plays ‘Last Night of the Proms’ from the bandstand after racing on Saturday.
The Cartmel Crowd
If there’s an ice-cream van, you’ll definitely find the right crowd standing in the queue. But if the nearest confectionary stand is doing a big trade in coconut fancies, be wary: nothing good ever came of a coconut fancy. Nor, since we’re on the subject, beef flavoured crisps, cherry cola or honey roasted peanuts. All of them revolting.
If you’ve been following my weekly selections in this column, you’ll probably be part of the poor crowd – unkindly referred to, by some, as a ‘bunch of losers’. Don’t worry, this year’s long losing stretch is nothing less than an elaborate ploy to lull the bookmakers into a false sense of security. I’m sure we’ll have the last laugh when Alderbrook Lad passes the post in front on Bank Holiday Monday. I can’t tell you which race it will be, because he is double entered - maybe the 2m 5f chase; the distance seems to suit him just that little bit better, especially with give in the ground.
It may be that you’ve been feeling a bit irritable recently, you might even have snapped uncharacteristically at your friends and family. This doesn't necessarily mean that you’re part of the wrong crowd – it’s more likely that you are either a Leo or a Scorpio and that you’ve been unsettled by the celestial carnage wreaked by last week’s solar eclipse. The changes heralded by the eclipse now present opportunities and you'll be pleased to know that you’re set for a profitable weekend. Have a good time and don’t gloat too much when you win.
If you’d like to be part of the right crowd but fear, like me, that you may not qualify, make sure that you join us for the Steeplechase Service at the Priory on Sunday at 11.00am. Nick the Vic (slang term for ‘Chaplain to the Racecourse’) will be requesting blessings for everyone – including a racehorse, outside the porch of the Priory, at noon.
And if you’re determined to join the wrong crowd, we'll see you in one of the pubs in the square after racing on Monday. Good luck.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Whip Debate

The whip can be an emotive subject and it is right to continually review our stance in the light of public perception. For that reason alone, I am quite sure that Nestle completed extensive customer research before they decided to rename their oldest confectionary brand – but I can’t help feeling that it is a mistake to remove the walnut from the Walnut Whip, first created in Edinburgh in 1910.
To draw an analogy, it’s a bit like taking a steeplechase and doing away with the obstacles. What are you left with? Oh yes... that’s right - it’s called Flat Racing.
But while Flat Racing still offers a great day out for the family (obviously – I’ve got to support my friends who happen to work at Flat tracks here), it’s not quite the same. Even Nestle have realised that they’re going to have to spice up their new range of Whips using a variety of flavours including caramel, vanilla and mint. What, I wonder, could we do for Flat Racing? Perhaps we should ask the jockeys to ride side-saddle, or make them face the horse’s tail, to up the stakes a little. Now that would be fun.
I don’t mean to scaremonger though - Jump Racing fans will be relieved to know that the Walnut Whip is not actually being discontinued, the plan is to continue selling it alongside its less nutty sister-products. Because, like Jump Racing, walnuts offer important health benefits – they’re good for the brain and the heart, help to fight cancer, stave of heart disease and promote fertility. I am fairly sure that the same has been said of racing at Cartmel, where we shall shortly be staging the final race-meeting of the season on Saturday 26th August and Bank Holiday Monday 28th August.
At Cartmel we’ve always stuck to the principle that variety is the spice of life. It’s why we like to make sure that there are always plenty of things to see and do. So, quite apart from the racing, visitors can take a tour of the medieval village, enjoy all the fun of the fair, participate in a jamboree of kiddies’ cricket matches and ball games, eat their picnics and have fun with their friends. There are also a number of trade-stands.
This August, however, we are on high alert. Following the theft of a lorry from Neustadt, in Germany, containing 20 tonnes of Nutella and Kinder Surprise Eggs, members of the public have been asked to keep an eye out for anyone offering suspiciously cheap chocolate in unusual locations. Could be the sort of thing that occurs in the Course Enclosure on Bank Holiday Monday – we’re preparing for a visit from Trading Standards just in case.
This week’s selection runs (over obstacles) at Perth on Saturday. I’m hoping that Caius Marcius will allow us to sample the sweet taste of success.
Psst… anyone want to buy some cheap chocolate?

