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 (www.albioncattlesociety.co.uk), 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.  


Friday, 7 July 2017

Snakes and Adders

I’ve never liked reptiles very much. It’s something to do with the way they shed their skin, lick their eyelids and issue parking tickets. Oh sorry, that’s traffic wardens... I’ve had trouble telling them apart ever since my wife’s vehicle was issued with a £75 parking penalty outside Marks & Spencer’s. Not that she hadn’t paid for parking you understand, just that she’d made the mistake of outstaying her welcome after handing over our weekly grocery budget.
 
But anyway, back to the reptiles... Our amateur jockeys are so tough that we thought they deserved a different kind of challenge. Negotiating a few hurdles at 30 miles per hour didn’t seem nearly dangerous enough – so last Sunday we added snakes! That’s right: a uniquely dangerous contest in which the first contestant to make it across the snake infested pit on horseback would be named the winner.
 
Okay, it wasn’t actually snakes as in the plural. It was just the one snake, spotted slithering across the track as the horses galloped down the wood-side straight, but it was an Adder. According to Wikipedia, the Common European Adder is poisonous and has a diet which consists mainly of small mammals – so I dare say we were extremely lucky that none of the jockeys fell off in front of it.
 
Anyway, it got me to thinking: what other challenges could we set for our jockeys? I suggested to the team that perhaps we could have the horses jumping through giant rings of fire – which seemed like quite a thrilling idea until they pointed out to me that they already gallop through clouds of barbecue smoke.
 
The next meeting, on Saturday 22nd July and Monday 24th July, is the traditional BBQ Weekend. There’ll be barbecue demonstrations and prizes for the most stylish picnics or barbecues within the public enclosures. So gather up your finest folding chairs, your candelabras and stripy picnic blankets – we want to see them all.
 
As always, there are a few ground-rules to follow for those barbecuing at the racecourse: we recommend that you stick to charcoal as we don’t allow gas canisters of the Calor-gas type, unless they come complete with a valid gas safety certificate. We also reserve the right to ask all customers to extinguish their barbecues before the first race, so as not to create those smoky clouds for the jockeys.
 
Finally, when it’s time to go home, please dispense of your quelled barbecue embers in the metal cages provided next to our bins. If they reignite, the fire makes a nasty mess of our nice red plastic wheelie-bins. The molten plastic isn’t very good for the grass either.
 
And watch out for snakes. They’re protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, so you can’t put them on the barbecue.
 
This week’s tip is Decorated Knight in the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The All Weather Track

"Can you make it NOT rain?" read the text message.

I can do a lot of things, but for influence over the weather I have to turn to someone much more powerful than myself. I won't tell you who, because she wouldn't thank me, but she says she'll see what she can do.

If that fails, we've got two pallets full of plastic rain ponchos to give away - when you live in the Lakes, you learn to come to work prepared for the odd shower.

If you're planning a trip to the races on Friday (for the Tom Jones experience) or on Sunday (when we've a troupe of circus performers wandering the enclosures), I'd suggest you pop a pair of wellies in the back of the car. It doesn't hurt to be prepared and they're easier to walk in than high heels - or so I've been told.

Not that any of that advice will help the trainer who sent me the text message, because we don't have a rain poncho that will fit his horse and I've practically never seen a Thoroughbred shod in flip-flops, never mind heels.

I think he was hoping we'd describe the ground as Good to Firm. Which of course we could, if we wanted to, although it wouldn't be true - and racehorse trainers get funny about that sort of thing.

So does The Racing Post for that matter, although I'm not sure when journalists became so proficient in assessing the condition of the turf. Ascot took some flack from the media for watering at the Royal Meeting and yet their excellent ground staff (second only to the team at Cartmel according to last year's RCA Showcase Award judges), work to the highest professional standards to provide a consistent and safe racing surface. Could it be that some of the critics were talking through their pockets?  

But I digress. If you're coming to Cartmel this weekend (and we still have tickets for both days) the best thing to do is to prepare for all eventualities. Bring a pair of sunglasses, in case the sun shines, and a decent coat in case it doesn't. You can always use it as a picnic blanket when it turns out fine.

If you're backing a horse, look for one that won at the last meeting at Cartmel, when glorious sunshine gave way to rain and glorious sunshine again. Although, if the racecard form comment reads "well suited to all-weather," be a bit wary - because that doesn't mean quite the same thing.

