Friday, 13 January 2017

The Dog and Bone


The phones have been busy in the racecourse office with all the usual enquiries:

Beep, beep, beeeep… Thank you for calling Cartmel Racecourse where the first of nine race-meetings in 2017 takes place on Saturday 27th May. To help direct your call appropriately, please listen to the following options.

If you’d like to bring a dog with you to the races… DIAL 1. (The answer’s yes – but you must keep it on a lead at all times).

If you’d like parking in the village of Cartmel to be restricted by double yellow lines… DIAL 2.
 
If you’d like to purchase a four-night camping pitch for the May Bank Holiday weekend, the July meeting or the August Bank Holiday weekend, please redial on Tuesday 17th January - which is when these tickets will become available. Or, even easier, look us up online from 9.00am on Tuesday morning at www.cartmel-racecourse.co.uk. Please note, two night camping pitches including just one raceday will not be available until 14th February. 

If you’d like parking in the village of Cartmel not to be restricted by yellow lines - but controlled on a voluntary basis through the implementation of improved signage and white lines… DIAL 3.

If you’d like to purchase a two-night camping pitch for an individual raceday (including the night before and the night after racing), please redial on Tuesday 14th February, when these packages will become available. Customers wishing to attend multiple racedays are being given the first opportunity to book.

If you’d like to purchase an annual parking permit for the racecourse pay-and-display car park, so that you're no longer reliant on parking in the streets of Cartmel…  DIAL 4.

If you’d like to purchase early-bird admission tickets at half price, please go to our website on Tuesday 17th January. Please note, the availability of early-bird tickets is limited to 2,000 in total and they are available to online bookers only with a maximum of two per household. Early-bird admission tickets are not valid for the camping packages which already include admission.

If you know what’s going to win at Kelso this Sunday… please DIAL 5 and let me know too.

If you’d like to book tickets or camping pitches for the June meeting, please hold... fire – we are awaiting exciting news about concert artists which will be released in the near future.

If you don’t know what’s going to win at Kelso this Sunday… try Aristo Du Plessis in the 2.10.

For all other enquiries, dial… click… buurrgh…
 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Licensed Disorder

The Twelfth Night is the eve of Epiphany, the festival on which we celebrate the arrival of the three wise men at the crib. Although Epiphany falls annually on 6th January, there is an ambiguity which leads to a regular discussion in our household (let’s not call it an argument), as to whether the twelfth day of Christmas (the day by which we must pack away all the Christmas decorations) is actually the day before the twelfth night or the day after – the day before the wise men arrive or the day itself, which can only be the twelfth day of Christmas if the festive period actually starts on Boxing Day. 

In my book, the day on which to pack up the decorations is undoubtedly 6th January – because the night before is all about celebration, which makes no sense if we've already taken the tinsel away. In days gone by, the night was so significant that William Shakespeare even wrote a special play to celebrate the occasion. At least I only have to write a short blog…

The Twelfth Night was traditionally an evening of licensed disorder. A ‘Lord of Misrule’ would be appointed, usually someone of low status, in order to impose a temporary inversion of the general order of everything. Servants would dress up as masters, the head of the household would temporarily fulfil the role of a slave. Shakespeare’s play adhered to the traditions of the festival by exploiting a plot device whereby a beautiful girl, called Viola, dresses up as a boy and makes a fool out of everyone – a bit like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet.

In seems to me that the team at Chelmsford, where racing takes place tonight (the twelfth night), have missed a bit of trick. For one night only, the jockeys should have been allowed to officiate – while the stewards, the judge, clerk of the scales and clerk of the course should have been forced to ride around the track.



Meanwhile, the trainers could have led the horses up in the parade ring, while the stable staff entertained racehorse owners in the bars and restaurants. The ground-staff could have been occupied in the kitchen while the caterers were employed on the track - filling divots can’t be much different from filling vol-au-vents, although one would hope they wouldn’t use prawns and thousand island sauce, because that would just be messy. 

I know, I know… they only have to harrow the sand-based track at Chelmsford to level out the divots – but you can’t fill vol-au-vents with a tractor, so I’m assuming that the catering staff would be more comfortable doing the job by hand. 

As for this weekend’s selection, I’m relying on Wishfull Dreaming to invert the natural order of the form book by reverting to winning ways in the last race on Sandown’s Saturday card. If racing be the food of love, gallop on!


