Thursday, 30 January 2014

New York Times Says "Visit Cartmel" - at Half Price

I’m a bit behind the times at the moment – behind the times with the New York Times to be specific. Apparently, three weeks ago, the esteemed publication (they’ve been awarded 112 Pulitzer Prizes, so they must be good) included Cartmel on a list of 52 places that you should visit in 2014. We’re number 44 – which places us behind The Vatican, Athens and Namibia, but ahead of Nepal and the Niagra Falls.  

I’m quite relieved that we’re ahead of Nepal as there’s a lot of competition between us – the Guild of Cartmel Traders and the Nepalese Ministry for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. Massive rivalry: think Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier, Coe vs Ovett. Don’t ever try putting us in the same room. The Nepalese Ministry recently announced that they were opening access to a further 165 peaks in the Himalayas in a desperate effort to trump the announcement of Cartmel Racecourse’s 2014 fixture list. Pathetic.  

Anyway, to get back to the point, if your budget doesn’t quite extend to visiting the North Coast of California, Cape Town or Christchurch (occupants of the first three slots on the New York Times bucket list), you could take advantage of our special “Year of the Horse” offer which starts this week. 

To celebrate the start of the Chinese New Year, we are offering 2,014 tickets for the races at HALF PRICE. Under the terms of the offer, an adult ticket for the Paddock Enclosure, on one of the Bank Holiday race-days, will cost just £11. A Course Enclosure ticket for a senior citizen at one of the midweek fixtures will cost just £5. And remember, you won’t need to buy any tickets for the kids because accompanied children aged 16 or younger are admitted to the races free of charge. 

The offer is limited to a pair of tickets per household and only applies to tickets which are bought on-line (click on tickets above). So hurry, because when they’re gone, they’re gone. Of course we’ll have some sensibly priced tickets available to purchase at a later date – but we won’t be offering any more at half price. 

Musselburgh doesn’t appear on the New York Times list, which seems a bit harsh to me. Personally, I’d have put Musselburgh ahead of Nepal – but I suppose Scotland is at number 16 and Musselburgh is part of Scotland. Musselburgh arguably stages the most interesting racing of the weekend, with at least three previous Cheltenham Festival winners entered– although their fixture falls on Sunday as opposed to Sandown, Ffos Las and Wetherby who all might race on Saturday if the ground isn’t too heavy.  

If they do race at Sandown, I think Melodic Rendezvouz will win the Contenders Hurdle, while Quel Elite should go close at Wetherby. However, the tip (at big odds) is for Musselburgh, where I think that Dumbarton can improve on his handicap mark in the Scottish County Hurdle.

      P.S. If you enjoy this blog, please share it with others - tweet it or add it to facebook using the buttons below, or copy the url-address above and e-mail it to your friends. If you work for a major media organisation like the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph or News International (yes you're all on the list - you know who you are) don't hesitate to send your readers to Cartmel. We welcome all well behaved racegoers, children and dogs - as long as they are kept on leads (the dogs not the children).


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Time to Watch and Learn - Not Leap and Fall

The Cheltenham Festival is seven weeks away and I’d like to give you some shrewd advice as to which horses to back now at a big ante-post price. I expect you’d like that too.  

It isn’t going to happen; not this week anyway. You see, a few years ago a very dear friend of mine gave me a dreadful gift – it was a little black book in which to record all of my bets. Of course I don’t actually write all of my bets in its pages, that would be too depressing. Instead, I just put in the major ones, the really important ones, I’m talking about the ones that I strike ahead of the Cheltenham Festival. 

I’ve been taking a look through the pages and it’s become obvious that my ante-post plunges are not what they could be. Last year I was very enthusiastic about Silviniaco Conti in the Gold Cup, backing him at 7/2 several weeks beforehand. He started half a point bigger at 4/1 and fell at the third last fence.  

In 2012 the horse that I most wanted to win was Wishfull Thinking, who I backed in advance at various prices for the Champion Chase. He started at 16/1 and fell at the fourth. 