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Case of Mistaken Identity

There have been plenty of excellent people called Geoffrey: Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Palmer who appeared in the sitcom Butterflies and Geoffrey Boycott, who is apparently quite famous in Yorkshire. Geoffrey is obviously a marvellous name, but it isn’t my name – which explains why I didn’t respond to it when the furniture removal man shouted out from the kitchen, "Geoffrey, have you got a spanner to disconnect this washing machine?"
At least, I didn’t respond straight away. It finally dawned on me that the question was being addressed to me at the fourth or fifth time of asking, at which point I simply went and found a spanner. I refrained from pointing out that my name’s not Geoffrey which, given how stressful moving house can be, could easily have slipped out as a rude or irrationally irritable statement. Which is why I spent the next 48 hours being called Geoffrey – because if you don’t put these things right at the first opportunity, they have a habit of escalating.
It’s also why I have some sympathy for Charlie McBride, the trainer who saddled the wrong horse in a race at Yarmouth recently. At least Millie’s Kiss had the decency to respond to the jockey’s urgings as if she really was Mandarin Princess – by passing the winning post in front. It’s an unusual situation, one that will inevitably lead to the disqualification of the winner and the promotion of the second-placed horse – with most bookmakers paying out on both.
The problem is that, what starts as a simple mistake, soon escalates to become a major issue. Hence the subsequent questions: Was the saddling error really a mistake or was it intentional? When and how was the horse’s identity checked? Should anyone have prevented the wrong horse from running? Who’s lost out and will they sue?
I am convinced that the regulation surrounding the integrity of horseracing is second to no other sport. There will, occasionally, be individuals that are tempted to break the rules for financial gain – but I doubt that Charlie McBride is one of them. Every horse that runs at a British racecourse has an identity chip which is checked on arrival at the racecourse – and the BHA is trialling procedures for further identity checks before each horse departs for the Parade Ring.
Every race is analysed from a plethora of camera angles, jockeys are grilled by stewards and horses are tested for a myriad of performance influencing substances.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent approximately half the population from believing that horseracing is fixed – according to a recent survey of 2,000 people conducted on behalf of Portland Communications. I can’t say that I’m very surprised – if you stand in any betting shop long enough, you’ll hear enough conspiracy theories to explain away all the losing bets ever struck. It doesn’t mean they’re true – just that humans make mistakes, especially when they’re backing and tipping horses.
As for me, I’ve no need for conspiracy theories. If Autocratic doesn’t win the Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock on Saturday, he wasn’t my selection – he was Geoffrey’s.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Planning Ahead - The 2018 Fixture List

The BHA fixture allocation process has concluded and Cartmel is set to stage 27 fixtures. I know what you're thinking: what new excuse can you give to your employer / spouse / dog-sitter for bunking off to Cartmel races on more days than ever before?

But relax! In an effort to help racecourses to grow the sport, the BHA have used the fixture allocation process to look further ahead and has attempted to give racecourses greater certainty over a three year period. So while there will still be a small percentage of fixtures that remain to be allocated annually, and there will still be opportunities for tracks to exchange dates, we now have the ability to make plans over a longer period.

At Cartmel, that means that (subject to fulfilling various criteria) we'll be able to stage nine fixtures between May and August for each of the next three years.

While that's still the second smallest number of fixtures staged by any racecourse in Britain, it's a format that works well for us: optimising the use of our track (which has less wide bends than most), while providing plenty of fun for racegoers throughout the Summer holidays.

If you're anything like me, you'll probably struggle to remember what you're doing tomorrow, never mind next next year. So now is the time to put the following dates in your diary...

There could be a few changes to the forecast dates for 2019 and 2020, so the BHA isn't able to publish those dates yet. But I can tell you that in 2018 we shall open the season with the traditional Whit Holiday Meeting on Saturday 26th May, Bank Holiday Monday 28th May and Wednesday 30th May. The June Meeting (no music acts booked at the current time) takes place on Friday 29th June and Sunday 1st July.

We'll be smoking at the Barbecue Meeting on Saturday 21st July and Monday 23rd July, before the season concludes on Saturday 25th August and Bank Holiday Monday 27th August.
Just in case you're wondering where you'll be on 31st August, 2020, that's the date that I've got earmarked for the Cavendish Cup Steeplechase - which will probably be won by the Jimmy Moffatt trained Altruism, who (with five career wins following his victory in the Totepool Cumbria Crystal Hurdle) has a great chance of surpassing Soul Magic's superb record of seven wins at Cartmel.

