Friday, 30 August 2013

Cheering The Soul

The cheer that went up from the crowd when Soul Magic surged to the front on the finishing straight, at approximately 3.35pm on Bank Holiday Monday, was the loudest that I have heard at Cartmel and the subsequent celebrations were joyous. 

By scoring at the track for the seventh time, Soul Magic was equalling the record for the most career wins by a horse at Cartmel. Returned by the bookmakers at 5/2, it is surprising that Harriet Graham’s steeplechaser didn’t start favourite – especially as everyone in the crowd claimed to have backed him afterwards. Graham, who is based near Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, was scoring a notable double on the day, having picked up the prize for the best dressed dog just before racing commenced. The dog, named Rame, was dressed in a miniature version of Soul Magic’s blue racing silks.

While the race wasn’t the Gold Cup or the Grand National, this was a significant training feat. Getting any horse to the track in peak condition is difficult enough, but to get the same horse to the same track on seven separate occasions takes some skill. Afterwards Graham stated “We were all really nervous in the build up to the race; this was our Cheltenham!” 

However, Soul Magic is not just any horse. I can now divulge that in June of this year the gelding sent me an e-mail explaining his training regime, “… this will mean a fitness programme, a diet and extra work – this is not for me. I am a Sunday morning type of horse; I like the papers, a gentle stroll in the hills, a large lunch and lots of sleep.” I am not sure whether Soul Magic had help with the typing, perhaps Graham has given him a giant key-board with buttons in the shape of a horseshoe. 

No doubt Soul Magic will be back again next year; although it’s a source of great sadness that we’ll have to wait the best part of nine months until our next fixture towards the end of May 2014. In the meantime, we’ve got to find something in the racing world to perk us up – so I’ll be keeping an eye on the jump racing at Newton Abbot on Saturday, where Billie Magern is an eye-catching entry in the Lord Mildmay Memorial Handicap Steeplechase. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bluffers' Guide to Cartmel Races

Now - I’m assuming that either you’ve never been to Cartmel races before or that you have, but there were lots of questions that you didn’t like to ask. You shouldn’t have worried - at this time of year we get hundreds of phone calls from people asking simple questions ahead of their trip to the races. 

The first thing is: what should you wear? Well… it’s going to be a fine sunny afternoon on Saturday, although there could be some overnight rain on Friday, so bring sunglasses but perhaps give the high-heels a miss (gentlemen) and opt for more practical footwear. The atmosphere at Cartmel is very informal, so smart casual clothing is perfect. On Bank Holiday Monday there is a prize for the best-dressed dog (on a lead at all times) – so diamante collars and spotty bandanas will be de-rigueur, but only if you bark and have four legs.  

You can buy food and drink at the racecourse, everything from burgers & chips to locally produced cheese, bread, seafood and packs of meat for the barbecue. But if you’re trying to convince your friends that you’re a true Cartmel aficionado, you’ll already have a car-boot full of home made sandwiches, cakes and crisps. You’ll pop up your gazebo and state loudly “Oh no, I’ve forgotten the trifle – I’ll have to pop along to the Sticky Toffee Pudding stand instead.” It’s a time saving measure that no one will suspect – and everyone loves Sticky Toffee Pudding. 

There will be seven races including some over hurdles (about 3ft 6inches tall and relatively easy to knock over) and some over steeplechase fences (about 4ft 6 inches tall and stuffed full of birch to make them appear fairly solid). ‘Novice’ races are for horses that haven’t won a race over that type of obstacle prior to the current racing season. ‘Handicaps’ are races in which each horse carries an allotted weight, including the jockey and his saddle, which in theory gives all runners an equal chance of winning. 

If you want to appear knowledgeable, tell everyone who’ll listen that you are going to put “a placepot on before racing”. This has nothing to do with your barbecue. It involves selecting a horse in each of the first six races in the hope that they will all manage to reach a place (finish in the first two if there are more than four runners or the first three if there are eight or more runners). It’s a great bet to keep you entertained throughout the afternoon and it can pay very large dividends – although there is an unwritten rule that the bigger the dividend the more likely it is that you have just one horse that finishes unplaced. 

Don’t forget that Soul Magic will attempt to win a record-equalling seventh race at Cartmel on Bank Holiday Monday. If Soul Magic is successful in the ‘Win A Mini Handicap Chase’, he will equal the tally of Deep Mystery who scored seven times between 1976 and 1984. Deep Mystery wrote another note in the record books, when carrying Miss C Houlbrook past the winning post in 1978 to become the first female rider to win at Cartmel. Mention either of these points to racegoers and you'll convince everyone that you are a Cartmel expert.

Whatever the result, we wish Soul Magic a safe return and many more visits to Cartmel. We won’t ask him to try and repeat the feat of Benvolgio II who passed the post first in three races on the same day in 1877, although he was subsequently disqualified from one of them.
Good luck and have fun!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Answers On A Cartmel Postcard ...

It is just over a week until Cartmel’s Bank Holiday racing festival and there are several questions that need answering: 

Can Lucy Alexander become the first lady rider to take Cartmel’s top jockey title? The prize for the seasonal Jockeys’ Challenge is a luxury stay for two at the Swan Hotel & Spa at Newby Bridge – much coveted by the wives of several top jockeys, so the competition is sure to be stiff.  As they enter the final two days of our racing season, Britain’s top lady rider has a two point lead over her nearest male rival.

