Thursday, 30 April 2015

Flying Fruit & Hospitality

Please understand, I am very definitely not advocating that anyone should throw things at politicians. It isn’t big and it isn’t clever. 

However, I couldn’t help but notice an item in the news this week regarding a lady who threw a mango at President Maduro of Venuzuela. Mr Maduro, who was driving a bus at the time, was struck on the head by the flying fruit which bore the message: “If you can, call me,” followed by a phone number. 

It turned out that both the mango and the telephone number belonged to Marleny Olivo, who wanted to tell the President that she had nowhere to live. After a video-clip of the incident was shared thousands of times on social media, Ms Olivo was petrified about what might happen next. She needn’t have worried because all ended well – President Maduro arranged for her to get a house from the Grand Venezuelan Housing Mission, before eating the mango for his tea. 

My first question is this: Why was the President driving a bus? It seemed strange at first. Although, on reflection, no stranger than David Cameron feeding a lamb. They were both valuable photo opportunities to demonstrate that our current leaders are ordinary people, just like you and me. 

Which brings me to the second question: Would you telephone someone who’d just thrown a piece of fruit at you with their number on it? I think I can be pretty sure that if I ever responded to a message, from a strange woman, saying “If you can, call me…” I would not be popular at home. I certainly wouldn’t draw attention to such behaviour using the national media. 

Finally, if you wanted to attract the attention of someone important, what would you throw at them and what would you write on it?

Eggs are too fragile (the message might be lost), tomatoes aren’t very good for writing on and if you were to chuck a pumpkin at someone’s head, I suspect you might be done for GBH. Besides, pumpkins are out of season. 

Personally, I think you’d be better off inviting them to the races. The invitation could go through the post – like an ordinary letter – and you could pretty much guarantee that the recipient would be delighted to receive it. Race-day hospitality offers the perfect atmosphere to build relationships and to complete contracts. As the winners (and losers) roll in, there’s always something to talk about – no awkward pauses in the conversation. Broach the subject of your choice at the right time – and bingo! Seal the deal. 

As it happens, we still have space left in the Conservatory Restaurant at Cartmel for all eight of our racedays this Summer – and we’re accepting bookings now. It’s a great Venue (which also just happens to be the name of this week’s selection at Hexham, 7.00pm Saturday). And if you don’t want to drive home, you might also like to know that we arrange a bus service to the local train station at Cark, for just £4 return.  

I wonder if David Cameron would come and drive the bus?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Inspired by McCoy

Some weeks I sit down to write this blog and wonder whether I've got anything interesting to say. I know... after all this time, you're probably wondering too.

This week, however, the racing universe has gone into overdrive and I'm struggling to choose from a rich vein of news stories. There’s the conclusion of the 2014/15 jumps season, the conclusion of Tony McCoy’s riding career, the conclusions being drawn by shareholders of our major betting operators and the conclusions reported by the BHA at their recent strategy update meeting. 

For this week's selection I’m temped to put forward Vosne Romanee (again), in the first race on the final card of the official jumps season - which takes place at Sandown on Saturday. A winner at Cartmel, back in August last year, he’ll enjoy the sunshine on his back. 

But I can't ignore our old friend, Sgt Reckless. Ridden over hurdles twelve months ago by someone called AP McCoy, he was placed at the Aintree and Punchestown Festivals behind the likes of Josses Hill and Faugheen. He’s obviously talented but has been frustrating (Sgt Reckless – not Tony McCoy) and clearly needs fast ground. 

Tony McCoy might be frustrating too – I guess it depends which side of the fence you sit on. His retirement will herald the end of a steady drum-beat of winners which has resonated through the sport for the last twenty years. To think – there is a whole generation of people, old enough to place a bet, who have never known another champion jockey. 

Apparently William Hill lost £14 million in one week earlier this year, following a run of unfavourable results (again, the word “unfavourable” probably depends which side of the fence you were on). Finding winners will be so much more difficult now that Tony McCoy is retiring – instilling renewed hope for shareholders in the betting sector that they may soon get a return on their investment.

But shareholders aren’t the only ones seeking a return from bookmakers. The future introduction of the Racing Right should ensure that off-shore betting operators, accepting bets by phone and digital apps, pay an appropriate amount to the sport.

At the moment, bookmakers with a high-street presence pay proportionately more (too much even) for their betting shop activities while underpaying for their growing digital enterprises. Some companies, with purely digital operations, are getting an entirely free ride - the system has to change. 