Going back to 2011, I had been confident about the chances of Wishfull Thinking in the RSA Novices Chase.  I backed him at 20/1 and instead he ran in the Jewson over half a mile shorter distance. Fortunately I’d had a small saver on Quel Esprit at 12/1. He started at the much bigger odds of 20/1 on the day and was actually in front at the third last fence... when he also fell. Such is the record of my ante-post Cheltenham selections, I suspect that if I were to tip a Festival runner to you now, there’s a fair chance they wouldn’t be able to find a jockey to ride it. 

Fortunately, if you can wait until 6th March, we’ll have a panel of experts at the Cartmel Grandstand to give you some proper advice. In recent years they’ve napped some cracking winners including: Al Ferof (10/1), Divers (10/1) and Chief Dan George (33/1). Tickets for the Cheltenham Festival Preview Night cost just £15 and are available from the racecourse office now. The price includes a light supper. 

In the meantime, the Festival clues will keep on coming over the next four weeks as most of the main protagonists have their final preparatory outings. The last fixture at Cheltenham racecourse before the Festival is this weekend and they’ll be a few runners getting in a bit of course practice including my old favourites Wishfull Thinking (2½ mile chase) and Knockara Beau who could face the returning Staying Hurdle Champion Big Bucks and At Fishers Cross in the Cleeve Hurdle. 

Paul Nicholls’ improving chaser Unioniste seems likely to miss the Argento Chase, a recognised Gold Cup trial at Cheltenham, in favour of the main handicap chase at Doncaster. He’ll have to defy top weight, but is the selection for this weekend. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Cartmel's Royalty & The Mad Moose

Spare a thought for the owners of Mad Moose, one of most unpredictable horses in training. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, the 10-year-old gelding has refused to race in four of his thirteen races since the start of last season and has just been handed a nine-month ban by the British Horseracing Authority. 

During the same period, he has won one race, been placed in three (finishing second to the almighty steeplechaser Sprinter Sacre) as well as putting in a fine fourth to Zarkander, Grandouet and Rock on Ruby – three of the top hurdlers of last season. 

The BHA has reportedly taken action in an effort to protect punters, but when you consider that he has only started at odds of less than 10/1 once in his last thirteen races and has been sent off at 33/1 or more on six occasions, you have to believe that his quirks are already factored into the bookmakers’ prices.  

Last Sunday, The Racing Post reminded us that it is exactly 25 years since Desert Orchid dug his way into our hearts by giving 22lbs and a head beating to Panto Prince in the Victor Chandler Chase Ascot – one of the most exciting races of all time. I remember the race clearly because my money was on Vodkatini – another equine rogue who sometimes refused to start and often gave away huge distances at the beginning of a race, only to come shooting past his rivals in the finishing straight. Yes, he could be frustrating, but even now I’d have to put him in my top ten list of favourite horses. Racing needs characters, especially equine ones.    

For this week’s tips, though, we’re not going to Ascot (even though it is a good card), nor are we relying on the quirks of an equine character – instead we’ll be putting our faith in one of Cartmel’s most reliable, honest and hard-working trainers (okay, he’s the only trainer in the village, but he’s definitely a good egg!) – Jimmy Moffatt.  

Jimmy’s yard has been in excellent form recently and he’s likely to have two runners at Haydock, both of which are worth backing for a place at potentially large prices. Quel Elite enjoys soft ground, has come out of a recent Sedgefield race in good order and will carry very little weight in the opening race on the card.

However, the star of the stable is Morning Royalty. He may have nearly two stone to make up on official ratings to threaten the favourites for Haydock's Champion Hurdle Trial, Ptit Zig and Melodic Rendezvouz, but I suspect that the real difference in ability is not nearly so great – he might not win, but he’ll surprise a few people. Back him each way.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Meg the Mud-loving Mare

Soft. Heavy. Abandoned. Managing race meetings at this time of year is a challenge. Britain may have largely escaped the frost and snow, but wind and rain are not much easier to deal with. 

All over the country there’ll be Racecourse Clerks wondering how to avoid surface water on their tracks, re-aligning their running-rail in an attempt to get the horses around safely and wondering whether to miss out obstacles with sticky take-off areas. Sadly it isn’t always possible and the BHA is in the process of scheduling additional fixtures because so many have been lost recently.  

It takes a special type of horse to succeed in the prevailing conditions. I think Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet must have backed a few because he wrote about it once: 

Weel mounted on his grey meare Meg-
A better never lifted leg-
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire
Despising wind, and rain, and fire.

