Friday, 18 August 2017

The Whip Debate

The whip can be an emotive subject and it is right to continually review our stance in the light of public perception. For that reason alone, I am quite sure that Nestle completed extensive customer research before they decided to rename their oldest confectionary brand – but I can’t help feeling that it is a mistake to remove the walnut from the Walnut Whip, first created in Edinburgh in 1910.
 
To draw an analogy, it’s a bit like taking a steeplechase and doing away with the obstacles. What are you left with? Oh yes... that’s right - it’s called Flat Racing.
 
But while Flat Racing still offers a great day out for the family (obviously – I’ve got to support my friends who happen to work at Flat tracks here), it’s not quite the same. Even Nestle have realised that they’re going to have to spice up their new range of Whips using a variety of flavours including caramel, vanilla and mint. What, I wonder, could we do for Flat Racing? Perhaps we should ask the jockeys to ride side-saddle, or make them face the horse’s tail, to up the stakes a little. Now that would be fun.
 
I don’t mean to scaremonger though - Jump Racing fans will be relieved to know that the Walnut Whip is not actually being discontinued, the plan is to continue selling it alongside its less nutty sister-products. Because, like Jump Racing, walnuts offer important health benefits – they’re good for the brain and the heart, help to fight cancer, stave of heart disease and promote fertility. I am fairly sure that the same has been said of racing at Cartmel, where we shall shortly be staging the final race-meeting of the season on Saturday 26th August and Bank Holiday Monday 28th August.
 
At Cartmel we’ve always stuck to the principle that variety is the spice of life. It’s why we like to make sure that there are always plenty of things to see and do. So, quite apart from the horseracing, visitors can take a tour of the medieval village, enjoy the fun of the fair, participate in a jamboree of kiddies’ cricket matches and ball games, consume their picnics and generally have fun with their friends. There’s also a number of trade-stands.
 
This August, however, we are on high alert. Following the theft of a lorry from Neustadt, in Germany, containing 20 tonnes of Nutella and Kinder Surprise Eggs, the public have been asked to keep an eye out for anyone offering suspiciously cheap chocolate in unusual locations. It sounds like just the sort of thing that might happen in the Course Enclosure on Bank Holiday Monday – so we’re preparing for a visit from Trading Standards just in case.
 
This week’s selection runs (over obstacles) at Perth on Saturday. I’m hoping that Caius Marcius will allow us to sample the sweet taste of success.
 
Psst… anyone want to buy some cheap chocolate?

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Case of Mistaken Identity

There have been plenty of excellent people called Geoffrey: Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Palmer who appeared in the sitcom Butterflies and Geoffrey Boycott, who is apparently quite famous in Yorkshire. Geoffrey is obviously a marvellous name, but it isn’t my name – which explains why I didn’t respond to it when the furniture removal man shouted out from the kitchen, "Geoffrey, have you got a spanner to disconnect this washing machine?"
 
At least, I didn’t respond straight away. It finally dawned on me that the question was being addressed to me at the fourth or fifth time of asking, at which point I simply went and found a spanner. I refrained from pointing out that my name’s not Geoffrey which, given how stressful moving house can be, could easily have slipped out as a rude or irrationally irritable statement. Which is why I spent the next 48 hours being called Geoffrey – because if you don’t put these things right at the first opportunity, they have a habit of escalating.
 
It’s also why I have some sympathy for Charlie McBride, the trainer who saddled the wrong horse in a race at Yarmouth recently. At least Millie’s Kiss had the decency to respond to the jockey’s urgings as if she really was Mandarin Princess – by passing the winning post in front. It’s an unusual situation, one that will inevitably lead to the disqualification of the winner and the promotion of the second-placed horse – with most bookmakers paying out on both.
 
The problem is that, what starts as a simple mistake, soon escalates to become a major issue. Hence the subsequent questions: Was the saddling error really a mistake or was it intentional? When and how was the horse’s identity checked? Should anyone have prevented the wrong horse from running? Who’s lost out and will they sue?
 
