Thursday, 27 June 2013

Local Charities Backing a Winner

When you are trying to raise money for charity, it is always handy if you can provide a fun atmosphere and a bit of an incentive for people to hand over their hard-earned cash. That’s why I am so excited about our next race-meeting on Saturday 20th July when we’ll be helping two charities to raise funds throughout the day. 

We’ll be promoting a huge sweepstake on the big race, the totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup, in aid of St Mary’s Hospice in Ulverston for whom we are hoping to raise up to £10,000. Tickets for the sweepstake cost just £1 each and there will be a cash prize for every person who is drawn from the hat on race-day. The size of the cash prize will be determined by the horses, as each ticket drawn will relate to a runner in the race. The winning horse will yield one lucky ticket-holder the top prize of £500, the equivalent odds of 499/1. There will also be at least £500 to be split between the other winners with runners in the race. 

The sweepstake was the idea of our raceday presenter John Sexton and his wife Margaret, who have been selling tickets since our first meeting of the season in May. Sadly Margaret died last week, having received care and support from the hospice team over a long period of time. While the personal connection makes the charitable drive poignant for everyone who works at the racecourse, the hospice is a charity that touches people throughout our community and I know that our desire to raise funds will be shared by many. 

As well as the busy in-patient unit, the hospice staff offer day care, drop in sessions, complimentary therapies, advice for families and care at home. The annual running costs are around £2.4 million of which just 20% is paid for by the NHS, leaving nearly £2 million per year to be raised from other sources.

Sweepstake tickets can be bought from the racecourse office and will also be available on 20th July. However, if you’re struggling to get here and fancy backing a 499/1 winner, you can also purchase tickets from the hospice by calling 01229 580305. 

Meanwhile, the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre will be parading a number of retired racehorses before the first race; each of them re-trained at their base near Lancaster. The rehabilitation centre was the first enterprise of its kind in Britain and fulfils an important role in converting flighty racehorses into adaptable riding horses, suitable for a new role and a new home. The centre will have a trade-stand packed with merchandise and will be making a bucket collection at each of the exits.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Just Add Racing!

The next race-meeting at Cartmel, on Saturday 20th and Monday 22nd July, is traditionally known as the “BBQ Meeting”. While the races, which include the totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup, are the most valuable programmed during our season, the most important performance for many visitors will not be seen on the track - but on a smoking grill somewhere in the middle of the racecourse. 

So, to give yourself plenty of time for practise, and in anticipation of some sunny weather early next week, here are my top tips for a perfect barbecue. 

First – get on the website and buy yourself some fantastic quality meat. If you are pre-booking tickets for the races, you can save time by ordering a refrigerated pack of meat from Furness Fish & Game Supplies with your purchase, which will be waiting for you when you get to the track. Each pack contains a selection of beef steaks, venison burgers, award winning pork sausages and chicken.

Second - light the barbecue. Remember, if it is one of those once-only foil barbecues, make sure that you have something solid underneath so that you don’t scorch the grass. And if you are at the racecourse, please think really carefully about how you dispose of the embers. Every year we have to put out at least one flaming wheelie-bin. Sadly we can’t allow barbecues close to the running rail while the racing is taking place, as the smoke may distract the horses; make sure you allow plenty of time for your meal before racing – or start again after the last race.

Finally, treat yourself to some homemade ketchup – it makes all the difference. You’ll need 1kg of tomatoes, a large onion, a small fennel bulb (or half a large one), a celery stick, an inch long piece of fresh ginger, garlic, a fresh chilli, basil, a teaspoon of coriander seeds, black pepper, salt, 60g of brown sugar and 200ml of red wine vinegar or cider vinegar – whichever you prefer.

Put all the vegetables, herbs and spices into a saucepan and cook gently for 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and a large glass of water and bring back to the boil, reducing by half. Add the basil leaves, blend in a food processor and then put back on the heat until it takes on the required consistency. Cool and serve!

