Thursday, 26 May 2016

Talking Horses

I've had some funny dreams recently. The best one happened a few weeks ago, when I rode Chief Dan George in the Grand National. We flew round the course and finished second - which was a pretty good training performance by Jimmy Moffat, especially when you consider that the horse has been in retirement for the past five years and was carrying 12 st 7lb (okay, 13st 7lb), no saddle and a jockey wearing stripy pyjamas.

To tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed when I woke, because it would have been nice to have won the race for Jimmy, but I dare say he'll have plenty of opportunities during the next week. Having run away with the award for the top trainer at Cartmel last season, Jimmy is raring to go again and has a hat full of entries for the races on Saturday, Bank Holiday Monday and Wednesday.

Unlike my dream, the weekly tips have become a bit of a nightmare recently. I shouldn't really burden any of the Pit Farm team with my selection, but I'm going to anyway - because I had another interesting dream last night.

I was talking to the horses at Pit Farm Stables which was really strange - because there were quite a few that I didn't recognise. It turns out that Jimmy bought some at the sales recently - especially with Cartmel’s Summer season in mind. One of them asked me about getting some tickets for the Simply Red Raceday on Saturday. "Who are you I asked?" 

That was when all the horses started singing, "If yoooo don't know me by now, you'll never never know..."

Anyway, it turned out that the horse I’d been speaking to was called Mondlicht  - and he belongs to a syndicate that was formed by a group of keen Cartmel racegoers at the end of last season, just after Jimmy had been crowned as our top trainer. He has a choice of engagements, but I hope he’ll win for his enthusiastic owners on Saturday.

So, wanting to be helpful I replied, "We've got a few tickets left, but the advance booking service has now closed, so you'll have to buy them on the gate. We'll be limiting the number of horses that are allowed in - so I suggest that you to arrive early, in case we sell out later on in the day.” 

Good advice for everyone – including, with a bit of luck, this week’s selection.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Don't Stand Still!

I love this time of year; as we get closer to the races we hear from lots of old friends, see familiar faces and make new acquaintances.

And it’s not just racegoers, there’s also the army of helpers who assist in the staging of race-days too. Our administrative team, in the racecourse office, doubled in strength last week when Lois and Chloe turned up to assist Naomi and Pam. Together they are answering telephone enquiries and packing thousands of tickets which have been booked in advance. We’re dealing with roughly four times the number of ticket orders that we’d normally have for the May meeting, so it’s quite a task. They’re getting through it all, so if you’ve booked tickets and are still waiting for them to arrive – don’t worry, they’ll be on their way very soon.

Out on the track, Gary and Martyn have been joined by Tim, Brad, Paul, Mike, David, Birdy, Woody and Tony – as they build fences, mow grass, erect signage and mark out parking spaces. Factor in regular appearances from Ros, Derek and Sarah and you’ll find that the racecourse team has expanded almost five-fold.

But we couldn’t put the races on without scores of contractors too. Today we’ve got teams on site from Field & Lawn Marquees, PSR Marquees, Dr Loo, Alan Morphet (who’s rebuilding a dry-stone wall we decided to knock down last week) and of course Andy Yool the plumber – who seems to be here all the time; I wonder if he’s actually moved in to the Cricket Pavilion in the centre of the course?

This morning we had a visit from John and Matthew, who work for Best Services, to reinstate one of several lightning conductors protecting the grandstand. They brought a cherry-picker with them which was really handy, because we also needed to wash the glass canopy above the entrance to the Louis Roederer Restaurant, which is really awkward to reach when you're hanging off a ladder. I gave them a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and they were kind enough to do the job for me - so now we've got a clean glass canopy and we're safe from lightning. Thank you !

Anyone who stands still long enough is given a job. In fact, I really need to apologise to Emma and Ollie – who visited the racecourse recently to discuss their forthcoming wedding celebration at the races on Bank Holiday Monday. Having mistaken them for a fresh pair of casual employees, I was on the verge of putting their names down to sell racecards next weekend. Emma was good enough to say that they’d consider all the options, although I got the impression that Ollie thought they might be better off with their friends and relatives in the hospitality chalet. 

So far no one has offered any help with this week’s selection, so you’ll only have me to blame if Moon Racer gets beaten at Stratford on Saturday evening.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Are You Ready?

Everywhere I go, I’m asked the same question. Oddly, it’s never, “Jonathan, what’s your racing tip this week?” It’s always, “Are you ready?”

