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.