"Dub", by the way, means "mud" and if Burns were alive today, I feel sure that he’d be lumping on a grey mud-loving mare this weekend. Queen’s Grove fits the bill nicely in the first race at Warwick on Saturday, she’s the right colour and her last two wins have come on heavy ground at Fontwell and Hereford. 

Burns could also be pretty sentimental and I am sure he would have a soft spot for Carruthers who, despite being a bay gelding, will get his preferred heavy ground in the Betfred Classic Chase – and at big odds too.

However this week’s selection is Royal Boy, who is entered in three different races on Saturday including the competitive Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton. A non-runner due the abandonment of Sandown last week (preserving this column’s 100% tipping record for 2014), Royal Boy won easily in soft ground at Ascot during the week before Christmas. 

I suspect Burns was a regular visitor to Cartmel races – or at least he witnessed post-racing activities in the village - as he also wrote the lines: 

The night drave on wi’ sangs and clatter
And ay the ale was growing better.

All of which makes it entirely appropriate that we should be hosting our own Burns Night at the racecourse later this month. Uniquely, our event will be staged on Friday 24th January, partly because we can’t wait until the 25th and partly because the best Ceilidh Band and piper in the district are available on that night to ensure that our party goes with an appropriatly celtic swing (which also happens to be the name of the Champion two-year-old of 1994 - in case you're interested).

It will be a great night – so why not come and join us. Tickets are available now on 015395 36340.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Prize Winners & Quiz Answers

And the winner of the Cartmel Christmas Quiz is... (drum-roll please)... (fanfare) ... Michael Campbell who scored 100%.

The runners-up, who were drawn at random from all entries, were: Phil Evans (who also scored 100% and Brian Goodwill who got just one answer incorrect. The judges have also elected to award a consolation prize to Chris Wood - on account of the great effort he made to submit a winning entry.

The answers (in bold) were as follows:

1) Before Gay Future ran 1974, as part of the famous betting coup, what was he covered in?
    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 of Tony McCoy’s rides, at Cartmel in 2013, lost?
    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 became 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 Pierse 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 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

- all answers to question 15 were judged to be correct - even those who nominated Reve de Sivola who actually won the Long Walk Hurdle. Clever Clogs the lot of you.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Winning Resolve

It’s a new year and, without wishing to sound too dramatic, it’s time to consider a few life-changes. 

First up, I’m going to give up smoking. I haven’t actually touched a cigarette for 23 years and, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever smoked a whole one; nevertheless – it’s good to start off with something easy and so I am definitely finished with smoking in 2014. 

Secondly, I am going to stop eating Bounty bars and any other chocolate confection containing coconut. As satisfying as chewing on chipboard, eating coconut chocolates is a clear sign of desperation and usually means that you are literally scraping the bottom of the sweetie tin. Devised in 1951 by Mars, there are only two things worse than the traditional Bounty – the cherry flavoured version that’s been sold in Australia since 2006 and the mango flavoured version that is currently available in Russia. 

Like most people, I’m keen to lose a bit of weight after Christmas. I have researched the topic of diets in depth, I’m up to date with all the latest fads and I’ve chosen the Malteser diet. Invented in 1936 and promoted in 1937 as ‘energy balls’, Mars cleverly aimed these little beauties at the slimming market using the catchy slogan: “The chocolates with the less fattening centre”. I’m going to have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

You’ll also be pleased to know that, from now on, I’ve decided that I shall only tip winning horses. If you had placed a pound on each of my weekly selections over the last year (disregarding some of those ridiculous ante-post bets which have still to reach fruition) you’d have made a grand loss of £6.82 – about the cost of the packet of cigarettes I haven’t smoked. 

I know, I know, you’re thinking about all the fun you’ve had – it’s been well worth the £6.82 hasn’t it? But from now on, they’ll be no more losers. It may get a bit boring backing winners every week, but let’s give it a try – we’ll start with Royal Boy in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday. The return to 2 miles may be on the sharp side for him, but the soft ground will more than compensate. 

Finally, the whole team here at Cartmel promises that we will only race on sunny days in 2014. And if the weather gods should happen to disagree, then the staff will make up for any inclement conditions by demonstrating their bright smiles and sunny dispositions. Happy New Year!