 

Friday, 30 December 2016

2017 Predictions

Leicester Football Club, Brexit, Donald Trump and a huge level stake profit for followers of this blog's weekly tip: if you thought 2016 was the year of shocks, take a look at our predictions for 2017...

We all know that Donald Trump will be redecorating the oval office in 2017, but very few people are aware that Barack Obama, in a neat piece of role reversal, is set to become a reality TV star - participating in the next series of Celebrity Bake Off. I suggest getting down to your local betting shop before his odds start to 'crumble'.

ITV's coverage of racing will be an overnight success, becoming so popular that I expect the company to be bought for double the current share price - just for the racing rights (and one or two other media assets) - by the middle of the year.   

Scotland's rugby team are set for a triumphant grand-slam in the Six Nations Tournament. Just joshing - not even this blog is daft enough to suggest something so frivolous. The battle for the Six Nations Trophy will be fought out between England and Ireland.  

Willie Mullins will win most of the races at the Cheltenham Festival (again), but not the Champion Hurdle (which will be won by the ex-Mullins inmate Petit Mouchoir) or the Gold Cup (which will go to Native River).

Thistlecrack, generally acknowledged to be the best horse in training, will not win the Gold Cup because he is just too good. The Gold Cup rarely works out that way (where the best horse wins), I don't know why - but I love it all the same. Instead, Thistlecrack will give lumps of weight away to win the Whitbread (or whatever the race is going to be called in 2017) in a stirring finish which will cement his place in the hearts of jumping enthusiasts throughout Britain and Ireland.

Jimmy Moffatt will win the Grand National with Highland Lodge, earning himself the highest honour bestowed in South Cumbria - the keys to the Cartmel Village Shop 
Highland Lodge and Henry Brooke
Pictured by The Racing Post
and his weight in Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding. Moffatt will go on to be crowned the top trainer at Cartmel races, for the third consecutive year, in a Summer season which will set the racing world alight with record prize money. There'll also be some racing on the Flat in other parts of the country, although I don't suppose I'll have much time to study the runners - I expect that the Derby will be won by a three year old.


Regular readers of this blog will be able to retire at the end of the year having played up their profits from 2016 with 52 consecutive weekly winners, the first of which is the tasty looking Pain Au Chocolat in the 1.40 at Musselburgh on New Years Day (live on the aforementioned ITV).

I'll be back with more predictions next week. In the meantime, keep an eye out for fairies, talking sheep and low flying pigs...


Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Santa Rally

This is probably my favourite time of year: short days and long winter evenings spent by a roaring log fire. I love the cold mornings, race-meetings that while away the few available daylight hours and sloe gin sipped from a hip-flask - extracted from a suitably capacious poacher’s pocket, folded within the depths of a warm overcoat.
 
There’s something about the contrast between the cold winter weather and the warm optimism of Christmas that is especially good for the soul. It's the international season for hope, peace and reconciliation - and it’s a phenomenon that’s powerful enough to lift global financial markets, as well as the spirits of National Hunt racegoers.
 
The Santa Rally may sound like a fancy-dress car chase, but it is a recognised trend within the stock market calendar. Share prices have a tendency to rise during the last few days before Christmas and through until the New Year. A quick search of the internet reveals that the Dow Jones index has risen by an average of 1.7% each year during the 7-day Santa period since 1896, increasing in value in more than three years out of every four.
 
Analysis of the UK stock market by Hargreaves Lansdown reveals that, during the 30 years between 1985 and 2015, share prices on the FTSE All Share Index increased by nearly three times more in December than during an average month. A person who had invested £10,000 in 1985, but removed their money from the stock market every December for 30 years would have missed out on growth totalling nearly £80,000.
 
But the markets are discerning too – so the share price of ITV, where the live broadcasting of horseracing will commence on New Year’s Day, has risen by 14% in the two weeks since 1st December. Imagine how high they’ll be by the time the first races from Cheltenham and Musselburgh are shown on 1st January. Meanwhile, shares in Ladbrokes have fallen by 5% during the same period – presumably on the news of the massive punt that I’ve lined up for this weekend’s meeting at Haydock – the selection, a dual winner at Cartmel, is Morning Royalty.
 
