Friday, 27 February 2015

Cash For Questions

Who’d be an MP? If they’re not being castigated for forgetting people’s names and significant parts of their manifestos, they’re being stung by the media in under-cover cash-for-questions scams. 
Let’s just be clear about this: I expect cash in return for questions. I have never worked for the Foreign Office and I possess no special knowledge that could aid fictitious Chinese companies – but I very definitely expect cash for questions. 
For example: on Thursday evening 5th March, my very first question for the panellists at the Star Sports Cheltenham Preview Night (in the Grandstand at Cartmel – tickets only £15 including a one-course meal) will be “Which David Pipe hotpot should we lump on at the Festival?”  
The answer might be Ballynagour, as it was last year when Marten Julian tipped the 12/1 winner, in the Byrne Group Plate. Or it could be Gevrey Chambertin in one of the 3 mile handicap chases, Moon Racer in the Bumper or Un Temps Pour Tout in the World Hurdle. Either way, we’ll be expecting a big cash pay out. 
Unlike politicians, who are meant to be diplomatic at all times (because even racehorse trainers are potential voters) the panel will be brutally honest. I’m sure they’ll tell us that Unique De Cotte, who holds three Cheltenham entries for the Pipe stable and is owned by legendary gambler JP McManus, jumps like a hairy yak whose fringe has fallen across his eyes. There’s no point in pulling punches at this stage of the season: Unique De Cotte can’t win and our hard-earned pennies should be invested elsewhere. 
I expect the evening’s compere, John Sexton, will ask which is the better bet – Simply Ned in the Champion Chase or Eduard in the Ryanair Chase? They’re both lively outsiders ridden by Brian Harding - who selected Balthazar King, the 4/1 winner in the Cross-Country Chase, for us last year. Fortunately Brian is an excellent jockey as well as a tipster – because he rides this week’s selection: Glingerburn in the Premier Hurdle at Kelso on Saturday. 
Also on the panel is Mark Howard, an author and journalist – two of the most popular jobs in the country, according to a recent YouGov poll. While 60% of people stated that they’d like to write a book and 39% of people thought it’d be good to be a journalist, only 26% of people indicated that they’d want to be an investment banker – which just goes to show that money isn’t absolutely everything.  
Who’d be an MP? Well apparently 31% of us said we’d enjoy the role – the same proportion that said they’d like to be a Hollywood movie star. Of the two, I'd prefer the one that allows me time off to watch the most racing.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Sweet Smell Of Honey

Pooh Bear once explained that there is just one thing better than eating honey – and that’s the brief moment before you start eating it. The Cheltenham Festival, the Aintree Grand National and Cartmel Races – they’re all honey (or hunney, as Pooh calls it). 

This weekend the last of the significant Cheltenham trials will be run at Kempton. The final pieces of the festival jigsaw are tumbling on to the tea-tray of hope and racing folk are taut with anticipation. Once again, we’ve lined up a crack-team of panellists for our Cheltenham Preview Night on Thursday evening 5th March – and you can be sure that they’ll all be glued to the racing this weekend. 

The Preview Night will be sponsored for the first time by Star Sports, who’ll be providing betting intelligence in the form of Trevor Harris – as well as a voucher, for every attendee, to match a bet up to the value of £50. Our local trainer Jimmy Moffatt, who’s victory with Chief Dan George lives long in the memory, will be joined by form expert Marten Julian and Racing UK broadcaster Mark Howard. Tickets cost £15, which includes a light supper.  

Earlier this week the BHA’s handicapper revealed the weights that he’d allocated to entries for this year’s Grand National. Seventh from the top of the list, on 11st 4lb, is Rajdhani Express - a non-runner last weekend when carrying the burden of our selection at Ascot. Useful though the gelding is, he needs to be placed in a race of 3 miles or more in order to meet the qualification criteria to run at Aintree. That’s his task at Kempton on Saturday - and the main reason why he’s our selection once again. 

Further down the list is Shutthefrontdoor, who is likely to be the mount of Tony McCoy - in which case he could easily become the shortest priced favourite of the Grand National in a hundred years. He may have too much weight to win the race, but at 10/1, he looks a good ante-post play on the betting exchanges. I wouldn’t put anyone off Carlito Brigante, although he could easily be 50-1 or more on the day, so isn’t worth diving in for just yet.  

Instead, you should back Merry King at 25/1. It’s conceivable, although unlikely, that if anything goes wrong with Shutthefrontdoor and other McManus owned horses, McCoy could be in the saddle. And having been given a recent pipe-opener over hurdles, he looks to have been handed a great weight (10st 5lb) for the National. He gets a 5lb pull with Many Clouds (to whom he was third in the Hennessy Gold Cup – beaten 4¼ lengths), who is now fancied to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He’s sure to be shorter in the coming weeks. 

And further down the list still, on 9st 5lb, we find Rose Of The Moon. The grey gelding ran well last year, but is in danger of missing the cut as only 40 horses can run. He looks ready made to pick up a great consolation prize at Cartmel when we stage the Burlington Stone Grand Veterans Chase on Bank Holiday Monday, 25th May.