This week the BHA outlined their strategy for the sport and, while this inevitably included talk of the Racing Right, Nick Rust (Chief Executive of the BHA) also outlined creative ideas to achieve some ambitious targets including: a 20% increase in annual attendance, plus an additional 1,000 horses in training. 

Well… No one ever thought a jockey could ride 2,000 winners – so if AP can ride 4,348 (all on his own), the collective efforts of the racing industry can surely achieve anything.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Horses First, Second, Third and Fourth...

Following the Grand National we’ve received several derogatory remarks regarding the tipping ability of Carruthers the office budgie.  

There is not truth in the rumour that Carruthers was roasted
for Sunday lunch (photo shows quail) 
I should make it clear that there is absolutely no truth in the rumour that he has since been stuffed with foie gras and roasted for Sunday lunch. Carruthers is an important part of our team and his welfare comes second only to the horses that appear here on race-day. 

British Thoroughbreds have been bred selectively, especially for racing purposes, from stock originating from just three stallions: the Byerley Turk (1680’s), the Darley Arabian (1704) and the Godolphin Arabian (1729). If there had been no racing, there would be no Thoroughbreds – which prompts two thoughts. 

Firstly – how lucky we are, that our ancestors had the patience and enthusiasm to breed such wonderful animals. Secondly, the care of our racehorses - as well as the preservation and development of the Thoroughbred breed – is a significant responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the industry as a whole. 

That’s why, when the Horserace Betting Levy was set up in 1961, the three statutory objectives were: the improvement of breeds of horses; the advancement of veterinary science and veterinary education; the improvement of horseracing. In the last 50 years the levy has funded more than £47 million of veterinary research that has benefited Thoroughbreds and continues to provide grant funding to a variety of societies that support rare and native breeds of horses and ponies. It will be vital that, when the Government legislates for the “racing right” (intended to replace the Levy), funding for these activities continues.   

Meanwhile, racecourses are also developing their services for the care of the horses running at their tracks. This was never more evident than at Aintree last weekend. The winner, who appeared to be over-heating in the wake of the race, was taken to the specially-designed area for cooling off – where the atmosphere is filled with a cool mist, circulated by giant (but quiet) fans.

Television viewers could be forgiven for wishing that Alice Plunkett (the Channel 4 presenter interviewing the winning jockey), could have ceased her questioning more quickly – but Many Clouds was in good care and had the assistance of several knowledgeable horsemen as well as vets. 

Out on the course, Balthazar King was being treated after suffering a clout from another horse having fallen at the Canal Turn. The by-passing of the fence, a relatively recent innovation, enabled the assessment of his injuries to continue calmly and uninterrupted behind a screen while the race concluded. The news about Balthazar King is positive and he was reportedly led out to have a pick of grass on Wednesday.  

Experiences of such events are shared throughout the sport and visitors to Cartmel may have noticed the employment of large fans and by-passing procedures in recent years. We have also adopted new methods of turf care, developed to produce consistent ground conditions that will cushion the impact of the horses hooves as they gallop, as we strive to provide the very safest racing surface possible. 

In an effort to keep everyone up to date, the British Horseracing Authority have developed an excellent website: . Search it our for more information.

And as for Carruthers… He’s having to sing for his supper. His selection for the Coral Scottish Grand National is Cogry.  

Friday, 10 April 2015

The 2015 Grand National Winner is...

The Head Groundsman and his team have disappeared down to Aintree this week. I think they’ve got a big race going on down there or something.  

Apparently they’ve got 16 obstacles, 14 of which have to be jumped twice, on a circuit which is over 2 miles long. Haven’t they heard of economies of scale? When we race at Cartmel we have six chase fences on a circuit just over a mile long – much easier. Perhaps it’s time they brought the Grand National into line with other races, then they wouldn’t need to keep distracting our staff during the sunniest week of the year. 

Finding the winner of the Grand National is not terribly difficult. We’re going to ask Carruthers the budgie for his opinion – and he’ll be tweeting his answer later, so keep an eye on the twitter feed (this week he has a large twig of millet in addition to his Trill mix).

In the meantime, you could go for the most meaningful name (Lord Windermere ?) or one of the runners that we’ve seen previously running at Cartmel (Royale Knight has a right-royal chance). 

Or you can take my advice (no - I don’t blame you for laughing) and narrow down the field using some simple rules. 

