Thursday, 30 May 2013

Derby Drama

We’ve enjoyed some great finishes at Cartmel during the last week, but thankfully nothing quite so dramatic as the Epsom Derby of 100 years ago, which is commonly known as the “Suffragettes  Derby”. 

Female jockeys are now a common sight on British racecourses and on Wednesday the three top jockeys at Cartmel were all girls: Samantha Drake, Emma Sayer and Lucy Alexander. Female trainers Dianne Sayer and Joanne Foster both trained winners. However, in 1913, women were still lobbying for the right to vote, never mind training and riding Thoroughbred horses on the track.

Much has been written and broadcast about Emily Davidson this week as the racing world prepares for the biggest race in the Flat Calendar which takes place on Saturday. She was the suffragette who ran in front of the King’s horse, Amner, as the runners reached Tattenham Corner. Through her subsequent death she became the first martyr for the cause of suffrage and her name has passed into the history books.

For many people, the race stops there and whenever the old newsreel of the race is played, we very rarely see the finish. The form book will tell you that Aboyeur was the winner, but it was actually Craganour who has his head in front at the line. Craganour was owned by Charles Bower Ismay, reviled by the establishment due to his family links to the ownership of the Titanic, sunk with the loss of more than 1,500 lives in 1912.

The stewards decided to disqualify Craganour for “bumping” in the final furlong, awarding the race to the 100/1 shot Aboyeur owned by one of the most successful gambling syndicates in the history of the sport. While there is no evidence to confirm that Craganour was disqualified because of his owner’s reputation, it is curious that the same horse also finished in front in the 2,000 Guineas and yet was placed second by the judge - who declared that he had been beaten by a head. He is the only horse in history to have passed the post first in two classics, winning neither of them.

Aboyeur was sold to stud in St Petersburg and disappeared during the Russian Revolution. He was rumoured to have been disguised as a cart-horse and evacuated to Serbia, but no one really knows. 

There is a very strong Irish entry for Saturday’s Derby. I’ll be hoping for a Yorkshire success courtesy of Libertarian; at 16/1 he is a good each way bet.


Friday, 24 May 2013

Ignore This Advice...

This week you’ll be expecting me to give you a few winners for Cartmel Races over the weekend. I hate to disappoint you, but I’m going to give you some of my normal selections instead and hope for the best. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know to treat the information with caution!

The first thing to do, if you’re studying form and are pushed for time, is to check through the list of trainers with runners. For example, Nigel Twiston-Davies has a strike rate of 24% at Cartmel over the last four years – a great thing to drop into the conversation over the weekend if you want to sound knowledgeable in front of your friends. If he has four runners on the card, there’s a reasonable chance of one winner.

The same goes for Donald McCain, who has a 27% strike rate. The problem is (there’s always a snag) if you’d placed £1 on all their horses in the last four years at Cartmel, you’d have backed lots of winners but lost £7.87 in the process. Better instead to back all of Dianne Sayer’s runners. Dianne has a strike rate of one winner in five runners at Cartmel and they’re good prices too - £1 on all of her runners would have yielded a profit of £14.25. Possible runners over the weekend include Auberge and Red Kingdom, both of who are previous course winners.

The King of Cartmel though, in percentage terms, is Jonjo O’Neil. He may have only sent six runners here in the last four years, but three of them have been winners and he’s showing a profit of £9 to a £1 stake. Temple Lord is entered on Bank Holiday Monday and could even have the assistance of Champion Jockey Tony McCoy in the saddle. He’d be my nap of the meeting.

It’s well worth looking at some of the trainers who make infrequent visits to the track. For example, Philip Hobbs may have his first runner since 2009 with Triggerman, who finished third in last season’s Welsh Grand National. He is one horse among a high quality field entered for the Burlington Stone Grand Veterans Chase, but he would be a very popular winner.

John Ferguson hasn’t brought a runner to Cartmel in four years and has decided to enter two lovely novice hurdlers, one on Saturday evening and one on Monday. While Halifax will be interesting to note in the betting market, I like Allowed who finished third to Irish Saint at Kempton’s big Christmas meeting and therefore has form comparable with the very best juvenile hurdlers of last season.

Of course I wouldn’t blame you for ignoring my advice and simply backing the horses with the most appropriate names. How about Jive Master on the North West Evening Mail Vintage Race-night?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Much Depends On Dinner

Some phrases pop into my head on an almost daily basis and this week I keep thinking of a quotation from Lord Byron that “much depends on dinner”. 

It resonates with me for several reasons. From a work perspective, we are all familiar with Napoleon’s assertion that “an army marches on its stomach” – in the busy build-up to racing, everyone at the track needs to find time to eat. On race-day we shall be welcoming many guests to the corporate hospitality areas; for the hosts in these areas, no doubt much will depend on the quality of the meal as to how their business relationships will blossom. And on a personal level, I just like good food!

Fortunately Cartmel is a haven for foodies and the chef Paul Rowley, who heads up our new team of caterers at the racecourse, has had no problem sourcing fantastic local produce to serve at the races. To showcase the best of our regional fare, Rowleys will be opening a new facility at the track which they have dubbed the “Local Heroes Food Court”. In there, among other things, you’ll find a gorgeous game pie using meat sourced from Flookburgh-based Furness Fish & Game, Morecambe Bay potted shrimps, Cartmel cheeses and of course the famous Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding. 