This week's selection is Morning Royalty who goes in the £20,000 Oakmere Homes Handicap Chase on Sunday. He’s a three-times course winner and has proved successful on Good ground, Soft and Heavy.

Friday, 23 June 2017

A Village Story

Following the sad news about the passing of children’s TV presenter Brian Cant, I can now reveal the proposed plot-line for the fourteenth and final episode of Trumpton – which remained unscreened due to a legal dispute over the use of data rights at Trumpton Racecourse. 
Entitled ‘It’s Not Unusual’, the story follows the residents of the small village as they prepare for a concert that’s about to be performed by a famous Welsh singer. The episode opens with a shot of the villagers as they go about their daily business...
 
"Good morning Mr Clamp," says Miss Lovelace, the milliner, who is being towed across the square by three small Pekingese dogs. "I’m so excited about Jim Tones coming to Trumpton Racecourse. Apparently he’s going to sing live on a big stage after racing. I’m working on a very special hat for Mrs Cobbit the florist, as she’s landed the contract for arranging the flowers in the hospitality marquee."
 
Mr Clamp, the greengrocer, is loading his van with vegetables for the racecourse caterers. "Great!" he says, "It’s important to use local suppliers when events like this come to Trumpton. This Jim Tones concert is really going to help the local economy." The pair pause in their conversation while Mr Munnings, the printer, pins a poster to the village notice board.
 
"What does it say about taking dogs to the racecourse?" asks Miss Lovelace. The narrator explains that dogs are allowed on the racecourse but must be kept on a lead at all times. Due to the crowded nature of the event, dogs will not be permitted in the area immediately in front of the stage. Visitors will be welcome to bring picnics although, as with the dogs, they’ll be discouraged from depositing chairs and other structures in the area designated for standing spectators. They will be allowed to bring knickers for throwing, but nothing made of glass.
 
"Can you read that Mitzi, Daphne and Lulu?" says Miss Lovelace to her dogs. "I'm afraid you won’t be allowed in the mosh-pit."
 
Just then Chippy Minton, the joiner, walks into shot. He’s looking grumpy because he’s just been told that the big stage will be arriving on the back of a lorry and he won’t have an opportunity to tender for the work. "I’m fed up." he says, "I’m not even a fan of Jim Tones and the traffic in the village is going to be awful."
 
"Don’t worry about the traffic!" says Mr Troop the mayor. "I’ve been working with my friends in the Highways Department. The racecourse will implement a traffic management plan which will include some one-way systems and a taxi pick-up area within the south car park. As long as all visitors follow the yellow event signage and all taxis use the official pick-up area, any congestion should be limited and manageable. I am sure that the racegoers will be respectful of our beautiful village – we’ll be asking them to dispose of all their litter appropriately too, so that it can be recycled and the streets kept tidy."
 
Captain Flack and his men arrive in the square, clinging to their fire engine. "We’ve just visited the racecourse," he says "to carry out our annual assessment of their risk management plan. Did you know they’re going to have a big concert there after racing on Friday? If you’re going to go, you might want to make sure you arrive in plenty of time, as there will be a few additional security measures in place and the Police will have a heightened presence there."
 
Chippy’s son, Nibbs, arrives. "Can we go to the races too please Dad... please? It's going to be great fun and we can still get tickets at the entrance on the day!" 
 
"Of course we can." Says Chippy, who has now cheered up substantially. "I love a flutter on the horses, which reminds me: let's go down to the bookies, I've got a tip for Raucous in the Wokingham Handicap on Saturday at Camberwick Green."
 

N.B. Any similarities between the fictional characters described here and the actual residents of Trumpton are purely coincidental.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Two by Two

When it comes to threats to Cartmel’s cyber security, I’m not sure which scares me most: the malevolent money-extorting maniacs from North Korea or those good old guys at Microsoft who try to update my lap-top with ‘patches’ while I’m not at my desk.
 
This week’s Microsoft update has all but paralysed the racecourse office, having rendered our printers temporarily obsolete. Many thousands of tickets for the Tom Jones Raceday on 30th June and the Sunday Funday on 2nd July have already been packaged up ready for posting. But with just two weeks to go we’re selling more tickets every day – so there are more to send and the postman is going to be jolly busy.
 