Firstly, I’ll put a line through any horse aged 8 or younger – while not unknown in the history of the race, there have been no winners from this age bracket in the last ten years. Unsurprisingly, Grand National winners tend to benefit from the stamina and maturity that develops with age. 

That means that we can rule out the likely favourite, the final Grand National mount of Tony McCoy, Shutthefrontdoor as well as five others from the top ten in the betting including: The Druids Nephew, Cause of Causes, Spring Heeled, Many Clouds and Unioniste. We can also say “no thanks” to Ballycasey, Dolatulo, Corrin Wood, Bob Ford and Owega Star

There is a limit to the advantages experienced by the elder statesmen – and I can’t really believe that Tranquil Sea is going to score at the age of 13 or Oscar Time at 14, which is not to say that the latter named couldn’t run into a place with his excellent amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen. 

The further a horse has to carry weight, the tougher it becomes – so it really does take a classy individual to win with more than 11st on his back. That rules out Lord Windermere, Balthazar King and Rocky Creek

I should also put a line through First Lieutenant on 11st 3lb – but my pencil just hovered there for a second and then pulled away. You see I have a nagging feeling that this horse could actually be the classiest in the race – it’s arguably unlucky that he’s been part of the Gigginstown Stud stable. They’ve had so many other very good horses to run in the top races and so he hasn’t always been their first string. I’m keen to keep him on our side for now.

Everyone knows that some horses just love Aintree – who hasn’t heard of Red Rum? Quite apart from last year’s winner, Pineau De Re, it would be worth taking a second look at Alvarado, Chance Du Roy and Mon Parrain

Three of the last named horses were bred in France – like three of the last six winners. I don’t know why French horses have such a good record, but it is a good idea to look for others – such as Al Co, who just happens to be the winner of last year’s Scottish Grand National. We know he stays. 

Sometimes you just have to go with a gut-feel. I  can’t help it – I’ve always liked Carlito Brigante. He is the model of consistency and has even won big-field handicaps over hurdles – so he is used to the frenetic pace that he will get here and he won’t be fazed by the other runners. 

So here we go – easy as one,two, three. The first five in the 2015 Grand National will be:

1)      Al Co
2)     First Lieutenant
3)     Carlito Brigante
4)     Pineau de Re
5)     Oscar Time


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Bad Dog - No Biscuit

I’ve had some pretty rum bosses in my time (if any of them are reading this – I’m not talking about you), but none of them have ever taken my cereal bowl from the office kitchen and used it as a receptacle to feed one of their dogs. 

I know, it’s horrible. I therefore owe Naomi (chief ticket pixie, racecourse office administrator supreme and bowl-owner) a most sincere apology. It was the wrong thing to do – even if time was short, the dogs hungry and the bowl a bit chipped. Naomi, I am very sorry! 

I am a bad person. I know this because for a brief moment I considered blaming the whole thing on Anthea Morshead, Cartmel’s Clerk of the Course, and her dog Jack. It seemed so simple: Anthea had been in the office the day before, Jack had enjoyed a walk around the course – why wouldn’t she have fed Jack using any old bowl from the kitchen cupboard? Even better, Anthea was away at York Racecourse when Naomi found the bowl on the floor… 

But I couldn’t do that to Anthea; her credibility as a Clerk hinges on her unimpeachable integrity – she simply wouldn’t behave like that. Jack of course is a different matter; he behaves badly all the time, although we love him all the more for it. Unlike my dogs, he also keeps the rabbits away, which keeps the maintenance team happy.  

When the telephone rings in the racecourse office, one of the most frequently asked questions (apart from “What’s going to win this week?” -  Uisge Beatha in the 2.35 at Haydock on Saturday) is whether dogs are allowed to attend the races. The answer, of course, is that we welcome well behaved dogs in the same way that we welcome well behaved children – they are not allowed to consume alcohol and they should not place any bets unless they are over 18 years of age. They should also be kept on a lead at all times (the last bit doesn’t apply to children).  

We ask that dog owners clear up after their dogs – on all days, not just racedays. If you’ve visited Cartmel Racecourse recently you may have noticed one of our new signs which read “There is no such thing as the poop fairy – please place it in one of the bins provided”. The park is used by a large variety of people including footballers, cricketers, the local schools, cubs, scouts and tourists as well as dog-walkers. None of them like the smell of dog poop – but none get more upset than one of our ground-staff after they’ve struck poop with the grass-strimmer.  

You’d almost think someone had pinched their cereal bowl and used it to feed the dogs. But no one could be that bad…