Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Dastardly Plot At Cartmel

There is a dastardly plot afoot. It involves crooked trainers, bent bookmakers and dishonest stable staff – and the whole conspiracy has been revealed as a result of an incident at Cartmel Racecourse. 

I have been dipping into my collection of Dick Francis novels again, having been reminded of the Cartmel story-line by a member of the village’s Agricultural Show Committee. It’s surprising how many Dick Francis aficionados are out there; but with forty international best sellers to choose from, it isn’t difficult to pick up the habit. 

For Kicks is the third best novel in the Francis canon (my favourite is Dead Cert, which should be the starting point for any new readers). The story revolves around a disreputable bunch of ne’er-do-wells who encourage horses to run faster by way of a pavlovian response to a ‘silent’ dog whistle. The crooks’ plans start to unfold when one of their horses is unintentionally stimulated by the hound-trails at Cartmel races. Which reminds me – we have missed the hound trailers at Cartmel this year. 

Hounds have long shared the headlines with horses at Cartmel and we have clippings of newspaper reports on the office wall dating from 1932. Hound trailing involves the laying of a scent using a mixture of paraffin and aniseed oil, which is then followed by the hounds during a race. As the hounds near the finish, their owners shout, cheer and blow whistles for all they are worth. I don’t know what the prize money is like, but I’ve seen money changing hands with bookmakers – so the competition has a serious edge to it.  

While the proper races take place over long courses of moorland, fields and fells, the race-day versions involve a lap of the track and are much shorter but no-less exciting. We’ll get the hounds back at Cartmel in 2014 and I hope you might come to see them then. In the meantime, why not buy a second-hand copy of For Kicks (£2.80 on Amazon) and settle down for a good evening’s read next to the fireplace. 

If you’re feeling flush, perhaps you’ll invest in the Dick Francis Omnibus (three books: Dead Cert, Nerve and For Kicks) for £16.85. I think a small each way investment, at 25/1, on Fury in the Cambridgeshire Handicap on Saturday might help us fund the purchase.

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