Friday, 23 June 2017

A Village Story

Following the sad news about the passing of children’s TV presenter Brian Cant, I can now reveal the proposed plot-line for the fourteenth and final episode of Trumpton – which remained unscreened due to a legal dispute over the use of data rights at Trumpton Racecourse.
 
Entitled ‘It’s Not Unusual’, the story follows the residents of the small village as they prepare for a concert that’s about to be performed by a famous Welsh singer. The episode opens with a shot of the villagers as they go about their daily business...
 
"Good morning Mr Clamp," says Miss Lovelace, the milliner, who is being towed across the square by three small Pekingese dogs. "I’m so excited about Jim Tones coming to Trumpton Racecourse. Apparently he’s going to sing live on a big stage after racing. I’m working on a very special hat for Mrs Cobbit the florist, as she’s landed the contract for arranging the flowers in the hospitality marquee."
 
Mr Clamp, the greengrocer, is loading his van with vegetables for the racecourse caterers. "Great!" he says, "It’s important to use local suppliers when events like this come to Trumpton. This Jim Tones concert is really going to help the local economy." The pair pause in their conversation while Mr Munnings, the printer, pins a poster to the village notice board.
 
"What does it say about taking dogs to the racecourse?" asks Miss Lovelace. The narrator explains that dogs are allowed on the racecourse but must be kept on a lead at all times. Due to the crowded nature of the event, dogs will not be permitted in the area immediately in front of the stage. Visitors will be welcome to bring picnics although, as with the dogs, they’ll be discouraged from depositing chairs and other structures in the area designated for standing spectators. They will be allowed to bring knickers for throwing, but nothing made of glass.
 
"Can you read that Mitzi, Daphne and Lulu?" says Miss Lovelace to her dogs. "I'm afraid you won’t be allowed in the mosh-pit."
 
Just then Chippy Minton, the joiner, walks into shot. He’s looking grumpy because he’s just been told that the big stage will be arriving on the back of a lorry and he won’t have an opportunity to tender for the work. "I’m fed up." he says, "I’m not even a fan of Jim Tones and the traffic in the village is going to be awful."
 
"Don’t worry about the traffic!" says Mr Troop the mayor. "I’ve been working with my friends in the Highways Department. The racecourse will implement a traffic management plan which will include some one-way systems and a taxi pick-up area within the south car park. As long as all visitors follow the yellow event signage and all taxis use the official pick-up area, any congestion should be limited and manageable. I am sure that the racegoers will be respectful of our beautiful village – we’ll be asking them to dispose of all their litter appropriately too, so that it can be recycled and the streets kept tidy."
 
Captain Flack and his men arrive in the square, clinging to their fire engine. "We’ve just visited the racecourse," he says "to carry out our annual assessment of their risk management plan. Did you know they’re going to have a big concert there after racing on Friday? If you’re going to go, you might want to make sure you arrive in plenty of time, as there will be a few additional security measures in place and the Police will have a heightened presence there."
 
Chippy’s son, Nibbs, arrives. "Can we go to the races too please Dad... please? It's going to be great fun!" 
 
"Of course we can." Says Chippy, who has now cheered up substantially. "I love a flutter on the horses, which reminds me: let's go down to the bookies, I've got a tip for Raucous in the Wokingham Handicap on Saturday at Camberwick Green."
 

N.B. Any similarities between the fictional characters described here and the actual residents of Trumpton are purely coincidental.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Two by Two

When it comes to threats to Cartmel’s cyber security, I’m not sure which scares me most: the malevolent money-extorting maniacs from North Korea or those good old guys at Microsoft who try to update my lap-top with ‘patches’ while I’m not at my desk.
 
This week’s Microsoft update has all but paralysed the racecourse office, having rendered our printers temporarily obsolete. Many thousands of tickets for the Tom Jones Raceday on 30th June and the Sunday Funday on 2nd July have already been packaged up ready for posting. But with just two weeks to go we’re selling more tickets every day – so there are more to send and the postman is going to be jolly busy.
 
Happily, the hugely professional team at EMS (who look after our ticketing system) have got together with SystemHost (who look after our computers) and they’re on the case. Together with the dedicated girls in the office next door, they’ll be working through the weekend to ensure that all the tickets get printed and dispatched before racing commences on 30th June.
 
