Thursday, 26 December 2013

Santa's Visit

Whatever you wished for from Santa, I hope that you found it in the toe of your stocking. With a great King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, Sprinter Sacre appearing at Kempton on Friday and the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Saturday, you could be forgiven for thinking that all your Christmases have come at once. 

But we know that’s not quite true – because there have been some great Christmases already. There was that heart-warming one when Wayward Lad won his third King George in 1985, that brilliant one when Desert Orchid won his fourth King George in 1990, that heart-breaking one when Bradbury Star was just beaten by Barton Bank in 1993 – and that frustrating one in 1994 when Barton Bank fell at the last. Do you remember that one? Barton Bank’s trainer, David Nicholson, was so upset he punched a photographer. Perhaps that wasn’t a great Christmas after all. 

After Captain Chris’s failure to make the line-up for this year’s Boxing Day feature, I’m hoping that 25/1 shot Tour Des Champs will put in an appearance at Chepstow on Saturday. Teaforthree will run his usual good race and Well Refreshed looks well handicapped, but I’m siding with Tour Des Champs because he’s trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies who has raised some good jockeys as well as training some good horses.       

Being a good trainer and raising children at the same time isn’t easy. A friend of mine, who trains racehorses, has two  children: a little girl who is as good as gold and a little boy who isn’t. The boy swears like a member of the trainer’s stable staff and would give many a sailor a good run for their money. 

For the last few months they have been telling both children that they should behave well, or else Santa may not visit them on Christmas Eve. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss – when the boy continued with his foul-mouthed ways, they warned him that they’d report his language to Santa’s elves. When these threats yielded no improvement, they turned to desperate measures. While the little girl was provided with all the items that she had specified on her list, the boy’s stocking was filled with fresh horse manure. 

On Christmas morning the parents sat in bed and waited - listening for their children’s response to Santa’s visit. The little girl was delighted and came sprinting into her parent’s bedroom, “Mummy, Daddy, Mummy, Daddy, – Santa brought me a bicycle, a sparkly tiara, a lollypop and a sack of pony feed!” She wore the biggest smile on her face. 

They called out to their son, who was looking mournfully out of the bedroom window, holding the stocking full of horse dung in his hands. “What did Santa bring you son?” they asked. 

“I asked him for a racehorse,” he said, “but the bugger's gone!”

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Cartmel Christmas Quiz

Just in case you were getting bored with the weekly blog, it’s time for some audience participation.

Please send your answers to the 15 Cartmel Christmas Quiz questions, below, to or post them to the racecourse office to arrive no later than Monday 6th January.

The first correct entry drawn from our hat will win a VIP lunch for two people at Cartmel races in 2014. The first two losing entries (any score – even zero!) will win a pair of Paddock Enclosure badges to any Cartmel meeting in 2014. Good luck! 

The Quiz:

1) What was Gay Future's coat covered with, before he won at Cartmel in 1974?
          A)     Shaving foam        B) Soap Suds                      C) Carlsberg

 2) How old was Cregmore Boy when he became the oldest horse to win at Cartmel in 1957?
          A)     13                              B) 15                                      C) 17

3) The first running of the £27,000 Cumbria Crystal Trophy in 2012 was won by:
          A)     Soul Magic             B) Front Rank                    C) What A Steel

4) Which was the last horse to win at Cartmel and run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup?
          A)     Soul Magic             B) Kauto Star                     C) Knockara Beau            

5) How many winners did Tony McCoy ride at Cartmel during 2013?
          A)     1                                B) 4                                        C) 7

6) How many losers did Tony McCoy ride at Cartmel furing 2013?
          A)     1                                B) 4                                        C) 7

7) How many career wins at Cartmel does Soul Magic currently have to his name?
          A)     6                                B) 7                                        C) 8

8) In 1865 Oulton Boy entered the record books by winning three races in the same:
          A)     Day                           B) Week                               C) Season

9) Which Cartmel winner went on to win the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham later the same season?
          A)     Zarkander               B) Countrywide Flame   C) Soul Magic

10) Which horse, pulled up in a maiden hurdle at Cartmel in 2004 won a Group 1 sprint at Royal Ascot in 2006?
          A)     Soul Magic              B) Gay Future                    C) Les Arcs

11) The average prize fund at Cartmel in 1900 was:
          A)     £3.47                        B) £34.71                             C) £347.10

12) Before the implementation of strict safety factors, what was the biggest field to contest a race at Cartmel?
          A)     20                              B) 30                                    C) 40

13) Which film featuring Pierce Brosnan was filmed at Cartmel Racecourse?
          A)     Mamma Mia!          B) Murphy’s Stroke          C) Die Another Day

14) Which out of the following jockeys rode the most winners at Cartmel in 2013?
          A)     Lucy Alexander      B) Tony McCoy                  C) Jason Maguire

15) What’s going to win the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot this weekend?
          A)     At Fishers Cross     B) At Fishers Cross          C) At Fishers Cross

By the way, in case you hadn’t guessed, this week’s selection is in the 2.25 at Ascot on Saturday: At Fishers Cross.

