Friday, 19 May 2017

Funland's £1 Champagne Offer

If ever we needed proof that snobbery is alive and well in the horseracing industry, we received it following Epsom’s recent announcement that Poundland is to become the proud sponsor of an enclosure at the forthcoming Derby meeting.
 
I love Poundland. Where else can you buy three cans of Vimto, four Snickers bars, twenty disposable plates (floral design), thirty party balloons and eight plastic cocktail glasses for just £5? Add a picnic blanket and a cool-bag for your trip to the races and you’ll still get £3 change from a tenner.
 
I particularly like buying their After Eight Mints, which come in a slightly smaller-than-normal pack size: just right for a treat on the journey back from the shops. And so much healthier than those big packs, which have the additional inconvenience of being more difficult to hide in the glove compartment of the car. When I mentioned this to Lois, who is busy packaging tickets for the May Bank Holiday race-meeting, she suggested that boxed chocolates are usually intended for sharing. Can this really be true?
 
Either way, Epsom have been accused of diminishing the brand value of the World’s most important Classic as well as being condescending towards their customers; the theory being that the 'poor Poundland people' will have to stand and watch as the Millionaires, across the track, live it up in the Champagne drenched grandstands. Only I suspect the customers on Poundland Hill won’t care one iota. They’ll be enjoying a fantastic party with a picnic procured from an inexpensive retailer – laughing at the absurdity of the fellows dressed like penguins on the far side of the course.
 
When you’ve backed as many losers as I have in recent weeks (this weekend’s selection is Aclaim in Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes) it’s nice to pick up a bargain – so, in honour of Epsom’s latest sponsor, we’ve come up with a pound offer of our own. We’re giving up to twenty four restaurant customers the opportunity to purchase a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne for just £1. Yes just £1!
 
Anyone who books (or who has already booked) a seat in one of our restaurants during the Cartmel May Meeting will be eligible. There is still limited availability in both restaurants, although we’ve fewer spaces in the Louis Roederer Restaurant, located in the Grandstand, than the Conservatory Restaurant, which is situated in the marquee running parallel to the finishing straight. Just like the team at Epsom, we’re confident that whichever facility you find yourselves in, you’ll enjoy a great day at the races.
 
The £1 offer is strictly limited to 24 bottles (and one bottle per party - we’re not completely crazy), so telephone the racecourse office as soon as you can. Unlike the After Eight Mints, each bottle is standard sized – so ideal for sharing with friends. Although, if you decide to keep it for yourself, as the person that making the booking, you’ll still be welcome. No one here is going to judge.
 

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Our Survey Says...

Sometime, maybe as long as two years ago, I came across some fascinating research that had been conducted into a matter of vital national importance. Apparently 60% of us own a favourite mug which we don’t like to share with anyone else – and a third of us would feel ‘totally devastated’ if that mug was broken. The bad news is that, on average, each mug has a lifespan of just three years – making for a nation which must be nigh on inconsolable.

I never suspected, for one moment, that this was a spurious survey conducted on behalf of a multi-national company in a cynical attempt to get us thinking about steaming mugs of Heinz Soup. Having googled the story again, I see that I was probably fooled, although it’s quite plausible that the surveyed population could simply have consisted of a small sample of the office team at Cartmel – where we all have our own individual mugs.

I have three mugs that I don’t like anyone else to use – and total devastation wouldn’t cover my feelings if any of them were broken. In fact I did drop the Sporting Life mug a few years ago, but the tears eased once I realised that I could glue the handle back on. It now sits high on a shelf where I can admire it, but not fill it with coffee. Then there is the blue stripy mug which Mrs Garratt gave me to take to work on my first day at Cartmel – which was lost in the Stewards' litter bin for several weeks, but always manages to find its way back to my desk eventually.
 
The mug which came to hand, when I sat down to write this week's blog, features an attractive sponge-ware design of a racehorse and was given to me by a racehorse owner as a generous ‘thank you’ for a pleasant day spent with friends at Cartmel races. When the same owner called me to say that there was no two mile novice hurdle race, at our May Meeting, for horses without a handicap rating aged over four years, I was compelled to act.
 
Never let it be said that we don’t respond to feedback, especially when we've been softened up in advance. Following a short consultation with the BHA and the race sponsor, we decided to open the ‘Tash & Rob "I’ll Give It Six Months" Wedding Novices Hurdle’, from a race restricted to four-year-olds to one for all ages. There’s no limit to what can be achieved with a decent cup of coffee in your hand – except perhaps tipping winners, where nothing I try seems to help. This week’s attempt at a tip is Zubayr in Haydock’s Swinton Hurdle on Saturday.
 
In a survey of our own, conducted with racegoers attending last season’s August meeting, we discovered that the five words most commonly used to describe the event were: FANTASTIC, FUN, BRILLIANT, GREAT and ENJOYABLE. The atmosphere was awarded an average rating of 9.2 out of 10 by all respondents, while the overall experience received a score of 8.9. We were pleased with that, but we couldn’t ignore the relatively low score (just 5.6 out of 10) for seating. Of course racegoers are welcome to bring their own folding seats to Cartmel - but we’re still going to take delivery of 160 extra seats next week, with tables, in readiness for racing over the Whit Holiday weekend.
 
We also have plans, at the busiest events, to provide assistance for those racegoers who arrive late – and find themselves at the back of the car park – to transport their picnics, folding chairs and less mobile relatives to the main public enclosures. We hope that this will help even more customers to fully enjoy their day. 
 
If you tell us what you think about the races, we’ll do our best to make them even better - as long as no one messes with my coffee mug.

 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Racing Brains

Fantastic news! According to a report in The Times last week, doctors could soon be able to scan our brains and tell us how much longer we have to live. One simple MRI scan can measure the volume of brain tissue that each of us has remaining. We’ll then be presented with something akin to an advent calendar, helping us to count down a finite number of birthdays, Christmases and Cartmel race-meetings.
 
The prediction is the result of a trial involving a group of people born in Lothian in 1936. Following a series of scans, a computer estimated the ages of 669 individuals based on the condition of their brains. Individuals were much more likely to die early if they possessed brains that looked significantly older than they should. So the optimistic theory goes like this: if we know our brain is shrinking at a dangerous rate, we might do something to expand it – like taking exercise, eating spinach or working out who’s going to win the Ramside Event Catering Handicap Chase at Hexham on Saturday (Rolling Thunder is my selection for the weekend).
 