I am convinced that the regulation surrounding the integrity of horseracing is second to no other sport. There will, occasionally, be individuals that are tempted to break the rules for financial gain – but I doubt that Charlie McBride is one of them. Every horse that runs at a British racecourse has an identity chip which is checked on arrival at the racecourse – and the BHA is trialling procedures for further identity checks before each horse departs for the Parade Ring.
 
Every race is analysed from a plethora of camera angles, jockeys are grilled by stewards and horses are tested for a myriad of performance influencing substances.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent approximately half the population from believing that horseracing is fixed – according to a recent survey of 2,000 people conducted on behalf of Portland Communications. I can’t say that I’m very surprised – if you stand in any betting shop long enough, you’ll hear enough conspiracy theories to explain away all the losing bets ever struck. It doesn’t mean they’re true – just that humans make mistakes, especially when they’re backing and tipping horses.
 
As for me, I’ve no need for conspiracy theories. If Autocratic doesn’t win the Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock on Saturday, he wasn’t my selection – he was Geoffrey’s.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Planning Ahead - The 2018 Fixture List

The BHA fixture allocation process has concluded and Cartmel is set to stage 27 fixtures. I know what you're thinking: what new excuse can you give to your employer / spouse / dog-sitter for bunking off to Cartmel races on more days than ever before?

But relax! In an effort to help racecourses to grow the sport, the BHA have used the fixture allocation process to look further ahead and has attempted to give racecourses greater certainty over a three year period. So while there will still be a small percentage of fixtures that remain to be allocated annually, and there will still be opportunities for tracks to exchange dates, we now have the ability to make plans over a longer period.

At Cartmel, that means that (subject to fulfilling various criteria) we'll be able to stage nine fixtures between May and August for each of the next three years.

While that's still the second smallest number of fixtures staged by any racecourse in Britain, it's a format that works well for us: optimising the use of our track (which has less wide bends than most), while providing plenty of fun for racegoers throughout the Summer holidays.

If you're anything like me, you'll probably struggle to remember what you're doing tomorrow, never mind next next year. So now is the time to put the following dates in your diary...

There could be a few changes to the forecast dates for 2019 and 2020, so the BHA isn't able to publish those dates yet. But I can tell you that in 2018 we shall open the season with the traditional Whit Holiday Meeting on Saturday 26th May, Bank Holiday Monday 28th May and Wednesday 30th May. The June Meeting (no music acts booked at the current time) takes place on Friday 29th June and Sunday 1st July.

We'll be smoking at the Barbecue Meeting on Saturday 21st July and Monday 23rd July, before the season concludes on Saturday 25th August and Bank Holiday Monday 27th August.
 
Just in case you're wondering where you'll be on 31st August, 2020, that's the date that I've got earmarked for the Cavendish Cup Steeplechase - which will probably be won by the Jimmy Moffatt trained Altruism, who (with five career wins following his victory in the Totepool Cumbria Crystal Hurdle) has a great chance of surpassing Soul Magic's superb record of seven wins at Cartmel.

And for those of you who still don't know what you're doing next week, could I suggest a trip to Perth where Bon Chic is likely to find her required good ground and is our selection on Tuesday evening.


Friday, 21 July 2017

Diamonds, Champagne & Sticky Toffee Pudding

The French have no idea how to treat ladies, at least not when it comes to lady jockeys. In March this year the French racing authorities told all female jockeys that they needed to lose weight – that’s right, they told them that, if they wanted to ride the same horses as their male equivalents, they needed to weigh 4lbs less.
 
Why? I hear you ask. Well, according to our sexist continental neighbours, girls just aren’t as good at riding – so they thought it'd be better to help the horses by taking some extra weight off their backs. Or something like that; it’s possible that I’ve wilfully distorted some of the public relations messages around the story to make the French look bad. There may have been something about encouraging more French racehorse trainers to use female jockeys too.
 
The point is that we don’t behave like that in Cumbria. No - here at Cartmel Racecourse, we're aware that the girls are more than a match for the boys. And what's more, we like to think that we know exactly what lady jockeys really want – which is why we give them diamonds, Champagne and sticky toffee pudding.
 