On Saturday evening 25th May, we’re even offering a special dinner-package where you can enjoy a two course meal and admission to the races for just £47.50. You’ll also be able to sample a bottle of our own real ale, brewed just over the hill by the Winster Valley Brewery. There’s limited space, so it’s essential to book in advance by calling the racecourse office. 

If you’re a master with the barbecue, you may prefer to organise your own catering and this isn’t a problem. We even sell vouchers for barbecue-packs of locally sourced meat from Furness Fish & Game. For £24, you can collect your chilled pack of beef steaks, venison burgers, chicken kebabs and award winning sausages – enough to feed 6-8 people – from their stall at the track. The only request we have is that barbecues close to the running rails are extinguished 20 minutes before the first race – we don’t want to smoke out the horses. 

If you’re particularly keen on your sticky toffee pudding you might have noticed that The Cartmel Village Shop sells them in handy foil trays which are ideal for heating slowly on a barbecue; just mind your fingers when you’re taking them off the heat. 

There, that’s dinner taken care of… This week’s tip? Ballybriggan at Bangor, Saturday 3.05pm.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

I'm Throwing Out The Video Recorder

Last weekend I decided to clear out the shed at home. A thirty minute job turned into a full day when I came across a box of old editions of The Sporting Life newspaper. 

One of my favourites featured an interview with the formidable trainer Jenny Pitman entitled “Why I Punched Insolent Osborne”, following an incident when the jockey Jamie Osborne squeezed one of her horses on to the rails at Ayr one day. The jockey later commented “What can I say? She has a great left hook!” 

Apart from the newspapers, you wouldn’t believe how many videos I found with horseracing recorded on them. You might think a couple of tapes would be normal; a box full and you’d imagine this person was a racing enthusiast. But three boxes?! Cheltenham, Aintree, Ascot, Chester: in the 1980’s and 1990’s I used to record the racing every weekend to make sure that I missed nothing.

Times have changed. Not only is all the terrestrial coverage on a single channel, so there’s no need to juggle with the remote-control to switch between BBC and Channel 4, but we have Racing UK to bring the races into our homes every day of the week.

A dedicated racing channel, Racing UK broadcasts live racing from 650 meetings at 33 of the UK’s top racecourses including Cartmel. So if you can’t join us on Saturday evening 25th May, you’ll be able to watch us on television at Sky 432, Virgin Media 536 or Freeview 231. And if you are here, but you miss a race while you’re in the bar, you can catch up by watching the review when you get home or watch an individual race through the website or mobile phone applications.

This year Racing UK are planning more camera shots of the parade ring at Cartmel, so you’ll be able to see more of the horses before each race. The Racing UK website contains up-to-date news stories, runners for all the race-meetings, columnists and lots of archive material – so my own boxes of material have just been chucked in the skip, although I couldn’t resist cutting out the article about Jenny Pitman first.

While the Flat season is now in full swing, there are still some decent jumpers around and the feature race of Haydock’s Saturday meeting is the Swinton Hurdle, for which I can’t resist having a few pennies on Evan Williams’ runner Court Minstrel – and as I’ll be busy during the afternoon, I’ll be checking the results later on RacingUK.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Are You Prepared For The Races?

With less than four weeks to go until the new racing season commences at Cartmel, the count-down has begun in earnest. 

The first May Bank Holiday is always an important milestone in our calendar, as this is when Head Groundsman Gary Sharp and his team reinstate the familiar white running rail that encloses the track. About two miles of running rail is required and every inch has to be inspected before it is fixed into position. Every bend has to be carefully sculpted to create a smooth running-line for the horses; every straight is meticulously checked to ensure there are no kinks to distract the runners as they approach the obstacles. 

All of the hurdles have been repaired and are stored in readiness for the first race-day on Saturday evening 25th May. The hurdles won’t be placed in position until just before the meeting, lest the obstacles obstruct the mowing of the track which will occur twice weekly from now on. In the meantime the fences, which have been packed with long withies of birch, will be cut down to the standard height of 4 foot 6 inches. Any taller and the jockeys will cry foul; any shorter and the British Horseracing Authority’s course inspector will instruct us to build them up again. 

Regular followers of the sport might have noticed that fixtures at Ayr and Brighton have been transferred to other courses or abandoned in the early part of the Summer, as a direct result of the cold weather, the lack of grass growth and failure of the tracks to recover after winter maintenance work. Well, despite a frost this morning, average temperatures have finally increased and the track at Cartmel is now greening up nicely after our own extensive drainage works implemented at the end of last year. 

The Met Office is currently forecasting warmer weather towards the end of the month – so now is the time to make sure that you are as geared-up as we are. Picnic blanket? Check. Deck-chairs? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Outfit for Vintage Night? – Go and have a look in the wardrobe! 

In the meantime, in an effort to build up a betting fund for Cartmel races at the end of the month, why not have a couple of quid on Toronado in the first Classic of the Flat Season – the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket this Saturday.