The difference between Jimmy Moffatt’s horse winning and losing could be the difference between six bottles of Lambrusco Rosso for Christmas (£2.49 at Asda) or a case of Louis Roederer Brut Premier at around ten times the price. I’ve always maintained that there’s something rather charming about a glass of sparkling red wine, chilled and decanted into a stoneware jug so that no one can read the label. This year, apparently, red Lambrusco has become incredibly fashionable – but Mrs Garratt is having none of it. She's clearly as discerning in her choice of aperitif as she is in her choice of husband. Or so I'd like to believe...
 
Well I'm optimistic that peace will reign in the Garratt household, Morning Royalty will play his part and we'll toast our good fortune with a cold glass of Louis Roederer as we throw another log on the fire. Christmas approaches - good fortune to all!

 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Leading the Field

Cheltenham Racecourse is one of the very best in the country, providing an outstanding experience for the many racehorse owners that choose to compete with their horses at the track. But even so, I doubt that Simon Clarke (the owner of this week’s selection – Module in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup) will be offered a free space to pitch his tent or park his motorhome at the racecourse.
 
As far as I’m aware, Cartmel is the only racecourse in Britain, possibly the World, that offers free camping as part of the ownership experience. We haven’t yet had the opportunity to welcome JP McManus with his back-pack, but a small number of owners have taken advantage of the offer during the last two years.
 
Each season we have to be sure to reserve a couple of spaces for owners at all meetings, because camping has become an immensely popular dimension of a trip to Cartmel races and availability is strictly limited – especially for campervans and caravans. Such is the level of demand that, this year, we have decided to stagger the booking process.
 
Although race-tickets are not yet available for individual race-meetings, next Monday we shall offer the opportunity for racegoers to book a season ticket for camping. For a fee of £740, campers will be able to book a pitch on the inside of the ‘Scout Hut’ bend of the racecourse – including a space for a campervan or motorhome at all nine racedays and two annual membership badges. The camping pitches may be used on both the night before and the night of each raceday.
 
Annual Members badges admit customers to the Paddock Enclosure at all nine Cartmel racedays, plus more than 45 fixtures at other racecourses throughout Britain and Ireland. Anyone wishing to book a package as a Christmas gift should contact the racecourse office before it closes on Friday 16th December.
 
In the New Year, we shall make camping pitches available for whole race-meetings, so for example: all three days of the May meeting or both days of the August meeting. This will ensure that those racegoers who wish to stay for the a whole racing weekend will have priority over those staying for just one raceday.
 
Finally, in February, we anticipate releasing camping packages for individual racedays, so for example: the nights either side of Totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup Day or North West Evening Mail Picnic Day.
 
Anyone who was forced to study classics at school will be aware that the word ‘camp’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘field’ – and ever since the launch of our camping enterprise we’ve always acknowledged that the facilities are basic. The good news is that increased numbers of campers have helped us to justify an increased budget – so if JP McManus does decide to descend on us, he can expect to find a greater number of loos and hot running water among a number of improvements to the field-infrastructure.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Blue Remembered Grandstands

With apologies to a Shropshire Lad…

Into my heart an air that kills from yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of Folkestone Racecourse, I see it shining plain,
The happy races where I went
And cannot come again.
 
Despite welcoming the happy news of Hereford’s resurrection (next meeting 19th December), I can’t help but mourn the loss of Folkestone Racecourse. The track, which closed four years ago this month, was the only racecourse in Kent and now looks likely to subside under a blanket of housing. Shepway Council is progressing plans for a 12,000-house development called Otterpool Garden Town.

In addition to being the only racecourse within cycling distance of my childhood home, Folkestone was also the subject of my first venture into racing politics – a letter to The Sporting Life, in 1985, defending the track from Tom Kelly, of the Bookmakers Offcourse Licencees Association (Tom-BOLA - no seriously, that's what they called him), who suggested that the course was a drain on the industry’s resources and should be closed with immediate effect.
 
There were more in the industry who would have agreed with him. Throughout the 1980s, The Sporting Life ran a regular column in which racing personalities were asked 20 standard questions, including: Name your least favourite racecourse. Folkestone was the most popular response by quite a long way. Probably because, if you didn’t live in Kent, it was a long way.
 