On the other hand, we might simply get depressed, drink more whisky and forget why it was we went to the doctor’s in the first place. Certainly, if you live in East Lothian, you’ve got more pressing things to worry about this week, like the outcome of Thursday’s local council elections which, apart from anything else, will help to determine which individuals sit on the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee whose purpose is to oversee business at Musselburgh Racecourse.
 
The committee is comprised of four elected councillors and three racing nominees, supported by the highly professional executive team at the racecourse. Unfortunately, a series of disagreements between the groups has led to a stand-off which jeopardises the proper governance of the track. The situation has now deteriorated to the point whereby the British Horseracing Authority has opted to issue Musselburgh with a temporary licence only. If the situation isn’t resolved soon, the BHA could effectively remove Musselburgh’s right to stage racing for the remainder of the year.
 
As you might expect, I’d count several of Musselburgh’s executive team and racing-nominated committee members as friends. I’m not impartial. However, I think that it is fairly safe to say that any person, with a reasonable knowledge of the racing industry, would tell you that the executive team at Musselburgh perform to a very high standard. I’m struggling to understand how the current crop of elected politicians assist them in that role.
 
I wonder whether the good doctors of East Lothian might consider scanning the brains of the newly elected councillors at the end of this week, not so that we can tell how long they’ll live – just to check that they do in fact have brains and that they’re capable of using them for the benefit of Musselburgh Racecourse and the wider industry.
 
 

Friday, 21 April 2017

Jockey Fuel

It’s funny what Her Majesty’s Customs & Revenue officials believe constitutes business entertainment. If I attended a hospitality event and was offered a paper plate with one slice of lean meat, a green salad without dressing and a glass of water, I might wonder whether the host really wanted my business at all. But according to the tax regulators, Cartmel Racecourse is unable to reclaim any of the VAT incurred on the refreshments that we provide to jockeys in the weighing room. They seem to believe that we entertain the jockeys, while of course it is usually the other way around – it wouldn’t be much of a race-meeting without any riders for the horses.
 
Many people assume that jockeys don’t eat anything, but in fact most of them graze all day. Nutritionists advise that they should consume as little fat as possible – so they don’t usually go for butter on their bread or olive oil on their lettuce. Too much protein can result in the unwelcome addition of weight, too little reduces vital strength – so the jockeys prefer to pick at wafer thin pieces of ham or chicken between races.
 
Some like sweets too – but sugar doesn’t just boost short-term energy, it also helps to pile on the pounds, so jockeys are advised to opt for carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index such as sweet potato, fruit, pasta or rice. Such foods are filling without being fattening and their bulk helps to reduce hunger – which is good for jockeys like Henry Brooke, who rides Blakemount (this week’s selection) off a weight of 10st 12lb in Saturday’s Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
 
Whatever the jockeys choose to eat, we’re fortunate that one of the racecourse’s newest sponsors happens to control several links in the local supply chain – enabling us to source the best quality local produce for our riders. You might have seen the fleet of McClures delivery vehicles buzzing busily around the Lake District. Their distinctive logo features a healthy looking green apple, with a bite out of it, in place of the letter ‘C’. Originating from their base in Windermere, where they also operate a cash-and-carry store, the McClures vans service an area which encompasses the whole of Cumbria, North Yorkshire and North Lancashire.
 
Appropriately, for one of the largest suppliers of food ingredients across the region, McClures will be sponsoring the first race on Barbecue Day, Monday 24th July. If you haven’t brought your own food from home, there’s quite a big chance that you’ll consume some of their produce during your visit to the races – because as well as the healthy fresh stuff, they also supply a huge array of local delicacies, fattening puddings and sauces for normal people who don’t ride horses at 30mph over fences and aren’t counting calories. And if you’re staying away from home, you’ll probably enjoy a McClures breakfast – because they supply most of the hotels and guest houses in the area too.
 
So next time you pass one of those vans, with the jolly green-apple logo, give the friendly driver a wave – he might be delivering the food which fuels our jockeys.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Beggar's Breeches

Twas in the January snows of 1799, that a beggar came to perish in the parish of Cartmel. Found on the high road between Backbarrow and Cartmel, the beggar was in a poor state and unable to walk. He was therefore conveyed to Cartmel by horse and cart, where he was given tea and refreshments.

Unfortunately he died the following day at Garrat House - which is funny. Not, admittedly, if you are a hypothermic beggar in the eighteenth century. But quite peculiar if your name happens to be Jonathan Garratt and you manage Cartmel Racecourse more than two-hundred years later. Because there is a direct link between the beggar and the racecourse.
 
Soon after the beggar died, a dispute broke out between the Overseers of the Poor and the coffin maker; the Overseers suggesting that it would be a shame to put the parish to unnecessary cost… and that perhaps ash or sycamore would be the least costly material for the beggar’s burial. However, on examining the deceased’s clothing, it became apparent that his pockets weighed heavy – and 185 golden Guinneas were found in his breeches.
 
Now it is important, in a Christian county like Cumbria (although this part of the world was called Lancashire at the time), that a wealthy man is buried properly - so the beggar was afforded an oak coffin and warm ale was provided for all the mourners. To this day, the people of Cartmel continue to enjoy a good funeral and so I’m sure that there were plenty in attendance.
 
There being no credible claims on the remaining Guineas, the money was used to purchase some land, the rent from which has been used for charitable purposes in Cartmel ever since. It so happens that one of the fields purchased with funds from the beggar’s breeches is the very field that the racecourse rents in order to park horseboxes on racedays. And our rent helps to contribute towards the cost of books for local school children.
 
But long before horseboxes, some of the rental revenue was used to set up a Grammar School. And being too small, in recent decades, to suit the purposes of Theresa May, the school house has been re-purposed. If you’ve been to the races you might have noticed it - overlooking the north bend of the racecourse as the horses turn away from the roadside-straight.
 
The historic building has recently been lovingly and painstakingly renovated to bring it back to its former glory – and the good news is that you will be able to stay there, as the new owners will be running the Cartmel Old Grammar Country House as a hotel. The bedrooms have beautiful sweeping views across the fells and the racecourse, there is a private lounge and terrace for guests – and at least five of the rooms will be ready in time for the races in May. Available rooms in Cartmel, at race weekends or at any time throughout the Summer, are like hens’ teeth – so book now by calling 01539 535809.
 