The male jockeys get Champagne and sticky toffee puddings too, but it is only the ladies to whom we award diamonds – as the winning jockey’s prize for the Banks Lyon Jewellers Lady Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, to be staged this Saturday. This year’s prize is an 18ct white gold, Marquise cut diamond cluster pendant necklace with a retail value of £5,500. It’s so pretty that Anthea Morshead, our Clerk of the Course, is thinking about reapplying for her jockey’s licence. Meanwhile, the girls in the office have booked a series of refresher riding lessons in anticipation of next year’s renewal.  
 
This is the third year that Banks Lyon Jewellers have sponsored the £15,000 hurdle race, which is the most valuable opportunity in the British racing calendar, to be staged over obstacles, specifically for female jockeys. The race comes just two months after the opening of their new shop in Kendal, at 33 Market Place. Like the sumptuous Banks Lyon show room in nearby Lancaster, the Kendal store stocks a range of prestigious Swiss watches as well as fine jewellery and diamonds.
 
Local lass Charlotte Jones will be hoping to win her third consecutive race at Cartmel on board Lough Kent, trained by Charlotte's employer Jimmy Moffatt on the opposite side of the village. She’ll face stiff competition from last year’s winning jockey Rachael Blackmore, who returns to ride Baby Jake for Irish trainer Shark Hanlon.
 
The Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson, hasn't got a ride in the race on account of being the wrong sex - his fault really. He could gain compensation by winning the Totepool Cumbria Crystal Hurdle, in which he rides our selection Royal Village
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A Rare Treat

Grazing at High Lickbarrow Farm, near Windermere, is a breed of cattle so rare that they aren’t even recognised by the Rare Breeds Society of Great Britain. According to the Albion Cattle Society website (www.albioncattlesociety.co.uk), Blue Albions were once prized throughout Britain as dual purpose animals – which may suggest that they competed both on the Flat and over Jumps, but probably just means that they were reared to produce milk as well as beef.

Disaster struck the breed in 1923, when Foot and Mouth wiped out many herds. It wiped out horseracing too at many venues, although thankfully that was only a temporary measure. The Blue Albions, so named because of their beautiful blue-roan colour, were less fortunate and many people feared that the breed had been lost altogether when a further outbreak of Foot and Mouth struck in the 1960s.
 
While a small number of cattle did survive, there are fewer than 300 Blue Albion cows registered today. The Albion Cattle Society is currently seeking documentary evidence to prove that the forebears of today's stock were alive and well in the late sixties and early seventies.  Only when this period of continuity is proven can the Blue Albion cattle be accepted as a genuine rare breed.
 
The good news is that they taste very good. While it may seem counter-productive to eat cattle that are so scarce, the more people that want to eat them, the more people there will be who want to breed them and keep them.
 
So, with the Barbecue Racemeeting just over a week away, perhaps it’s time to seek out a few rare breed steaks to put over the charcoal. Not that charcoal is necessarily the thing anymore: according to Hayes Garden World, who will be demonstrating some of the World’s best barbecue equipment at the races, the serious foodies now prefer to smoke their meat ‘low and slow’ over wooden pellets. Hence the slogan for the Traeger Grill which is said to be ‘Kickin Gas in the Ass’. It’s an excellent idea as we don’t permit racegoers to bring large gas canisters on to the racecourse unless they come fully certified by a Gas Safe engineer.
 
Richard Holden, one of the UK’s top barbecue chefs, will be running a cooking theatre in the Course Enclosure on both racedays. As well as teaching people how to eat more healthily, he’ll be showing off equipment from the Weber World outlet located at Hayes Garden World in Ambleside, plus the Traeger Grill and the Uuni wood fired oven (capable, apparently, of cooking a pizza in less than seconds).
 
So there you have it – get down to Cartmel Racecourse next weekend with a decent piece of meat and learn how to barbecue with the best. It sounds like the Perfect Summer – which coincidentally happens to be the name of this week’s selection in the 4.45 at York on Saturday.  


Friday, 7 July 2017

Snakes and Adders

I’ve never liked reptiles very much. It’s something to do with the way they shed their skin, lick their eyelids and issue parking tickets. Oh sorry, that’s traffic wardens... I’ve had trouble telling them apart ever since my wife’s vehicle was issued with a £75 parking penalty outside Marks & Spencer’s. Not that she hadn’t paid for parking you understand, just that she’d made the mistake of outstaying her welcome after handing over our weekly grocery budget.
 