When John Francome retired from the saddle he reportedly claimed that he wouldn’t miss trailing around the four ‘F’s: Folkestone, Fakenham, Fontwell Park and F***ing Plumpton! All of which, incidentally, would have found their way on to my list of tracks-for-special-preservation – which might also have been extended to include Fab Ludlow, Fruitful Catterick, Friendly Kelso and Family-fun-filled-Cartmel.
 
For those that have never been to Folkestone Racecourse, I’d like to argue that it isn’t quite so God-forsaken as some might suggest. In fact it was once a venue which benefited from significant royal patronage. During the twelfth century, Westenhanger Castle, which lies adjacent to the parade ring, was a trysting place for Henry II and his mistress ‘Fair’ Rosamund Clifford. Elizabeth I was a frequent visitor and made the castle a command post for 14,000 of her troops - gathered to defend the south coast from the Spanish Armada.
 
Perhaps the biggest opportunity, to change the course of history at Folkestone Racecourse, came during the English Interregnum when Charles II was invited to return from the continent. A plot was hatched to bring him secretly to Folkestone Racecourse (or Westenhanger Castle as it was then) from where he would make his procession to London. In fact the plotters planned to murder him before he reached London, but Charles was warned and the trip was postponed.
 
But let’s pretend for a moment that Charles had made his fateful journey and survived the assassination attempt. Surely the King would have rewarded the region with his continued patronage; in place of convening racing parties at Newmarket, his court would have descended on Folkestone instead – where they would now be preparing for the three hundred and forty-seventh year of the race he initiated - the (Newmarket / Folkestone) Town Plate.
 
This week’s selection: I'm backingthe James Moffatt trained Highland Lodge to retain his Becher Chase crown at Aintree on Saturday.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

And the Winner Isn't ...

Apologies for returning to the subject of the Racecourse Association’s Showcase Awards – but it isn’t every year that we win a major award from our national trade association. In fact it’s only every other year, based on the three years since 2014 - but I’m starting to boast again ...
 
And while the whole team is proud that Cartmel received the accolade of Ground-staff of the Year, we know what it feels like to be runners-up too – having been shortlisted twice previously for the jumps category of the awards. It can feel pretty rubbish to dress up like a penguin for a big ceremony, have all the excitement of making the shortlist, and then remain seated for the duration of the event while others scoop all the awards. In some cases the difference between winning and losing must be so infinitesimally small as to appear quite unfair – so today I’m name-checking a few of the racecourse champions that should have won an award but didn’t.
 
If there’d been a ‘party animal’ award, for the liveliest racecourse – or the one that got reprimanded the most times on the dance floor – it would surely have belonged to Hamilton Park. It’s no wonder that their entry for the ‘events’ category was based on a festival of music and racing involving eight different bands over an eleven hour period. I just wonder how many of the Hamilton Park staff were moved on by security stewards at their own event.
 
The ‘putting yourselves about’ award for top-networking goes to Redcar who, despite sending just two delegates to the Showcase event, seem to have spoken to every single one of the 270 people in the hall during the speed-dating phase of the conference, held during the afternoon. Incidentally, the purpose of the speed-dating section was to exchange ideas; no weddings (or divorces) are expected.
 
Without taking anything away from Ascot Racecourse, who became the first track to reclaim the accolade of overall Showcase Champion, we should perhaps feel slightly sorry for Musselburgh – who surely came closer than any other small racecourse to winning the whole thing. Having been trumped by Ascot in the categories for ‘social media excellence’ and ‘operational excellence’, they scooped the award for ‘best event’. Apparently their advertising strapline for 2017 will be "Ever-so nearly as good as Ascot – but in a nicer part of the British Isles".
 
It would be sacrilegious to suggest that anyone other than Seamus Buckley, the Clerk of the Course at Goodwood, deserved to lift the Neil Wyatt Lifetime Achievement Award – he was the only winner during the evening to be accorded a standing ovation on his way to the presentation podium. However, I think it might be worth reminding the judges ahead of next year’s event that a common factor links the two most recent winners of the overall Ground-staff Award: York and Cartmel.

A certain terrier called Jack regularly oversees operations at both racecourses – occasionally accompanied by his chauffeur, Anthea Morshead (who apparently also calls herself a Clerk of the Course). For the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award (he can't be more than 10 years old) – vote Jack!
 
Looking ahead to the weekend, I fully expect Zubayr to be picking up the prize for ‘best hurdler’ in the 2.40 at award winning Newbury Racecourse.