Of course they’re talking about being prepared for our forthcoming events – because ‘ready’, etymologically speaking, is derived from the Old English word ræde which meant to ready your horse. The word ready therefore shares its origins with the word ride – but I won’t be riding at the races on Saturday 28th May, I’ll be helping to make preparations for everyone else.

The word prepare originates from the Latin: pre or prae meaning before and parare which means to furnish, order or design. Parare also means to pare down – which is what Gary Sharp (Cartmel’s Head Groundsman) and his team have been doing to the birch obstacles on the race-track. Only when Gary is at work, we say that he is repairing the fences – re meaning again or anew

But what about you: are you prepared? Advance bookings for tickets must be made on the racecourse website by midnight on Sunday 22nd May, or on Ticketline by Tuesday 24th May. If you haven’t purchased your tickets yet for the Simply Red Raceday, it might be wise to log on now, as they are disappearing fast. Tickets are also available for Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra (playing on Sunday when we’re not racing) and the traditional Bank Holiday Monday race-meeting on 3oth May.

We can help you to prepare in other ways too – in addition to tickets, visitors to the racecourse website can purchase vouchers for packs of raw meat to place on their barbecues. The BBQ packs are collected from the Furness Fish & Game trade-stand in the Tented Village. We’ve also got vouchers for the funfair (£15 worth of rides cost just £10), Tote betting and glasses of Champagne.

There are still a few spaces remaining for tents in the racecourse campsite, but not campervans or caravans. A pitch for a two-man tent costs £30 for Friday evening to Sunday morning; separate camping tickets are required for Sunday evening to Tuesday morning.  So, if you’ve yet to find somewhere to stay, don’t despair.

Incidentally, the word despair has nothing to do with repair, prepare or even parare. Despair is derived from the Latin words: de meaning without and sperare meaning to hope. So a literal meaning might be without hope – a bit like Venturous in the 4.10 at Newmarket, my selection for Saturday.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

New Race Conditions Set in Stone

Laurie Brannan, my old boss at the Sportsguide PR agency, regularly used to tell me: ‘Jonathan, my friend, there’s nothing new under the sun’. No matter how many whacky ideas I came up with, I inevitably discovered that Laurie had been there before - got the branded T-shirt, the goodie bag and the photo of himself alongside the page 3 model, supercar or brightly-clad-acrobatic-SAS-parachute-display-team-on-horseback. 

So imagine how disappointed I was this week, when we published our latest race programming innovation in the Racing Calendar, only to discover that we’d been beaten to it by a 2,000-year-old Roman living in Turkey. 

Cartmel’s first race-day of the season (when, in case you hadn't heard, Simply Red are playing after racing) will feature a new type of hurdle race: one that is restricted to horses that have run in at least four hurdle races during the past year – but without winning any races during the same period. The Swan Hotel & Spa ‘Confined’ Handicap Hurdle will carry £10,000 in prize money and is open to horses with an official rating of 130 – so it could attract some very nice horses who have won races prior to May 2015.  

The principle behind the new conditions is an attempt at fairness: the race will present an opportunity for the connections of horses which have been running really well - but without quite getting their noses in front. It can be frustrating to own a decent horse which is just a little too high in the handicap or one that keeps getting touched off by an improving youngster. We’re giving these horses a chance. 

The new class of race was officially sanctioned by the British Horseracing Authority fairly recently – so it was quite a shock to find that a 2,000-year-old stone tablet, discovered amongst the ruins of an ancient sport stadium in Turkey, bares an inscription for a similar set of race conditions: ‘A horse can not compete in another race if it finishes first in any given race. An owner can not have another horse compete in one race if he or she owns a previous runner.’  

At first I thought it might be a hoax: the tablet is dedicated to a Roman jockey called Lukuyanus, which may (or may not) roughly translate as, ‘He with the fortunate backside’. However, having read the story in Wednesday's Racing Post, I noticed similar details appearing on The Mail Online website – so it must be true.

Apparently Professor Hasan Bahar, who works in the history department at Selçuk University in Turkey, feels the inscriptions signify the ‘gentlemanly conduct’ of the sport – which seems an appropriate endorsement of the forthcoming activities at Cartmel this summer.
Vosne Romanee, a previous winner at Cartmel, won’t be eligible for the new race because he’s recently won at Chepstow. I'm nominating him as this week's selection, in the hope that he can add to his tally in Haydock's Swinton Hurdle on Saturday.