Friday, 26 April 2013

Mixing Tipples With My Tips

The Winster Valley Brewery brewed their first real ale for the racecourse in 2011. A light bodied and agile ale, it has wonderful floral tones that make it ideal for summer drinking. We decided to call it Hurdler. 

The following year, the masters of the micro-brewery developed a more mature ale, rich in colour like a bay horse. It has a strong flavour and supple tones; we named it Chaser. Now they have brewed us a real treat – a chocolaty ale, technically known as a “mild”. It is almost black like Sprinter Sacre and its name is… (drum-roll, fanfare)… Dark Horse. 

In racing terminology, a dark horse is a secret waiting to be discovered; unknown on the track, but which has been ripping up the gallops at home. Having taken stock of our first delivery this week, I can confirm that the ale is set to become a firm favourite (if you’ll excuse the obvious pun). Once you have discovered the secret of the Dark Horse, I am sure that you’ll be galloping down to the Brown Horse Inn at Winster, where the brewery is based. Incidentally, they also do a fine lunch. Alternatively, you’ll be able to find it in the Cartmel Village Shop, Holker Hall and at the racecourse on race-days. 

Of course the jockeys can’t drink beer when they’re riding, so we import vast quantities of bottled water for them to drink throughout the day. But it’s not just any water, it’s Willow Water and it only travels 2 miles from the source at Flookburgh. Willow Water contains minute traces of salicin, which it picks up from deep layers of peat under the ground. The Salicin is believed by some people to reduce pain and high temperatures, while other minerals in the water are thought to benefit the skin and reduce wrinkles; all of which answers the question as to why the jockeys at Cartmel look so young and healthy! 

Finally, tips for the weekend. The big race is a 3m5f chase at Sandown, known to almost everyone as the Whitbread but actually sponsored nowadays by a bookmaker. Hold On Julio is exposed in terms of form and has won twice at Sandown before - but in appearance, he really is a dark horse.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Looking Forward to a Vintage Season

Everyone loves a bit of nostalgia. Do you remember when Red Rum won his third Grand National in 1977? The size of the flairs, the brown ties and long side-burns!
If you look at photographs of Cartmel in the 1960’s the first thing you’ll notice is that everyone is wearing a tie – except the ladies of course, they’re all wearing hats. In the 1950’s all the men are wearing hats too – mainly broad-brimmed trilbies, except for the stable staff and hound-handlers who are all wearing flat caps.
At our first race-meeting of this season, we’ll be travelling down memory lane in company with the North West Evening Mail who are sponsoring our first ever Vintage Race-night on Saturday 25th May. Prior to racing there will be live 1950’s music from the Houndogs and between races visitors can jive to the sound of our gramophone-DJ.
There will also be £5,000 of diamond jewellery to be won in the best-dressed competition. A stunning art-deco diamond necklace  has been put up as the top prize by Wave Jewellery, who have shops in Kendal, Bowness, Lancaster, Manchester and Knightsbridge. All you have to do is pick a decade, any decade you like, and dress accordingly. 
Apart from the hats and ties, the other really notable thing about old photos of Cartmel is the vintage cars. Then, as now, loads of racegoers turned up with a picnic in their car-boot to enjoy next to the rails as the horses whizzed past. In an effort to replicate some of those nostalgic scenes, we’ll be allowing all vintage cars to park for free on the night – so if you’ve got an old banger in the garage or a Silver Shadow Rolls, as long as it is zero-rated for road tax, you’ll be able to park for nothing. Normal admission charges apply for all occupants.
We’re looking forward to a vintage season at Cartmel this year, but I know what you’re thinking - what about the tip for this weekend’s racing? Well to keep in with the theme, how about Changing Times in the Future Champions Novices Chase, the 2.05 at Ayr on Saturday.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Secret to Being a "Good" Loser

No, I didn’t manage to back Aurora’s Encore in the Grand National either. The secret, I find, to being a good loser is not to mind too much. It helps if you can think of positive reasons why losing is a good thing. 

When I started punting I used to console myself that each loser brought me one step closer to the next winner. This optimism finally wore off after a particularly long losing streak, when I adopted a new philosophy – the more I lost, the more someone else was winning – and isn’t that nice! 

Fortunately this year’s Grand National provided lots of reasons for happiness. Firstly, it has been much commented on that no horse or jockey was injured – but it was better than that. Did you notice that, despite a few jockeys being unseated, only two horses actually fell during the whole race? It’s probably a bit too early to assess the real impact of the changes made to the course and fences, but there was no diminution of the spectacle and this year’s race was undoubtedly better for being injury free. 

Secondly, the fact that the bookmakers have enjoyed a huge windfall is not entirely negative for the sport. Bookmakers based in Britain are obliged to make a payment to the Horserace Betting Levy Board which equates to roughly 10% of the gross profits that they enjoy from horseracing. In 2013 the Levy Board will distribute, in round terms, about £76 million to the racing industry – paying for integrity services at every racecourse in Britain, research into equine fertility, assistance for a variety of horse and pony breeds and a contribution to prize money for races from Cartmel to Kempton. 

British bookmakers are also taxed by the Government, at a rate of 15% of their gross profits; so in losing your money you’ve also contributed towards various essential services such as the police and the NHS. Give yourself a pat on the back and thank heavens you didn’t back the 66/1 winner of the race! 

But if you backed a loser with a bookmaker based overseas – and this will include most telephone or internet betting services, even if the same firm operates high street betting shops in the UK, all your losses will have been lost forever. They’ll be no benefits for your local racecourse and none for your local hospital. If you want to be a good loser, make sure you bet with a British based bookmaker.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The World’s Greatest Race...

The greatest race in the world takes place at Aintree this week. “So far, so obvious” I can hear you thinking. But the race I am talking about will not have 40 runners and take place over 30 fences on Saturday, it will have just six runners and takes place over two and a half miles on Friday. 

The Melling Chase may not attract as many headlines as the Grand National but it looks set to launch a new legend in the lore of horseracing. Sprinter Sacre has already proven that he is the best two mile chaser of the year and probably the best for many years. Today though, he might just kindle a flame that will never be extinguished in the hearts of jump racing fans – by thrashing two of the best horses currently in training over their best distance of two and a half miles. 

The gelding has been nicknamed the “black aeroplane” by his trainer and his unbeaten sequence of eight steeplechase wins have been visually impressive, culminating in the defeat of a previous Champion Chaser in the shape of Sizing Europe at the Cheltenham Festival last month. In the Melling Chase he will have to prove that he has the stamina for an additional half mile while tackling Cue Card and Flemenstar, who have posted the best performances over the distance in Britain and Ireland respectively this season. Add last year’s Champion Chaser Finian’s Rainbow into the mix and you have the most compelling race of the season. Please, please watch it if you can. 

The support act for the Melling chase is a little-known four and a half mile handicap chase on Saturday. If your name is Bob, Harry, Oscar, Bill, Paddy, Al, Jon or Balthazar you won’t have any trouble finding a horse to back – you’ll find all these names amongst the runners for the big race. 

Having backed Ballabriggs at 33/1 when the weights were announced, I should be quite content that he is now 20/1 and looks likely to shorten further. But I’ve a slight concern over the form of the McCain yard and there are a couple more big-priced contenders that I can’t allow to go un-backed including the Willie Mullins pair Quiscover Fontaine and Quel Esprit, both at 50/1. Among the more favoured runners, Imperial Commander (16/1) has plenty of class and an attractive weight, while Cappa Bleu (12/1) looks the best of the contenders that ran in the race last year.