The beggar of Cartmel has long since departed on his Celestial Path (this weekend’s selection could run at either Newton Abbot on Saturday or Ffos Las on Sunday) – but if you have any spare change in your breeches, you know which horse to put it on.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Journey to the Highlands

I’m not going to Aintree this weekend, preferring instead to settle down in front of the telly in a highland lodge. That’s right, while Highland Lodge – the horse trained in Cartmel by Jimmy Moffatt – is leading the field over the Grand National obstacles, I shall be hundreds of miles away sitting in a holiday cottage in the Scottish Highlands. And of course, because the law of coincidences dictates that the Grand National winner always has to have a suitable name, I’m certain that Highland Lodge will win. I hope Jimmy is grateful for the lengths I’ve gone to, to secure his winner.
 
Of course I should be at Aintree. But when it comes to the Grand National I just wonder: Is it almost as much fun to travel, as it is to arrive?
 
For the last eighteen months, ever since Highland Lodge won over the National fences in the Becher Chase, we have believed that Pit Farm Stables housed the winner of the World’s greatest race. Unfortunately the horse narrowly failed to make the cut in last year’s Grand National, being balloted out of the top 40 at the final declaration stage. So, in a funny way, we were still able to claim that he was a moral winner.
Highland Lodge
 
Having been beaten by the narrowest of margins in this season’s Becher Chase, Highland Lodge proved once again that he was a natural over the big fences. For eighteen months his owner, Simon Wilson of Bowes Lodge Stables, has lived the dream of a Grand National winner. And now, within the shadow of the post, the horse has been sold to Mr and Mrs David Thompson – the same couple that bought Party Politics on the eve of his Grand National success in 1992.
 
Now I don’t have any privileged access to the affairs of Bowes Lodge Stables, but it occurs to me that Grand National runners are unlikely to change hands for small sums – and I am sure that if Highland Lodge goes and does the business on Saturday, Simon Wilson will feel just as much a winner as he did eighteen months ago when he lifted the Becher Chase trophy. And the Thompsons? Well they will be over the moon – because to own a horse with a great chance of winning the National, as it canters down to the start: that’s great too. And if he wins – the purchase price will look like a grand investment. Everyone’s a winner!
 
And what about Jimmy? I haven’t spoken to him recently, but if I know Jimmy, he’ll just be hoping that the horse does himself credit and comes home safely. Because above all, Jimmy exists for his horses. He cares for them, nurtures them and loves training them. It’s his life – and to have one that could win the most famous race in the World… That’s a dream come true.
 
I could tell you that Blaklion has the best form, or that Doctor Harper could be an exciting outsider. But there’s only one result for the 2017 Grand National: for the last eighteen months everyone in Cartmel has enjoyed a fantastic journey and on Saturday we’ll all arrive - at Highland Lodge.
 
 

 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Tetrapod Racing in the Borders

Some time, soon after planet Earth was created, organisms began to evolve and seek new environments. And then, in the year 35,001,346 BC (or thereabouts, because we can’t be exact about these things) a creature crawled out of the water near Kelso in the Scottish Borders and headed on to dry land.
 
Of course there were already animals that lived on land – spiders, insects and the like – but this was the first one with a back bone, legs and most importantly of all - the will to win. At least I assume it must have been pretty determined because its descendants developed into horses and greyhounds, as well as lots of less desirable creatures like rabbits and humans.
 
We know this because a team of palaeontologists from the National Museum of Scotland recently found a fossil on the banks of the Tweed, of a two-inch long tetrapod (a four-legged beast) known as Aytonerpeton Microps or ‘Tiny’ for short. Tiny comes from a period known as the Tournaisian (360-345 million years ago) which has previously yielded very few fossils at all – and represents the missing link between fish and things that don’t swim quite so well, like me.
Tiny - never really raced at Kelso  
 
Tiny’s body has only been revealed because the palaeontologists didn’t break open her rocky hiding place, which would have destroyed her delicate remains. They scanned it instead, using super-high-tech equipment, before recreating her likeness with a 3-D printing machine.
 
Why am I telling you this? Well, I believe that it is in the nature of all of us to evolve and seek new environments. That’s why, after six and a half years of enjoying my dream job at Cartmel Racecourse, I’ve decided to take on another dream job in the Scottish Borders. Just like Tiny, I’m going to use my legs to walk the track at Kelso Racecourse.
 
Kelso, like Cartmel (and many of the objects found in the National Museum of Scotland) has a great heritage. It is a grand track with a deep sense of history and community. Unlike Cartmel, the racing at Kelso takes place predominately in the Winter and so, for the time being, my focus will therefore remain exclusively on ensuring the success of our busy Summer season in the Lake District – which commences with the Bank Holiday weekend on Saturday 27th May.
 
And even once my family and I have relocated to the Borders later in the year, I’m sure to be making regular trips down the road to Cartmel, where I’ll remain available to the fabulous team that we’ve built up at the racecourse. We’ll soon be recruiting a new Head of Racing for Cartmel to ensure that nothing stands still – but for now I’m looking forward to playing my role in ensuring that both racecourses evolve successfully for the future.
 
Sadly Lincoln Racecourse failed to make the evolutionary cut. Which is why this week’s selection, Dolphin Vista, will be attempting to win the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster Racecourse. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Young Jockeys and Old Horses

As if it wasn’t already difficult enough to get a leg-up in horseracing, this week the BHA announced that it was going to make it tougher to become a jockey. No longer will the main qualification be for applicants to weigh less than an empty packet of crisps.
 
From 1st April it will be necessary for aspiring apprentice and conditional jockeys to pass a pre-licence assessment and to undergo a lengthier training course. There will also be ongoing training for those that succeed in obtaining their licences. Statistics show that nearly a third of wannabe jockeys never get as far as winning a race, while only 12% are successful enough to ride out their claim – the weight allowance that is granted to trainee jockeys which encourage racehorse owners to give them rides against more established riders. The new regulations have been devised to ensure that racing’s resources are targeted at those that are most likely to succeed.
 
There is no truth in the rumour that Knockara Beau, George Charlton’s 14-year-old gelding, will be retiring from racing in order to enrol at the Northern Racing College. However, having narrowly missed the cut for the Pertemps Hurdle at Cheltenham last week, it would be no surprise if the veteran was granted an honourable retirement after one final bash around Kelso this weekend. Knockara Beau, who famously beat the champion stayer Big Bucks in the Cleeve Hurdle, already has five Kelso victories to his name. He is my selection this weekend to make it one more, off a handicap mark of just 134 – the lowest rating he has held since the start of his hurdle career in 2009.
 