Oh… The sweet smell of honey!  

Friday, 13 February 2015

Henry the Horse and the Funambulists

Equine passions will be running high this weekend and not just because it’s Valentines Day on Saturday (I don’t think they celebrate that sort of thing). Nor will it be due to the much anticipated release of the Fifty Shades film (the cinemas won’t let them in - despite the fact that it sounds like a biopic of Desert Orchid or One Man).

No... This weekend marks, in case you didn’t know, the official commencement of the Thoroughbred breeding season. 

All Thoroughbreds in the northern hemisphere become a year older on 1st January and it is important, for a prosperous racing career, for a horse to avoid being foaled before the end of December: a horse which is 364 days younger than his peers is not going to fare very well in the Derby. The gestation period for a horse is typically about eleven months – hence the start of the equestrian dating game in mid-February. 

The gestation period for the BHA fixture list is similar in length and this week, believe it or not, marked the initiation of negotiations for the 2016 racing season. But the date is also significant for racegoers attending Cartmel Racecourse in 2015 – because it marks the deadline for booking highly-prized seasonal parking spaces. From Monday 16th February, we will be making a small number of reserved parking spaces (adjacent to the finishing straight) available on a raceday-by-raceday basis. We will also start accepting bookings for the camp-site, enabling racegoers to stay overnight before and after each raceday. 

Last week we launched the 2015 season by offering 2,000 tickets at half price, divided equally between each of our eight fixtures. Unsurprisingly, tickets for the busiest days were the first to be snapped up, but we still have a few half-price tickets left for Wednesday 27th May, Monday 20th July and for the new 2-day meeting on Friday 26th and Sunday 28th June. 

And if you're juggling with the idea of attending our new meeting – you’ll be interested to know that the circus is coming! In addition to the traditional fairground entertainment, there’ll be a big-top packed full of performers. The exact line-up is still to be confirmed. There is sure to be a funambulist (if you don’t know, look it up – it’s a great word but not one that you can use very often) and we were really hoping to secure a human cannon-ball - but he got fired…  

As well as performances on both race-days, we are anticipating that tickets will be available for the circus on the day in-between – Saturday 29th July, when the funfair will also be open to members of the public. 

As The Beatles once sang: “The Hendersons will dance and sing as Mr Kite flies through the ring – don’t be late. Messrs K and H assure the public their production will be second to none… And of course Henry the horse dances the waltz.” 

Henry is obviously a horse on the look out for a mate and will probably be out on the town this weekend. In June he’s more likely to be on the track than in the big-top, as the circus will consist of human performers only. If he does make an appearance at Cartmel, I hope he can run as fast as Rajdhani Express, who is fancied to spring a surprise at Ascot on Saturday. 

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Sunshine Friday Offer - 2,000 Half Price Tickets

In 2012 all of the lever-arch files in the racecourse office were blue. It rained a lot that Summer and we wondered whether our choice of file had been too pluvial. In 2013 we ruled out grey files on the basis that they were too gloomy and red files because they were too alarming. We settled for sunshine yellow files and we enjoyed some nice bright race-days. 

In 2014 we paid extra for orange files – believing that they might add intensity to the sunshine. To be fair to the stationery, we enjoyed pretty decent weather, but the forecasters kept letting us down by predicting non-existent storms. So, you’ll be pleased to know that for 2015 we have moved back to yellow files and we are therefore guaranteed correspondingly fine weather.

This is particularly pertinent right now, this week, because tickets for Cartmel races will have gone on sale on Friday – which, for reasons that should be obvious, has not been dubbed Black Friday, but Sunshine Friday. 

And because the blood has obviously rushed to our heads, we have come up with a super Sunshine Friday offer to reward the early bird (who normally catches a worm, although we figured that you might be happier with a race ticket). We are making 2,000 tickets available at half the usual price. 

That’s not a misprint – there are 250 tickets available for each of the eight racedays at prices ranging from just £5.50 to £11. The normal price, for tickets purchased on one of the racedays, will be £13 for Course Enclosure tickets (£11 for senior citizens) and £22 for the Paddock Enclosure (£18 for senior citizens).  

The half price offer, which is available from the racecourse website, is strictly limited to 2 tickets per household and once when they're gone, they’re gone – so get in fast. Don’t forget that children aged 16 and under are admitted free of charge – there’s no need to book tickets for the children if you’re planning a family get-together. 

An unlimited number of additional adult tickets can be purchased online at a discount of £2 each, either at the same time as your early-bird tickets or at any time up until 10 days before your chosen race-date. A booking charge of £2.50 will apply to each order, although there is no restriction on the number of tickets per order. 

So, once you’ve purchased your early-bird ticket, the only matter remaining is to decide what to do with the money you’ve saved. I’m going to suggest a small wager on Activial in the big hurdle race at Newbury on Saturday. Last week’s selection, Kings Palace, turned out to be a non runner – but could also turn up in the Newbury winners’ enclosure, albeit at short odds.