In the meantime I’m typing this week’s blog on my telephone – so if you notice any unusual smelling errors, please put it down to the predictive text.
 
If you’re waiting for tickets that you’ve already purchased for the Tom Jones Race-day (or for Sunday 2nd July) – don’t worry, they’ll be on their way shortly and we expect all the tickets to reach their destination in good time.
 
And if you haven’t booked your tickets yet, what are you waiting for? The Tom Jones Raceday event will have limited audience of just 19,999 people – so while we’ve some availability remaining, the tickets are running out fast!
 
You'll have noticed that, at Cartmel, we like to do things two by two: most of our meetings feature two racedays. The June meeting will feature two musical acts - as Sir Tom Jones will be joined on stage by his protégés Into The Arc.
 
Having reached the final of The Voice UK, the Welsh duo (Taylor Jones and Dane Lloyd) have proved incredibly popular in front of crowds throughout Britain. The pair met six years ago and paid for a trip around Australia by busking – but they’ll not be asking racegoers to put a dollar in their bucket on this occasion, their performance will be part of the ticket price of £45 – as long as the tickets are booked before the end of next week.
 
I’m getting a bit concerned that computer hackers may have accessed my betting-account, as the balance appears to be perilously low. Is it really so long since I backed a winner? This week’s selection is East Street Revue in the Musselburgh Sprint Cup.  

 

Friday, 9 June 2017

There Can Be Only Five

While the media followed each twist and turn of a remarkable General Election this week, another drama was unfolding unbeknown to an unsuspecting public.
 
[Cue pulsating music. The opening shot: a city skyline; the camera pans down to a busy streetscape where men and women pass each other on their way to work...]  
 
Like the immortal warriors in the 1986 film Highlander, we gathered to do battle while ordinary members of the public bustled about their ordinary lives - oblivious to the looming conflict. Studiously avoiding the gaze of others, we converged on the agreed venue at the appointed time.
 
Except of course we weren’t immortal warriors, we were just a group of nervous racecourse executives - come to meet at the BHA’s offices in High Holborn to participate in the inaugural auction of fixtures. There were no bolts of lightning connecting with the top of the office block, as we experienced ‘the quickening’ – although, from what we could see on the telly, it looked pretty wet at Chepstow where the going changed to soft as they recorded 21 non-runners.
 
Queen’s theme tune, Princes Of The Universe, wasn’t blasting across the airwaves. Nor did any of us wield 5-foot long broad swords; the current security status being what it is, it didn’t seem appropriate.
 
"There can be only five," said the auctioneer ominously, confirming the BHA’s decision to allow five afternoon fixtures, with prize money grants and integrity funding, on a series of Saturdays between May and September from the year 2018 onwards. The auction was staged to determine which racecourses would race in which slots. And it was tense: several of the racecourses represented, including Cartmel, already stage fixtures in these ‘fifth Saturday’ slots, albeit without any central funding. For the sake of our customers, we were anxious not to lose them.
 
All in all, 27 fixtures went under the hammer, including a few opportunities on Bank Holidays and Friday evenings as well as the Saturday afternoon slots. In true Highlander fashion, Musselburgh were the first to strike, securing two of the first three lots in the catalogue. "It’s A Kind of Magic," said Bill Farnsworth although he doesn’t look much like Connor MacLeod, the character played by Christopher Lambert, nor Freddie Mercury for that matter.
 
In the film, the prize gained by MacLeod was the mystical ability to read the thoughts of humankind, inspiring peace and prosperity - a bit like Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May. I’d settle for being able to tip a decent winner – this week’s selection is Katgary at Stratford on Saturday evening.
 
Back at the auction, it seemed as though most racecourses managed to get what they came for. And I’m happy to report that Cartmel secured the right to race on the final Saturday in May (Whit Holiday Weekend), as well as the Saturday afternoon of Totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup Day in July.
 
The full fixture list won’t be finalised and announced by the BHA until August, but this week’s auction represented a significant milestone in the process. We may not know who our Prime Minister will be in a few months time, but racegoers at Cartmel can look forward to greater certainty when planning their holidays for 2018 and beyond.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Living the Dream

We all have dreams. I don’t mean the ones about standing in the Winners’ Enclosure and then realising that you’re not wearing any clothes, I don’t suppose everyone has those sort of dreams. I mean aspirations, desires of the heart or whatever you want to call them. 