Selections based on sentiment rarely pay off in racing. Backing an ‘old favourite’ like Knockara Beau is a sure sign that you (like me) have become a na├»ve and inept, fluffy, mug-punter with nothing but feathers for brains and a wallet full of fivers that are destined for the bookmaker’s satchel. But it also demonstrates that you have heart; you understand the romance of National Hunt racing and, because of that, you’re capable of accessing riches that extend way beyond the reach of mere money. At least that’s my excuse…
 
Sentimental punters are also more likely to back the winner of the Grand National – a race which, in each of the last five years, has returned a winner at odds of 25/1 or more. In a sport which is dominated by youngsters, seven of the last ten National winners were aged ten or older. All of this is good news for Highland Lodge the 33/1, eleven-year-old, chaser who was confirmed as one of 79 remaining entries for the big race in just over two weeks’ time. Trained by Jimmy Moffatt in Cartmel, he’ll be the sentimental choice of everyone who lives in Cartmel and anyone who’s granny once enjoyed a remote holiday in the Highlands – if that includes you, good luck!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Check Your Tickets

Unfortunately there is no blog today as your correspondent is lost among the drunken hoards at the Cheltenham Festival and there just isn’t time to write.
 
The first day crowd was more than 66,000 strong, a bit like staging three-and-a-half Cartmel fixtures all at the same time. It’s definitely a hoard, but perhaps it’s not quite fair to call it drunken – as I’ve given up alcohol for Lent and I notice that my sister and niece, who I met up with on Wednesday, are drinking Fanta at £3 a bottle from the fish and chip van above the Parade Ring. The Fanta might be expensive, but the chips are excellent – especially with smokey-baconaise.
 
Despite not having to waste time in the queue for the bar, my lack of preparation means that I’m having to dedicate serious effort to form study. And it so very nearly yielded results. In the first race of the second day I identified Willoughby Court as the likely winner of the Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle. And then, because I recently read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase to my daughter, it seemed obvious that Neon Wolf was the one for the forecast.
 
I backed Willoughby Court on the Tote and shouted home the winner of the first as if I’d had at least £100 on his nose (it wasn’t that much). And then I backed Might Bite in the RSA Chase, in spite of the negative comments made about the favourite’s chances at our preview night last week. He shone like the proverbial star in the paddock, but so nearly threw away the race by ducking towards the horse-walk after the final fence. I’m sure he can win any Grade 1 staying chase in the country, as long as the exit to the stables is located on the far side of the winning post.
 
So far so brilliant. The chips are on me! The rest of our small party is in the money too – with wins on Special Tiara in the Champion Chase and several placed horses at decent odds. And we bump into lots of friends, because that’s what a day at Cheltenham is like – a convergence of like-minded, jump-racing-obsessed fanatics from every corner of the country. I even spoke to one who told me that Saphir Du Rheu, this week’s selection, is in the best form of his life ahead of the Gold Cup on Friday. He’s 50/1 and is being prepared for a tilt at the Grand National but, trained by a Champion trainer, he’s been ignored by punters and has a decent each way chance.
 
It was only when I tried to collect my winnings on Willoughby Court that I found that the kind lady at the Tote had misheard my request – and given me a ticket for Skipthecuddles (eighth) instead.
 
Nothing to pick up, lot’s more form study to do, no time to write a column…

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Expert View

It's questionable whether I should publish this blog-post at all - giving away (as it does) all the privileged information purchased at Thursday's Cheltenham Festival Preview Night in the Cartmel Grandstand.

It'd be easier to pretend that there were no useful tips at all: Marten Julian doesn't know what will the Champion Hurdle, John Sexton has never backed the winner of the Coral Hurdle, Jimmy Moffatt fancies a non-runner in the County Hurdle and Brian Hughes doesn't care what wins the Cross Country Chase.

But the four expert panellists did express a few opinions: most of them were pretty keen on the chances of Altior in the Arkle Novices Chase as well as Douvan in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. What? Not happy with odds of 4/6 for the double? What's wrong with you - it's surely better than backing losers! Okay, they also suggested that, for the OLBG Mares Hurdle, it might be wise to check which horse was trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh. If you didn't pay for a ticket to the preview night, I don't think I can tell you any more...

Except that I'm just too excited...

Marten, Jimmy and John all like the chances of Holywell in the Ultima Handicap Steeplechase. I'm fairly sure that Jimmy said the horse could find his way around Cheltenham with his eyes closed, but I hope he doesn't try.

When it comes to the Champion Hurdle, John thinks that this could be The New One's year. Jimmy says that he'd have to grow an extra leg (The New One, not Jimmy) if he were to have any chance. He's convinced Yanworth is a certainty and a great price at 3/1. Brian says that Jimmy will refund all bets if Yanworth gets beat... which sounds like quite a good offer, but I can't find it on any of the bookmakers' websites.

Brian rides Cyrus Darius in the Champion Hurdle. He reminds us all that he proved himself a good horse by winning as a novice at Aintree, before needing some time off. Having enjoyed a winning prep race at Kelso, he could easily surprise a few people by finishing in the top three at 40/1.

Jimmy also has a big priced selection for us - his own Bon Chic who 'could easily finish in the top eight' at 100/1 in the Mares' race. The only problem is that, regardless how many places they pay prize money for, I'm pretty sure the bookmakers will only pay out on the first three. Not many people have both ridden and trained winners at the Cheltenham Festival - so I'm going to back Jimmy's mare in any case, even though Marten Julian promotes Colin's Sister and Lifeboat Mona as viable each-way alternatives.

Edwulf and Beware The Bear get favourable mentions for the National Hunt Chase, ahead of my fancy Champers On Ice. I've mentioned him here anyway as I'm pretty sure he's going to win, just like all my other selections.

Brian Hughes knows what it takes to win the Close Brothers Steeplechase because he won it last year. It's obvious that he doesn't really want to tell everyone - but he's really excited to be riding Double Ws.

On to Wednesday and everyone likes Neon Wolf with the possible exception of Marten, who just feels that his jumping isn't quite as proficient as it could be. Messire Des Obeaux and Willoughby Court are his alternatives.

No one fancies Might Bite, the short priced favourite for the RSA Chase, with Royal Vacation receiving several votes and John Sexton opting for Bigbadjohn... obviously.

'I Shot The Sheriff...', wails Jimmy when it comes to the Coral Hurdle. But he did not shoot the deputy. Brian rides Hawk High who will apparently benefit from blinkers and (possibly) from the step up in trip.    