And for those of you who still don't know what you're doing next week, could I suggest a trip to Perth where Bon Chic is likely to find her required good ground and is our selection on Tuesday evening.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Diamonds, Champagne & Sticky Toffee Pudding

The French have no idea how to treat ladies, at least not when it comes to lady jockeys. In March this year the French racing authorities told all female jockeys that they needed to lose weight – that’s right, they told them that, if they wanted to ride the same horses as their male equivalents, they needed to weigh 4lbs less.
Why? I hear you ask. Well, according to our sexist continental neighbours, girls just aren’t as good at riding – so they thought it'd be better to help the horses by taking some extra weight off their backs. Or something like that; it’s possible that I’ve wilfully distorted some of the public relations messages around the story to make the French look bad. There may have been something about encouraging more French racehorse trainers to use female jockeys too.
The point is that we don’t behave like that in Cumbria. No - here at Cartmel Racecourse, we're aware that the girls are more than a match for the boys. And what's more, we like to think that we know exactly what lady jockeys really want – which is why we give them diamonds, Champagne and sticky toffee pudding.
The male jockeys get Champagne and sticky toffee puddings too, but it is only the ladies to whom we award diamonds – as the winning jockey’s prize for the Banks Lyon Jewellers Lady Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, to be staged this Saturday. This year’s prize is an 18ct white gold, Marquise cut diamond cluster pendant necklace with a retail value of £5,500. It’s so pretty that Anthea Morshead, our Clerk of the Course, is thinking about reapplying for her jockey’s licence. Meanwhile, the girls in the office have booked a series of refresher riding lessons in anticipation of next year’s renewal.  
This is the third year that Banks Lyon Jewellers have sponsored the £15,000 hurdle race, which is the most valuable opportunity in the British racing calendar, to be staged over obstacles, specifically for female jockeys. The race comes just two months after the opening of their new shop in Kendal, at 33 Market Place. Like the sumptuous Banks Lyon show room in nearby Lancaster, the Kendal store stocks a range of prestigious Swiss watches as well as fine jewellery and diamonds.
Local lass Charlotte Jones will be hoping to win her third consecutive race at Cartmel on board Lough Kent, trained by Charlotte's employer Jimmy Moffatt on the opposite side of the village. She’ll face stiff competition from last year’s winning jockey Rachael Blackmore, who returns to ride Baby Jake for Irish trainer Shark Hanlon.
The Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson, hasn't got a ride in the race on account of being the wrong sex - his fault really. He could gain compensation by winning the Totepool Cumbria Crystal Hurdle, in which he rides our selection Royal Village

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A Rare Treat

Grazing at High Lickbarrow Farm, near Windermere, is a breed of cattle so rare that they aren’t even recognised by the Rare Breeds Society of Great Britain. According to the Albion Cattle Society website (, Blue Albions were once prized throughout Britain as dual purpose animals – which may suggest that they competed both on the Flat and over Jumps, but probably just means that they were reared to produce milk as well as beef.

Disaster struck the breed in 1923, when Foot and Mouth wiped out many herds. It wiped out horseracing too at many venues, although thankfully that was only a temporary measure. The Blue Albions, so named because of their beautiful blue-roan colour, were less fortunate and many people feared that the breed had been lost altogether when a further outbreak of Foot and Mouth struck in the 1960s.
While a small number of cattle did survive, there are fewer than 300 Blue Albion cows registered today. The Albion Cattle Society is currently seeking documentary evidence to prove that the forebears of today's stock were alive and well in the late sixties and early seventies.  Only when this period of continuity is proven can the Blue Albion cattle be accepted as a genuine rare breed.
The good news is that they taste very good. While it may seem counter-productive to eat cattle that are so scarce, the more people that want to eat them, the more people there will be who want to breed them and keep them.
So, with the Barbecue Racemeeting just over a week away, perhaps it’s time to seek out a few rare breed steaks to put over the charcoal. Not that charcoal is necessarily the thing anymore: according to Hayes Garden World, who will be demonstrating some of the World’s best barbecue equipment at the races, the serious foodies now prefer to smoke their meat ‘low and slow’ over wooden pellets. Hence the slogan for the Traeger Grill which is said to be ‘Kickin Gas in the Ass’. It’s an excellent idea as we don’t permit racegoers to bring large gas canisters on to the racecourse unless they come fully certified by a Gas Safe engineer.
Richard Holden, one of the UK’s top barbecue chefs, will be running a cooking theatre in the Course Enclosure on both racedays. As well as teaching people how to eat more healthily, he’ll be showing off equipment from the Weber World outlet located at Hayes Garden World in Ambleside, plus the Traeger Grill and the Uuni wood fired oven (capable, apparently, of cooking a pizza in less than seconds).
So there you have it – get down to Cartmel Racecourse next weekend with a decent piece of meat and learn how to barbecue with the best. It sounds like the Perfect Summer – which coincidentally happens to be the name of this week’s selection in the 4.45 at York on Saturday.