Horseracing is a field of dreams: every owner, every jockey, every trainer; even every racecourse manager... and certainly every punter. We all dream about our big day – the big occasion, a big race or a big win. Racing is nothing without dreams.
 
It’s the reason why National Velvet is such an enduring story – girl sees pony jump out of field; girl imagines winning Grand National; girl overcomes all the obstacles (literally and figuratively) to achieve her dream. But the thing about racing is that we don’t have to indulge in fiction – dreams come true every day.
 
On Wednesday it was the turn of Charlotte Jones, who rode her first ever winner on Lough Kent in the Wainwright Ale Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at Cartmel. Sixth at the second last hurdle, Charlotte was still only fourth at the final flight, before scything into the lead in the last 50 yards. She punched the air, smiled and received her sticky toffee pudding before returning to muck out at Jimmy Moffatt’s yard on the other side of the village.
Charlotte Jones wins at Cartmel on Lough Kent 
 
We now know that Gina Mangan won't be living the dream next Saturday: she's been told by the BHA that she won't be permitted to ride Diore Lia in the Investec Derby. Mangan, an apprentice jockey, had been nominated to partner the outsider by owner-breeder Richard Aylward, who was understandably upset at being informed that the governing body didn’t share his dream.
 
While the story runs counter to the generally romantic notion of the turf, it’s also quite understandable. How could the BHA possibly defend itself in the event of an accident, knowing that Mangan had ridden just one winner (eight years ago at Roscommon) and has never ridden at Epsom at all. The publicity will be enormous, the stakes high and the potential liability unimaginably huge. It isn’t the BHA’s fault; the blame rests with every single one of us for permitting the risk averse blame culture that pervades modern life.
 
The heart says that it would be lovely to see Gina Mangan ride in the Derby. The head says I wouldn’t want to be in the Stewards Room if she knocked over one of the favourites. The race will be won by this week’s selection: Permian, ridden by Velvet Brown… I mean William Buick.  

Friday, 26 May 2017

Ready for the Races?

We’re almost ready for the races. The track’s been watered and is in excellent condition (tick). The funfair’s arrived with some massive rides (tick). I’ve taken delivery of several new shirts from Marks & Spencer in an effort to ensure that I’m not too scruffy come race-day.

Having announced a major slump in profits this week, I dare say Marks & Spencer will have been grateful for my annual buying spree which included a bottle of orange juice, some scotch eggs and one of their delicious chicken pies – easy meals for consumption in a busy racecourse office.

But enough about my preparation. Are you ready for the races? Here’s a quick check-list to make sure you’ve got it all covered...

Have you set an alarm clock? It’s a good idea, especially if you’ve a sleepy teenager as part of your party (remember: children aged 17 years old and younger are admitted free of charge). Apart from those that are camping at the track, we don’t allow admission to the racecourse until after seven in the morning. While there’s usually a queue outside the gate at that time, we don’t recommend that you join it. We’ve lots of car parking space and there are plenty of tickets available to purchase on the gate – so arriving from 10am is generally recommended. The first race is at 2.10pm on Saturday and 2.15pm on Bank Holiday Monday.

Did you remember to pack a lead for the dog? We do allow dogs within the enclosures at Cartmel, but they must be kept on a lead at all times. The weather is going to be very warm, so it’ll be far too hot to leave them in the car and you might want to consider packing a bowl for some water – you can get some of that, free of charge, from a tap at the racecourse.

Have you got a corkscrew? If you’re not booked in to one of the restaurants, the chances are that you’re planning to bring a picnic – it’s the Cartmel way, everyone should do it at least once a year. We like responsible drinkers at the racecourse, which means that you’re welcome to bring alcoholic beverages as part of a picnic – although we frown on customers who load up with booze but forget the food altogether.

Have you studied the runners and riders? It’s not really essential, because you can buy a race programme when you get to the races. The form summaries of each horse are very helpful and the tips are much better than those contained within this weekly column. But there’s also another simple system. Over the last two years it’s been a simple and effective strategy to back any horse trained by James Moffatt. Especially if its name happens to be Altrusim, which happens (coincidentally) to be my selection this week – in whichever race he turns up for on Saturday or Bank Holiday Monday.
 
Good luck!


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 naïve 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.