But anyway, back to the reptiles... Our amateur jockeys are so tough that we thought they deserved a different kind of challenge. Negotiating a few hurdles at 30 miles per hour didn’t seem nearly dangerous enough – so last Sunday we added snakes! That’s right: a uniquely dangerous contest in which the first contestant to make it across the snake infested pit on horseback would be named the winner.
 
Okay, it wasn’t actually snakes as in the plural. It was just the one snake, spotted slithering across the track as the horses galloped down the wood-side straight, but it was an Adder. According to Wikipedia, the Common European Adder is poisonous and has a diet which consists mainly of small mammals – so I dare say we were extremely lucky that none of the jockeys fell off in front of it.
 
Anyway, it got me to thinking: what other challenges could we set for our jockeys? I suggested to the team that perhaps we could have the horses jumping through giant rings of fire – which seemed like quite a thrilling idea until they pointed out to me that they already gallop through clouds of barbecue smoke.
 
The next meeting, on Saturday 22nd July and Monday 24th July, is the traditional BBQ Weekend. There’ll be barbecue demonstrations and prizes for the most stylish picnics or barbecues within the public enclosures. So gather up your finest folding chairs, your candelabras and stripy picnic blankets – we want to see them all.
 
As always, there are a few ground-rules to follow for those barbecuing at the racecourse: we recommend that you stick to charcoal as we don’t allow gas canisters of the Calor-gas type, unless they come complete with a valid gas safety certificate. We also reserve the right to ask all customers to extinguish their barbecues before the first race, so as not to create those smoky clouds for the jockeys.
 
Finally, when it’s time to go home, please dispense of your quelled barbecue embers in the metal cages provided next to our bins. If they reignite, the fire makes a nasty mess of our nice red plastic wheelie-bins. The molten plastic isn’t very good for the grass either.
 
And watch out for snakes. They’re protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, so you can’t put them on the barbecue.
 
This week’s tip is Decorated Knight in the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The All Weather Track

"Can you make it NOT rain?" read the text message.

I can do a lot of things, but for influence over the weather I have to turn to someone much more powerful than myself. I won't tell you who, because she wouldn't thank me, but she says she'll see what she can do.

If that fails, we've got two pallets full of plastic rain ponchos to give away - when you live in the Lakes, you learn to come to work prepared for the odd shower.

If you're planning a trip to the races on Friday (for the Tom Jones experience) or on Sunday (when we've a troupe of circus performers wandering the enclosures), I'd suggest you pop a pair of wellies in the back of the car. It doesn't hurt to be prepared and they're easier to walk in than high heels - or so I've been told.

Not that any of that advice will help the trainer who sent me the text message, because we don't have a rain poncho that will fit his horse and I've practically never seen a Thoroughbred shod in flip-flops, never mind heels.

I think he was hoping we'd describe the ground as Good to Firm. Which of course we could, if we wanted to, although it wouldn't be true - and racehorse trainers get funny about that sort of thing.

So does The Racing Post for that matter, although I'm not sure when journalists became so proficient in assessing the condition of the turf. Ascot took some flack from the media for watering at the Royal Meeting and yet their excellent ground staff (second only to the team at Cartmel according to last year's RCA Showcase Award judges), work to the highest professional standards to provide a consistent and safe racing surface. Could it be that some of the critics were talking through their pockets?  

But I digress. If you're coming to Cartmel this weekend (and we still have tickets for both days) the best thing to do is to prepare for all eventualities. Bring a pair of sunglasses, in case the sun shines, and a decent coat in case it doesn't. You can always use it as a picnic blanket when it turns out fine.

If you're backing a horse, look for one that won at the last meeting at Cartmel, when glorious sunshine gave way to rain and glorious sunshine again. Although, if the racecard form comment reads "well suited to all-weather," be a bit wary - because that doesn't mean quite the same thing.

This week's selection is Morning Royalty who goes in the £20,000 Oakmere Homes Handicap Chase on Sunday. He’s a three-times course winner and has proved successful on Good ground, Soft and Heavy.