If you’re trying this recipe on Saturday, enjoy your homemade ketchup with a few sausages or burgers in front of Channel 4 racing and the final day of Royal Ascot. Hot on the heals of last week’s winning selection, I’ll be cheering on Poole Harbour in the cavalry charge that calls itself the Wokingham Handicap Stakes.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Royal Ascot, Audrey Hepburn and Me

So what image does Royal Ascot conjure in your mind? Is it the finely dressed ladies and amazing hats, the men in their morning coats or the horses primed for action?

With three Group 1 races in the first hour and a half of the meeting, you’d think that a racing man would be firmly fixed on the racing action – head firmly embedded in the form book. The truth is that I can’t stop thinking of Audrey Hepburn, dressed in black and white along with all the other ladies in the cast of My Fair Lady, singing “What a smashing, positively dashing spectacle: the Ascot op’ning day”.

The scene sums up the atmosphere perfectly: the chatter is of the horses and the excitement of the races, but it is the crowd which is the true spectacle. The event is about socialising rather than the business of betting and, in that sense, it has more in common with Cartmel than almost any other race-meeting in the year. While the racegoers at Ascot might be better dressed, there won’t much difference between the picnics in the car park nor the fun derived from spending time at the races with friends and family.   

Not that the racing action is irrelevant. The key moment in My Fair Lady comes when Eliza Doolittle, caught up in the excitement of the race, lapses into her cockney accent and shouts, “C’mon Dover… move your bloomin’ arse!”. The thrill of cheering on your selection is the same – at Ascot or at Cartmel and it really doesn’t matter whether you are a hardened gambler, a racing novice, a prince or a pauper.

Despite loving the film and being captivated by Audrey Hepburn, there is just one element of the racing scene which grates each time it comes on the television; the horses are galloping in the wrong direction. I know… it sounds ridiculous, but this is the stuff of nightmares for a racecourse manager – I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, sit bolt upright and shout “Stop – the horses are heading the wrong way!”

As for this week’s selections: there is a strong international challenge for the first two races of the royal meeting which could go the way of the USA and South Africa courtesy of Animal Kingdom and Shea Shea. However, the horse  that I’d really like to succeed is Dawn Approach in third race - the St James Palace Stakes. It all went wrong for the Irish-trained horse in the Derby, when he pulled too hard from the start. It would be great to see him bounce back on Tuesday. 

“What a gripping, absolutely ripping moment at the Ascot op’ning day.”

Friday, 7 June 2013

Getting Blinkered About My Asparagus

When you live your life through horseracing, you can become "blinkered" – if you’ll excuse the first of many puns. Everything you do, everywhere you go and whatever you say has a direct connection to the sport.

I’d say “everything, across the board”, but that would be a cliché - being a phrase derived from the bookmakers odds boards. Anyway, I’m "chomping at the bit"  to get this week’s column "under starter's orders". 

According to an old adage, you should stop picking your asparagus on Derby Day. This enables the later spears to grow to their full potential throughout the summer, replenishing the roots and enabling the plant to get a "leg up" for the following year. After one of the coldest Springs on record, this has given me a problem – my asparagus patch hasn't produced anything yet.

Even allowing for the movement of the Derby to a slightly earlier date (falling on the first Saturday in June instead of the first Wednesday), the garden has failed to sprout anything much other than tulips. I'm now "pinning my hopes" on seeing some asparagus spears emerge from the earth before Sunday's Spanish Derby, in which Frankie Dettori hopes to gain his first come-back win. 

Another piece of racing wisdom offers advice on the stock market. The "clever money" used to say “Sell in May and go away, come back on St Leger Day”. The theory was that, during the Summer months, all the city investors would be too busy "jockeying for position" at the Derby, Royal Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon and the like. The markets would become thin, under-invested and volatile, creating tricky trading conditions.

After the St Leger, the last of the British Classics in September, the traders would return and the market would be ripe again for investment. I love advice like this, it ensures you get a "run for your money" (agh). Sadly though, following my national plunge on Ballabriggs, there's nothing left in the locker (just thought I'd throw one in for the sailors out there!) 

So, what is this week's tip? It's a bit of a stab in the dark actually; you could call it a "dark horse". Full Of Joy at Stratford's Saturday evening fixture.