Good luck and don't forget - entries in by 6th January.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Miracle At Cartmel

Last week’s blog sparked quite a bit of controversy, judging by my bursting mail-bag of three letters. Father Patrick O’Shea and Father Michael McNamara, both drawn to the article by its religious theme, wrote to express their dismay at my mentioning Sprinter Sacre in the same paragraph as Arkle. I’m sorry reverends, it won’t happen again. 

The third letter wasn’t actually a comment; it was an offer from a reader who is trying to sell a box-set of “The Best Xmas Films Ever”. The problem is, the collection was missing my favourite Christmas film of all time and possibly my second favourite film from any category – the 1947 version of Miracle On 34th Street, not to be confused with the 1994 version featuring Richard Attenborough (which is watchable but not magical).  

Miracle On 34th Street won three Oscars including one for the best original story and one for the best screenplay. The gem among a myriad of great lines comes when Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn, who won the third Oscar as Best Supporting Actor) is trying to explain to a small girl, who doesn’t believe in Father Christmas, why she should loosen up a little and let her imagination run free. He says “The Imagination is a place all by itself. A separate country. You’ve heard of the French nation, the British nation. Well, this is the Imagi-nation. It’s a wonderful place!” 

All of which gives me heart when I fantasise about the 2014 running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup – which, now that he has proven he stays three miles, can be won by the appropriately named Wishfull Thinking. Or perhaps he could dead-heat with Knockara Beau – I’d love it if they could both win. And while we’re in the mode of wish fulfilment, could we all take a moment to pray for some fine weather next Summer? It’s so much nicer when the sun shines. 

In particular, we need some good days around the end of May, the end of July and the end of August – when we shall be racing at Cartmel. If you haven’t written your letter yet to Father Christmas, don’t forget that Santa needs to place his order with us by Monday 16th December, if your Annual Members badge is to arrive in time to reach your stocking. 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves - before then there is racing at Cheltenham this weekend. Colour Squadron is sure to be a popular choice in the big handicap chase, but I am going to go with Malcolm Jefferson’s Attaglance instead. He has a bit of ground to make up, based on their recent meeting in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but as Kris Kringle says in the film: “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to”.

... As if you needed any further reasons to continue following my advice.

Friday, 6 December 2013

In The Spirit Of Advent

Traditionally, Christian Church readings and teachings during Advent help us to prepare for the second coming; the word advent being a derivative of the Latin word adventus, which literally means “coming”.

It is ironic, then, that on the first Saturday of Advent, Sprinter Sacre should turn out to be a non-runner in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown - due to an unsatisfactory pre-race health check. To many in the racing fraternity, Sprinter Sacre is the second coming – the original being Arkle, the Irish steeplechaser who carried huge weights, conquered all-comers during the 1960’s and generally known as "himself". 

There remains the possibility that Nicky Henderson’s handsome two-miler will reappear instead in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on 27th December, which on reflection may be a more fitting conclusion to four weeks of intense anticipation. In the Garratt household we take the preparation of Advent very seriously… you could even say that it is a spiritual experience. 

Behind every door on our Advent calendar is a small bottle containing a dram of whisky. The 24 bottles will take us up to the night before Christmas, when it will be down to Nick Devenish, the vicar of Cartmel Priory, to sustain our souls ahead of the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day (which I still think will be won by Captain Chris) and the Desert Orchid Chase the following day.  

In the meantime, just like our Advent calendar, every day during the build-up yields a special surprise or treat. On Saturday, I am hoping that Wishfull Thinking (yes him again) will provide me with a small Christmas shopping fund by winning once again Aintree. He has two options: the Sefton Chase over the Grand National fences or a three mile chase over the more traditional birch obstacles. I have always thought he is a stayer, albeit one with a breathing problem, and I hope that he tackles the longer trip. 

On the assumption that Nicky Henderson is bound to have a winner somewhere, look out for Lieutenant Miller, a previous runner at Cartmel, who looks seriously well handicapped over hurdles after a good campaign on the Flat. He has entries at both Aintree and Sandown. And in the absence of Sprinter Sacre, trainer Colin Tizzard could strike for the third Saturday running in a valuable chase (the last two weeks have yielded wins for Cue Card and for Hey Big Spender) - with Oiseau De Nuit in the Tingle Creek Chase. 

The Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown features a strong field including three horses in the ownership of Martin Broughton – of which I hope Taquin De Seuil will be the representative. Perhaps the decision over which horse runs will be down to the going - but either way, lets all prepare for what’s coming.