Finally we get to Thursday and Marten's three-star-nap of the meeting. Except Brian Hughes doesn't rate Politologue's chances, pointing out how wound up the Nicholls' trained horse gets before his races. What a dilemma - I'm pretty sure that Paul Nicholls is a good enough trainer to have identified this problem and I'll be surprised if the horse isn't walking around the parade ring with tampons stuffed in his ears. Stick with Politologue.

Vosne Romanee, a previous winner at Cartmel, received a mention ahead of the County Hurdle and looks to have been laid out for the race by Dr Richard Newland. I like it when the Cartmel form gets franked at Cheltenham, especially at 33/1.  

There were loads of other horses mentioned too. Far too many to mention here. But you have to take it all with a pinch of salt because no one mentioned Saphir Du Rheu, the 66/1 winner of the Gold Cup. Honestly! and they call themselves experts...

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Bright Stars of the Future

When the team from Bright Stars called the racecourse office, I thought perhaps they were going to ask me to sing alongside Sir Tom Jones, on the Cartmel stage, at the end of June. But no, it turned out that Bright Stars is a competition for primary school children, working with a mentor from a local company, to create a money-making enterprise.

Now I love children, almost as much as I love money, so I said yes straight away and thought it’d be really easy. Apparently, though, we’re not allowed to send the smallest ones up chimneys anymore and the bigger ones are prone to getting stuck - which is no use at all.

Fortunately the children at Cartmel Primary were given £50 in a golden envelope, which seemed like a good head-start, so I suggested that they put the whole lot on Highland Lodge in the Grand National – giving them the potential to generate a cosy £2,500. Then they told me that the competition closed on the Monday before Cheltenham, severely restricting our options.

On visiting the school, I discovered that the children of Class 2 were studying the story of David and Goliath, which gave me a brilliant idea. "I bet there were loads of people," I said, "who would have paid good money to watch that fight. Perhaps you could stage a fight of your own in the playground."

I’m pleased to say that the children took my advice. Well sort of. They didn’t actually put on a fight, but they did decide to create an event and charge people to come and watch. And instead of the playground, they chose the racecourse grandstand as the venue for their Evening of Stories and Poetry Reading. The children read in front of a captivated audience, all of whom agreed that they had been substantially undercharged for the experience at the bargain admission fee of just £5. So when we were asked to pay a further £2 for the accompanying programme, including further writings and pictures created by the children, who could refuse?

It'd be difficult to choose a favourite from the array of obvious talent on display, but one that sticks in my mind was the story of a horse called ‘Star’ who attended the races at Cartmel, only to discover that it wasn’t quite what she had expected. Startled by the loudspeaker, Star galloped through the square… "Past the medieval Priory and the famous Cartmel Cheese Shop all the way to the Primary School. She missed her race and ate all of the flowers in the school garden."

I won’t be in a hurry to back Star when she next makes an appearance at Cartmel. But if the children fancy playing up their takings from Wednesday evening, the selection for this weekend is Darebin in the Imperial Cup at Sandown.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Tom Jones - The Voice of Cartmel

"What’s New Pussycat?" asks Lois as I walk into the office.
 
I look at her quizzically. "It’s Not Unusual!" says Pam. But it is – it’s very unusual. In fact there’s an odd vibe about the entire office.
 
"She’s a Lady," Pam explains, although the point is entirely lost on me. Gary Sharp, the Head Groundsman at Cartmel Racecourse, is not a lady but he’s usually very sensible all the same. I turn to him, hoping for a proper conversation.

"How’s the track Gary?" I ask.

"Like the Green Green Grass of Home," he says and they all fall about laughing.
 
I’m getting a bit fed up; I’m obviously not in on the joke. "Has anyone seen my car keys?" I ask, possibly with a hint of irritation.

"Dey-lie-thar," they scream together. "De-li-lah - ha ha ha…"

Delilah! Well then I knew… That was the moment it finally dawned on me that the nice people at Cuffe and Taylor (our musical partners) had named the next superstar-artist to play at Cartmel races: Sir Tom Jones. Known to millions as the voice behind 36 top ten UK hits, the veteran singer is as popular as some of our seasoned steeplechasers, like this week’s selection – O’Faolain’s Boy who runs in the Veterans’ Chase at Newbury on Saturday.
 
He’s also attracted a new generation of fans through his place on the panel of the popular television show The Voice. At this stage I should point out to racing fans that the BBC programme is not a biopic of the late Sir Peter O’ Sullivan (known by all as the 'voice of racing'), as entertaining as that might be.
 
The Voice is a show in which the relatives of bookmakers, like Tony Lusardi’s grand-daughter, battle it out on stage to see who’s the best singer. Sadly Lucy Kane, the Tom Jones mentored daughter of Linda Lusardi (who may have featured among the photographs on my wall as a teenager), was knocked out in the last show.
 
I don’t know whether Lucy Kane will be here at Cartmel on Friday 30th June (perhaps she’ll be taking bets for her Grandfather), but we can all look forward to seeing Tom Jones – who will be playing live on the big stage after the final race.

All-inclusive tickets, for access to the racing and the concert, will be available to purchase on-line on Monday. A limited number of early-bird tickets will be available for just £40, with the normal advance price ticket for adults costing £45. Existing annual members will be able to enjoy the concert as part of their season ticket.
 
I can already hear ladies all over the village chanting, "Sex-bomb, sex-bomb." I don’t think they’re calling for me. But it’s not unusual… 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

For the Love of the Sport

Tell me that you’re an amateur musician and I might (politely) decline to see your show; tell me that you’re a professional dancer and I probably won’t be permitted to see your show. There’s a prejudicial assumption that amateurism stands for not-very-good, whereas professionalism is all about the unseemly chasing of money.
 
The word amateur is derived from the French word meaning ‘one who loves’ or ‘lover’ – which in turn comes from the Latin word ‘Amator’. So an amateur jockey is someone who participates in horse races because they love the sport, but without pursuing it for financial gain – which, in my experience, is a bit like most punters.
 
Amateur jockeys can ride against professionals if they wish, although they’re not entitled to a share of the prize money if they win (this rule doesn’t affect the owner of the horse or the trainer – who get their usual share of the spoils). There are also a number of races which are restricted to amateurs and some (called Hunter Chases) which are perceived to be for amateur horses.
 
So how do we define an amateur horse - is it a four-legged beast that loves horses so much that it wants to gallop for 3 miles over obstacles? Or is it a horse which declines any reward, barring the odd carrot, for winning? It’s difficult to say because, for the time being, professional racehorse trainers are allowed to enter any horse in their yard in a Hunter Chase as long as it has taken a defined break from racing in ‘normal' races under 'rules’. The break might only be a couple of months - or up to a year for the winner of a Class 1 or 2 race.
 
