Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Devil Wipes His Tail

Change is in the air and, according to an old proverb, the Devil is about to come and wipe his tail over all the blackberries on the racecourse. Of course it won’t just be Cartmel’s blackberries – he’ll be visiting bramble bushes at Plumpton, Fontwell Park, Chepstow, Towcester, Kelso and Perth, in fact bramble bushes all over the World.

According to the book of Revelation, there was a war in heaven and Saint Michael the Archangel led an army of angels who banished Lucifer, whereupon he fell down to earth and landed in a blackberry bush. Alternate versions suggest that, as a result, Satan returns each year on Michaelmas Day and either spits on the fruit, pees on it or wipes his tail across it. Either way, I wouldn’t eat any blackberries after 29th September (or possibly 11th October, which used to be the old date for Michaelmas). They won’t taste very good.
Michaelmas marks the onset of Autumn and this is the time that the Devil also interferes with all Flat racing form books. While there are still some valuable races to be run, the questions being asked are now less about which are the best horses and more about which horses have "gone over the top". Some of the top horses have had a long season, some have enjoyed a break; some won’t act on the softer ground, some have been waiting for a bit of cut beneath their toes. If there is a time to withhold your bets and simply enjoy the spectacle of racing, this is it.
In about a month’s time the Winter jumps season will be getting in the swing. But even over the sticks, there is an uncomfortable churning of the formbook as horses return to the track and face horses which have been in action over the Summer months. This weekend there could be an interesting clash between Champion Court, a prominent runner in the last two King George VI Chases and Drumlang, who has won twice and been placed twice from four runs in August. If forced to name a selection, I’d venture a small wager on Astracad in the same race at Market Rasen – he’s run well in September before and has the assistance of Sam Twiston-Davies.
The freakily fine September weather has enabled us to carry out lots of work on the racing surface and the track will be going to bed in the very best condition possible. We’ve top-dressed large parts of the track with an even layer of soil, seeded worn areas and improved drainage to the beck. The grass looks super and we’re ready for a cold Winter.
The weather has already started to turn and it wouldn’t be a surprise if there was a storm with heavy winds in the next few weeks. It'll turn the leaves and blow fruit from the trees. So, not only is it time to stop picking the blackberries, it is time to gather in all the sloe berries that you can lay your hands on. Steep them in sugar and gin between now and Christmas to make a bottle or two of sloe gin - the perfect snifter for racing in the New Year.

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