Happily, the hugely professional team at EMS (who look after our ticketing system) have got together with SystemHost (who look after our computers) and they’re on the case. Together with the dedicated girls in the office next door, they’ll be working through the weekend to ensure that all the tickets get printed and dispatched before racing commences on 30th June.
 
In the meantime I’m typing this week’s blog on my telephone – so if you notice any unusual smelling errors, please put it down to the predictive text.
 
If you’re waiting for tickets that you’ve already purchased for the Tom Jones Race-day (or for Sunday 2nd July) – don’t worry, they’ll be on their way shortly and we expect all the tickets to reach their destination in good time.
 
And if you haven’t booked your tickets yet, what are you waiting for? The Tom Jones Raceday event will have limited audience of just 19,999 people – so while we’ve some availability remaining, the tickets are running out fast!
 
You'll have noticed that, at Cartmel, we like to do things two by two: most of our meetings feature two racedays. The June meeting will feature two musical acts - as Sir Tom Jones will be joined on stage by his protégés Into The Arc.
 
Having reached the final of The Voice UK, the Welsh duo (Taylor Jones and Dane Lloyd) have proved incredibly popular in front of crowds throughout Britain. The pair met six years ago and paid for a trip around Australia by busking – but they’ll not be asking racegoers to put a dollar in their bucket on this occasion, their performance will be part of the ticket price of £45 – as long as the tickets are booked before the end of next week.
 
I’m getting a bit concerned that computer hackers may have accessed my betting-account, as the balance appears to be perilously low. Is it really so long since I backed a winner? This week’s selection is East Street Revue in the Musselburgh Sprint Cup.  

 

Friday, 9 June 2017

There Can Be Only Five

While the media followed each twist and turn of a remarkable General Election this week, another drama was unfolding unbeknown to an unsuspecting public.
 
[Cue pulsating music. The opening shot: a city skyline; the camera pans down to a busy streetscape where men and women pass each other on their way to work...]  
 
Like the immortal warriors in the 1986 film Highlander, we gathered to do battle while ordinary members of the public bustled about their ordinary lives - oblivious to the looming conflict. Studiously avoiding the gaze of others, we converged on the agreed venue at the appointed time.
 
Except of course we weren’t immortal warriors, we were just a group of nervous racecourse executives - come to meet at the BHA’s offices in High Holborn to participate in the inaugural auction of fixtures. There were no bolts of lightning connecting with the top of the office block, as we experienced ‘the quickening’ – although, from what we could see on the telly, it looked pretty wet at Chepstow where the going changed to soft as they recorded 21 non-runners.
 
Queen’s theme tune, Princes Of The Universe, wasn’t blasting across the airwaves. Nor did any of us wield 5-foot long broad swords; the current security status being what it is, it didn’t seem appropriate.
 
"There can be only five," said the auctioneer ominously, confirming the BHA’s decision to allow five afternoon fixtures, with prize money grants and integrity funding, on a series of Saturdays between May and September from the year 2018 onwards. The auction was staged to determine which racecourses would race in which slots. And it was tense: several of the racecourses represented, including Cartmel, already stage fixtures in these ‘fifth Saturday’ slots, albeit without any central funding. For the sake of our customers, we were anxious not to lose them.
 
All in all, 27 fixtures went under the hammer, including a few opportunities on Bank Holidays and Friday evenings as well as the Saturday afternoon slots. In true Highlander fashion, Musselburgh were the first to strike, securing two of the first three lots in the catalogue. "It’s A Kind of Magic," said Bill Farnsworth although he doesn’t look much like Connor MacLeod, the character played by Christopher Lambert, nor Freddie Mercury for that matter.
 
In the film, the prize gained by MacLeod was the mystical ability to read the thoughts of humankind, inspiring peace and prosperity - a bit like Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May. I’d settle for being able to tip a decent winner – this week’s selection is Katgary at Stratford on Saturday evening.
 
Back at the auction, it seemed as though most racecourses managed to get what they came for. And I’m happy to report that Cartmel secured the right to race on the final Saturday in May (Whit Holiday Weekend), as well as the Saturday afternoon of Totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup Day in July.
 
The full fixture list won’t be finalised and announced by the BHA until August, but this week’s auction represented a significant milestone in the process. We may not know who our Prime Minister will be in a few months time, but racegoers at Cartmel can look forward to greater certainty when planning their holidays for 2018 and beyond.