The entry criteria for Hunter Chases has caused a bit of chatter in recent weeks, particularly in the north following Wonderful Charm’s victories at Musselburgh on 4th February and Haydock a fortnight later. Wonderful Charm is a 153-rated chaser trained by Paul Nicholls and, having been campaigned at graded level until last season, is now qualified to run in the amateur riders equivalent of the Gold Cup: The Cheltenham Foxhunters’ Steeplechase. Is it in the spirit of the sport, ask some of the grass-roots jumping folk, that a top-trainer like Paul Nicholls can enter horses in the amateur sphere?
 
But there are difficulties in ruling against horses like Wonderful Charm. Firstly, if he had changed hands and entered an ‘amateur’ yard, would there be any objection to the horse competing in Hunter Chases? And then, what if he stayed in the yard, but was sold to an enthusiastic owner-rider – like the Nicholls trained Mon Parrain, who’s entered for a Hunter Chase at Fontwell Park on Sunday. Isn’t it a good thing for amateur riders to have professional mentors to guide them on their way? I think it was the right approach for Victoria Pendleton - and she definitely qualified as an amateur jockey, despite her professionalism on the saddle of a bike.
 
Hunter Chases and Point-to-Points are recognised as providing valuable experience for both young riders and promising young horses. It’s usually considered better if they aren’t paired together – young riders are often mounted on older horses, sometimes referred to as school-masters, many of which have previously shown reliable form under ‘rules’. Somehow, it therefore seemed appropriate that the brothers Sam and Willie Twiston-Davies (both now successful professional jockeys) started their careers riding as amateurs on the same reliable horse – the fantastic (but not top class) Baby Run, who was of course trained by their Gold Cup winning father.
 
It’s difficult to write rules that cater for the spirit of the sport. However, having listened to several respected people that know and love the sport (Amo, Amas, Amat - I love, you love, he /she loves), I think there should be a new rule whereby every horse that runs in a Hunter Chase has to run in at least two Point-to-Points first. Once the horse is qualified one season, it should be able to continue running in Hunter Chases in subsequent seasons – unless it has a run under ‘rules’, in which case it should have to qualify once again.
 
Regardless of the rules, there are some reassuring statistics for defenders of the Corinthian spirit: in the last five years, just three professionally trained horses have made it into the top four placed horses in the Cheltenham Foxhunters Steeplechase and there have been no professionally trained winners – which suggests that, in racing, love really does (usually) conquer all.
 
This week’s selection is The Dutchman at Newcastle on Saturday.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Revealing All - at the Grand National Weights Reception

First of all, an apology: If this column seems a bit all over the place it’s probably because I’ve lost track of where I am, having moved house earlier in the week. I’m taking consolation from the fact that I’m not the only one that’s found a new home – with the Randox Health Aintree Grand National weights being revealed this week, for the first time, at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

It is an inspirational venue – the World’s leading museum of art and design – a fitting place to reveal the creative endeavours of the BHA’s senior handicapper Phil Smith. It’s also currently home to a highly informative exhibition entitled ‘Undressed – a brief history of underwear’. Which means that early arrivals at the drinks reception had the option of viewing items as diverse as bloomers worn by Queen Victoria’s mother and a pair of ‘butt-lifters’ designed to bestow the bum of Kim Kardashian on any wearer. Apparently pairs of Queen Victoria’s knickers sell for sums of between £600 and £12,000, which seems like quite a lot of money until you realise that some of them can be re-purposed as marquee linings.
All is revealed at the
Victoria & Albert Museum

I’m not certain whether the exhibition features any displays of jockeys wearing tights, as most of them do beneath their breeches. However, there is a ‘waist belt’ constructed from a fine mesh of metal wires, designed to help Victorian men keep a straight spine whilst on horseback – a forerunner, perhaps, to modern day back-protectors.

But I wouldn’t want you thinking that everything at the Victoria & Albert Museum is pants – Tuesday night’s event featured a host of knowledgeable guests with lots of interesting information about the World’s most famous race. Unfortunately, it turns out that you can take the Grand National out of Liverpool, but you can’t take Liverpool out of the Grand National Weights Announcement – hence the fact that most of the interviews were drowned out by the lively banter of booze-quaffing attendees.

I wasn’t invited to the drinks reception, but I do know someone who is very knowledgeable about pants – who happened to be visiting the museum earlier this week. She thinks that she might have overheard some interesting conversations which haven’t been reported in the racing media. Apparently there was a girl with an Irish accent who said she’d like 'more of that'. It's possible that she could have been looking at one of the photographs of male underwear models, or it might have been Katie Walsh (likely to be on board Foxrock) commenting on Jonjo O’Neill’s More Of That, who has been allocated just 11st 1lb.

There was also a man in a duffle coat, who might have been Nigel Twiston-Davies or possibly just one of your common-all-garden museum-goers. Either way he’s reported as having said "If Blaklion doesn’t win the National Trial this weekend, I’ll eat my pants." Blaklion is our selection for Saturday’s meeting at Haydock and is another who could be of great interest at Aintree in April.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Man's Best Friend & Punters' Pal

Dogs are way better than cats. It's been proved on every continent on the planet. After all, I don't think anyone has ever said, "I've got a good idea - let's rope a bunch of cats together and see if they can pull this sleigh to the North Pole."

Now it has been proven that dogs are able to make moral judgements about our friends. According to scientists from Kyoto University in Japan, dogs show a 'highly developed social competence'. A report in The Times, explained that 54 dog owners had been given a task in which they pretended to struggle to open a container. An actor was then employed to enter the room and either help the dog owner or ignore them. The dog was then offered two treats - by the actor and another stranger simultaneously.
 
Apparently most dogs took the treat from the actor if he had assisted the owner - or took it from the other (neutral) stranger if the owner had been ignored. No dogs were fool enough to decline the treats altogether, which just goes to show how important it is to offer biscuits at every available tea-break. Preferably chocolate digestives if you're visiting my office.
 
To test the theory further, I've allowed my dogs access to The Racing Post and asked them to select a jockey to join our panel for the Cheltenham Festival Preview Night on Thursday 9th March. They appear to have selected Brian Hughes - or at least he's the name that attracts the most muddy paw marks if I leave the newspaper on the floor.
 
As one might have expected from Man's Best Friend, the dogs have made an excellent choice. Not only was Brian crowned the top jockey at Cartmel last season, with 7 winners and a strike rate of 17%, but he is now the most successful jockey in the North with 105 winners this season already.
 