Who will win the best dressed dog competition? Dogs are welcome at Cartmel as long as they are kept on a lead. On Bank Holiday Monday there’ll be £150 worth of prizes for the most stylishly-dressed dogs, courtesy of Pets At Home in Kendal. If you have a fashion-conscious dog, bring it to the Parade Ring at 1.00pm.

Will Soul Magic make history by winning his seventh race at Cartmel? In 29 starts, the Harriet Graham trained gelding has not managed to win at another track, but loves Cartmel – don’t we all! The ‘Win A Mini’ Handicap Chase on Bank Holiday Monday looks like the ideal opportunity for him. 

How do you scoop the pool? Saturday 24th August is Cartmel Cup Day and the Tote have paid some huge dividends to Cartmel racegoers this season, including a pay out of more than £11,000 on the ‘place-pot’. The minimum stake for a place-pot bet is just £2 and the objective is to find a placed horse in each of the first six races. 

Will you be with us to enjoy the sunshine? The met-office forecast looks promising, with drier and brighter weather expected to spread north for the Bank Holiday weekend. It’d be a shame so miss out on one of those classic Cartmel weekends. 

And finally… Can I tip two winners in successive weeks? Following last weekend’s success with Algar Lad, I’m looking forward to some jumping action at Perth on Saturday where Life And Soul, a recent winner at Cartmel, could follow up in the Summer Champion Hurdle.   

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Land of Milk and Due Diligence

This week, while the sheep and cows were parading around the main arena at the Cartmel Agricultural Show, the board members of Ladbrokes PLC were preparing to release their financial results in London. On a personal level, the results of the cattle show were far more interesting – but the bookmakers’ results will have a bigger impact on the racecourse’s business.

A change to the way in which gaming machines are taxed in betting shops – nothing to do with betting on horse-racing or other sports – has resulted in the company paying increased tax receipts to the Government of around £1 million per month. So should we be crying in our prize-winning local milk over Ladbrokes’ announcement that half year profits were down by nearly 20%? 

The financial report paints a rosy picture of the industry’s future, despite the increased tax burden. The company made a profit of £73 million in the six months to 30th June and has been opening new betting shops on the high street. Shops that opened in 2010, at significant expense, have taken less than 3 years to pay for themselves and are already generating positive cash balances for the business.  

Last week shares in William Hill took a tumble on the back of disappointing trading figures, although they too are reported to be expanding their business – attempting to purchase the Tom Waterhouse betting operation in Australia. The off-course betting industry seems pretty healthy to me. 

In the meantime on-course betting businesses, including the Tote and traditional board-bookmakers, are facing an unusual threat from new European legislation. Imagine walking up to your chosen bookmaker in the Cartmel betting ring: “I’ll have £30 on Painted Sky at 66/1 please”. In future the bookmaker may turn around and say “Certainly, just complete this due-diligence form, provide two forms of identification and allow me to photocopy the details…” 

The ‘Fourth EU Money Laundering Directive’ proposes that all bookmakers should conduct due diligence investigations on all customers that are involved in cash transactions of 2,000 euros (£1,730) or more, including bets where they are paying out that amount. Earlier this year one Cartmel racegoer won more than £11,000 on the Tote Placepot for a stake of just £1.50 – I wonder whether all Tote customers would be required to complete ID checks prior to placing a bet? 

I dare say long-standing losing punters may be exempt – so if you are following my tips you’ll probably be fine. This Saturday I’m looking north to the 8.05 pm race at Ayr, where Algar Lad runs for local trainer Jim Goldie.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Blooming Marvellous

They are places where people come to enjoy the outdoors, we lavish thousands of hours of care and attention on the grass and we get the barbecues out when the sun shines – what is a racecourse if it isn’t a very large garden?

Some racecourses make better gardens than others. Fontwell Park, a track that I was associated with about 10 years ago, boasts a wonderful array of topiary and in 2002 we planted a yew sculpture of the Queen’s horse Monaveen in order to celebrate her Golden Jubilee. At this time of year the cherry-plumbs will be ripening on the trees in the back straight and large clouds of bright orange Montbretia will be in full bloom; in the Spring the inside of the track is home to a plethora of wild orchids. 

Of the Yorkshire tracks, Thirsk is famously pretty and York made a huge impact with an equine sculpture made out of fruit and veg. But it is Redcar that is my favourite. The main entrance, with a cemetery either side of the drive-way, isn’t the most promising in the world - but the allotments that lie adjacent to the finishing straight are a delight.

Among the tomatoes and courgettes you’ll see ramshackle sheds which have been cobbled together out of materials sourced from the racecourse skip – I’ve seen roofs made out of old signage with Ladbrokes and William Hill emblazoned across them and even walls made out of old number-boards baring the names George Duffield and Pat Eddery. 

At Goodwood this week they have unveiled a specially designed garden which is being used as a hospitality facility. If you happen to be watching on Saturday, I like Hoof It, who is now running off the same handicap rating that saw him victorious in the Stewards Cup two years ago. At 14/1, he makes each-way appeal. 

Meanwhile, in Cartmel this week, judges from the Royal Horticultural Society have been inspecting the village for the national Britain In Bloom contest. Flower borders have been primed, hanging baskets primped and the roads swept. Local children have presented the results of innovative school gardening projects schools and village traders, including the racecourse, have entered into the spirit by planting up their premises.

Last year Cartmel was awarded a silver-gilt award; this year we’re hoping to strike garden-gold!