He has an 11% strike rate for Jimmy Moffatt, one of the few people who has both ridden and trained a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, who will also be on the panel - together with form expert Marten Julian.
 
I can't tell you whether Brian will be riding anything for Jimmy at Cheltenham - you'll have to come to the preview night and find out - but he's likely to have some interesting rides. I'll be keeping an ear out for any mention of horses like The Dutchman, who could feature in the Novice Handicap Chase or Cyrus Darius, who was beaten quite a distance by The New One in a Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock recently. Second in that race, not beaten far at all, was Clyne, who runs in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday and is our selection for the weekend.
 
I'm sure Brian will come to our preview night armed with lots of top quality information. If not, I'm sure he'll bring some decent biscuits. And if there are no treats of any kind, I'll just have to set my socially aware dogs on him...

Friday, 3 February 2017

Tall Tales of Small Horses

Last week the National Army Museum in Chelsea was accused of fakery - when news that they were reassembling the skeleton of Marengo was greeted with an assertion that Napoleon’s horse, famously painted crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David, never actually existed.

According to popular history, Marengo was an Arabian horse standing at just 14 hands high – not overly big but quite tall enough for the 5 foot, 6½ inch Napoleon. We all tend to think that Napoleon was rather small, but 5½ foot was about average for a Frenchman two hundred years ago and I dare say the extra half inch was important to him. Marengo was acquired by Napoleon, in Egypt, in 1799. He was already 22 years old by the time he was captured at the Battle of Waterloo, which gives me hope that my old favourite Knockara Beau, trained by George Charlton, will still be going strong eight years from now.  

Except now it materialises (according to The Times) that Jill, Duchess of Hamilton, scoured the official records of 1,762 horses belonging to Napoleon, only to discover that no such animal existed – not the name, nor a horse which matches the skeleton’s age and size. Which begs the question: whose horse have they got in the museum?
Copenhagen in Glasgow
 
There has always been room for interpretation when it comes to the description of historic horses. Take for example, Copenhagen – the mount of the Duke of Wellington, who occupied the opposite corner of the battlefield at Waterloo. There are two large bronze statues of him in Scotland, one in Edinburgh, the other in Glasgow. The Edinburgh version gives him the appearance of a noble steeplechaser – think Strong Promise, Sprinter Sacre or Dublin Flyer. The Glasgow version, where the Duke’s head is almost permanently augmented with a road traffic cone (perched at a jaunty angle), portrays Copenhagen as small, narrow and unimpressive.

As you might expect from a city known for its gritty realism, it is the Glasgow version which is most likely correct. According to contemporary correspondence, Copenhagen was about 15 hands tall, had a scratchy short stride and a cantankerous temperament. Sired by Meteor, a winner of the Kings Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes, Copenhagen had at least ten outings on the Flat, winning just two matches without impressing. He wouldn’t have been a match for a horse like Aristo Du Plessis, this week’s selection at Musselburgh, who is seeking his eighth win under rules.
Copenhagen in Edinburgh
 
The entries for the 2017 Grand National were published this week, sadly without Many Clouds whose name deserves to be remembered for two hundred years or more. A quick scan of the entries reveals that Highland Lodge is well placed to get into the race this year. If the Jimmy Moffatt trained gelding wins at Aintree, perhaps they’ll erect a statue of him in Cartmel village square - if so, I hope that racegoers will refrain from adding a traffic cone to Henry Brooke’s attire.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Tasting the Future

It’s been a few weeks since I last tipped a winner and I’m beginning to feel guilty. It’s not just the possibility that someone might have taken my advice and lost their money – after all who on earth really believes that they’ll make money by following my tips? It’s the fact that so many losing punters are obviously turning to drink...
 
According to figures released by the Scottish Whisky Association this week, Scotch whisky contributes roughly £4.9 billion to the UK economy - about 40% more than the estimated economic contribution of British horseracing. I may not be entirely responsible for the disparity but, now that I think about it, there is a correlation between the diminution of my whisky stocks at home and the number of losers that I've been backing each Saturday.
 
But at least it’s better than backing winners. Because every time I open a bottle of Champagne I am contributing to the UK’s trade deficit of goods (excluding oil) which amounts to £112 billion. It turns out that Scotch whisky is the largest net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade in goods, with exports reaching £3.9 billion against imports of just £0.2 billion. The net benefit of £3.7 billion is nearly twice as much as that generated by sales of aircraft (£1.9 billion) and miles better than our national deficit on clothing (-£12.3 billion). 
 
Just as the horseracing industry has been proactive in boosting the sport in Scotland, the whisky industry has recently been expanding south of the border. A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to have been treated to a tour of The Lakes Distillery - where their first spirits have already been distilled and lie in maturation casks until their third birthday, when the pale liquid will have taken on more colour and will finally be classified as whisky.  
 
I tasted the future at The Lakes Distillery and it is full of promise – which, coincidentally, is very much the theme of this weekend’s racing action. Cheltenham's Festival Trials Day features a couple of dozen horses currently occupying prominent positions in the betting for Championship races. In addition to Un De Sceaux and Thistlecrack in their respective trials, we could be treated to the sight of More Of That in the whisky sponsored Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. In the Cleeve Hurdle I hope Ballyoptic (this week's selection) will have a chance of upsetting the World Hurdle favourite Unowhatimeanharry.
 
Win or lose, the results of this weekend's races at Cheltenham will be picked over in detail over the next few weeks - at Festival Preview Nights up and down the country. We’ll be staging our own Preview Night, at Cartmel Racecourse, on Thursday 9th March with a panel of experts – who will necessarily be much more knowledgeable than me. Tickets, costing just £16, are available from the racecourse office (o15395 36340). The price includes a one-course meal during the interval.
 
We will also be serving whisky, should anyone feel the need.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Bishops on the Beat

Blessing of the horse at Cartmel Priory
On hearing about the Jockey Club’s planned closure of Kempton Racecourse, I assumed that the whole story was an elaborate joke. So just to be on the safe side, I’ve decided not to fall into the trap of adding more column inches to those that have already been devoted to the subject.

It isn’t as if we don’t have enough controversial issues of our own to debate in Cartmel. Last week the Parish Council voted in favour of a plan to develop a traffic regulation order to reduce irresponsible parking on the local lanes. The plan includes double yellow lines – but slightly narrower than the ones that you might usually see in a town, and primrose coloured to strike a better balance with the rich heritage of the village centre. The three week consultation period organised by Cumbria County Council will no doubt consider a wide variety of views – so I’m not going to use this space to add more fuel to that particular fire either.

No. I want to talk about the Bishop of Carlisle, who visited Cartmel Priory on Monday this week to listen to a request from the church commissioners to withdraw from the Cartmel Peninsula Team Ministry. To summarise, the 'team ministry' was devised 24 years ago as a collective of parishes to allow the local clergy to support one another and provide cover where vicars were scarce. Nestled among the valleys are some beautiful small churches, frequented mainly by tiny congregations of aging parishioners. The team-system enabled a small number of ministers to spread themselves across the sparsely populated area.

But that isn’t the way of the future. In most areas of our lives we’re either seeing services centralised to the major conurbations or else they’re retreating to the digital world – think of your bank, insurance provider or travel agency. I’m surprised more worshippers aren’t already taking virtual communion over the internet. As Keats might have written, if he hadn't died in 1821, Ah, bitter chill it was… Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers as he tapped out his rosary on the i-pad. 


As it happens, I believe that spiritual guidance is something that is best given face to face; I’d like to see more vicars on the streets. Not – you understand - sleeping in cardboard boxes, nor enforcing Cartmel’s proposed traffic regulation order. I’d like to see them serving the communities in which they live, helping to instil moral values in the children at our local schools, blessing racehorses and embracing our questions about faith. 

After all, while it’s evident that there is a declining interest in attending church services, there is no slackening in what I’d call spiritual speculation: is there life after death? Do ghosts exist? Why are we here? Would life be any better if I could back a winner this weekend? (Alary is my suggestion, in Haydock's Peter Marsh Chase).
 
There is a real danger that the Cartmel Peninsula Team Ministry will be reduced further in strength, resulting in the possible loss of the vicar from Cartmel. And while it is impossible to justify the needs of one parish over another, the truth is that Cartmel Priory is special. The church is large, has impressive medieval roots and is located in a tourism hotspot. The building itself draws people – which makes it a grade one venue for engaging with issues of faith and encouraging community spirit.
 
I’m all for the maintenance of services across rural parishes, but imagine – scaling back the use of Cartmel Priory would be a bit like closing down a grade one racecourse and flogging it for housing. Doh... I said I wasn't going to mention that!


Friday, 13 January 2017

The Dog and Bone


The phones have been busy in the racecourse office with all the usual enquiries:

Beep, beep, beeeep… Thank you for calling Cartmel Racecourse where the first of nine race-meetings in 2017 takes place on Saturday 27th May. To help direct your call appropriately, please listen to the following options.

If you’d like to bring a dog with you to the races… DIAL 1. (The answer’s yes – but you must keep it on a lead at all times).

If you’d like parking in the village of Cartmel to be restricted by double yellow lines… DIAL 2.
 
If you’d like to purchase a four-night camping pitch for the May Bank Holiday weekend, the July meeting or the August Bank Holiday weekend, please redial on Tuesday 17th January - which is when these tickets will become available. Or, even easier, look us up online from 9.00am on Tuesday morning at www.cartmel-racecourse.co.uk. Please note, two night camping pitches including just one raceday will not be available until 14th February. 

If you’d like parking in the village of Cartmel not to be restricted by yellow lines - but controlled on a voluntary basis through the implementation of improved signage and white lines… DIAL 3.

If you’d like to purchase a two-night camping pitch for an individual raceday (including the night before and the night after racing), please redial on Tuesday 14th February, when these packages will become available. Customers wishing to attend multiple racedays are being given the first opportunity to book.

If you’d like to purchase an annual parking permit for the racecourse pay-and-display car park, so that you're no longer reliant on parking in the streets of Cartmel…  DIAL 4.

If you’d like to purchase early-bird admission tickets at half price, please go to our website on Tuesday 17th January. Please note, the availability of early-bird tickets is limited to 2,000 in total and they are available to online bookers only with a maximum of two per household. Early-bird admission tickets are not valid for the camping packages which already include admission.

If you know what’s going to win at Kelso this Sunday… please DIAL 5 and let me know too.

If you’d like to book tickets or camping pitches for the June meeting, please hold... fire – we are awaiting exciting news about concert artists which will be released in the near future.

If you don’t know what’s going to win at Kelso this Sunday… try Aristo Du Plessis in the 2.10.

For all other enquiries, dial… click… buurrgh…
 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Licensed Disorder

The Twelfth Night is the eve of Epiphany, the festival on which we celebrate the arrival of the three wise men at the crib. Although Epiphany falls annually on 6th January, there is an ambiguity which leads to a regular discussion in our household (let’s not call it an argument), as to whether the twelfth day of Christmas (the day by which we must pack away all the Christmas decorations) is actually the day before the twelfth night or the day after – the day before the wise men arrive or the day itself, which can only be the twelfth day of Christmas if the festive period actually starts on Boxing Day. 

In my book, the day on which to pack up the decorations is undoubtedly 6th January – because the night before is all about celebration, which makes no sense if we've already taken the tinsel away. In days gone by, the night was so significant that William Shakespeare even wrote a special play to celebrate the occasion. At least I only have to write a short blog…

The Twelfth Night was traditionally an evening of licensed disorder. A ‘Lord of Misrule’ would be appointed, usually someone of low status, in order to impose a temporary inversion of the general order of everything. Servants would dress up as masters, the head of the household would temporarily fulfil the role of a slave. Shakespeare’s play adhered to the traditions of the festival by exploiting a plot device whereby a beautiful girl, called Viola, dresses up as a boy and makes a fool out of everyone – a bit like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet.

In seems to me that the team at Chelmsford, where racing takes place tonight (the twelfth night), have missed a bit of trick. For one night only, the jockeys should have been allowed to officiate – while the stewards, the judge, clerk of the scales and clerk of the course should have been forced to ride around the track.



Meanwhile, the trainers could have led the horses up in the parade ring, while the stable staff entertained racehorse owners in the bars and restaurants. The ground-staff could have been occupied in the kitchen while the caterers were employed on the track - filling divots can’t be much different from filling vol-au-vents, although one would hope they wouldn’t use prawns and thousand island sauce, because that would just be messy. 

I know, I know… they only have to harrow the sand-based track at Chelmsford to level out the divots – but you can’t fill vol-au-vents with a tractor, so I’m assuming that the catering staff would be more comfortable doing the job by hand. 

As for this weekend’s selection, I’m relying on Wishfull Dreaming to invert the natural order of the form book by reverting to winning ways in the last race on Sandown’s Saturday card. If racing be the food of love, gallop on!