Thursday, 28 August 2014

Cartmel - It's Sunnier Than You Think

And so we reach the end of another racing season… one in which the weather forecasters were often overly pessimistic. Despite predictions of hurricanes in July and stormy wet weather on Bank Holiday Monday, Cartmel stayed predominately dry. Our slogan next year will be Cartmel – it’s sunnier than you think.
Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans extolled the virtues of Cartmel on Wednesday morning. "It’s a tiny village," he said "which doesn’t need to be any bigger because everything in it is so perfect: shops which are so good they’re off the scale, L’Enclume – the restaurant which has just been voted the best in Britain, a massive priory - bigger than the rest of the village - and Cartmel races around the next corner." Perhaps we’ll make that slogan: Cartmel – it’s perfect, small and drier than you'd expect.
As if staging the classiest race ever programmed at Cartmel Racecourse wasn’t enough, we simply had to make the Bank Holiday races even more exciting for those working behind the scenes: so we blew the power supply just before the big race. It isn’t a test I’d like to implement very often, but the staff and contractors took everything in their stride.
Electricians set to work to identify and fix the problem, soon relaying the bad news that the main stand-by generator had also developed a fault. Houston… we have a problem…
David Groom, the racecourse’s P.A. technician, retrieved a mobile generator and powered up the PA system and the jockeys’ scales. Every jockey has to weigh out correctly before each race and the first four home have to weigh in afterwards – so we can’t continue racing unless the scales work. Electronic scales are one of the many wonders of the modern age - they are no more effective than the old mechanical scales, they are less beautiful than old mechanical scales and they don’t work in a power cut. But David Groom saved the day.
Unfortunately for our cleaners and plumbers, many of the toilets on the site are supplied with water by an electric pump. A pump too large and too complicated to be easily rigged up to a portable generator. Never has a team plunged and scrubbed and cleaned toilets with such energy. I am very grateful to all of them, as well as to our customers who demonstrated a generous degree of patience throughout.
From raceday stewards to the Clerk of the Course, from cleaners to PA technicians, everyone played their part in keeping the show on the road. When the electricians finally recovered full power, about one hour after the initial power-cut, there was still one race to run and everything was running to time: the races never missed a beat.
I am very appreciative of all the support we’ve enjoyed from racegoers this season, so as a special favour this week, I’ll not burden you with a tip for this weekend’s races. Instead, I'll leave you with next year's slogan: Cartmel Racecourse - it's small, dry, perfect and the team tries very hard.   

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Celebrating a Famous Coup

It will be forty years on Bank Holiday Monday since a group of conspirators executed one of the most famous betting coups in horseracing history – at Cartmel Racecourse. As you might expect, we shall be celebrating the event whilst we are racing this weekend.
The subject of the gamble was a horse called Gay Future, entered for the Ulverston Novices Hurdle by the Scottish permit holder Tony Collins. Cartmel was chosen very specifically – because the communication links between the track and the outside world were poor at best. The odds of horses running at Cartmel were not reported in real-time to the off-course betting shops. This meant that, in an age before mobile phones, the betting market on the racecourse could be manipulated to ensure that Gay Future’s starting price was as long as possible. The syndicate then went about placing their bets in high-street shops throughout the country, in anticipation of an inflated starting price.

In an effort to discourage racegoers at Cartmel from betting on Gay Future, the horse was covered in soap suds, making it appear as though he had sweated up on his way from the stables. Collins had another runner in the same race (Racionzer) and stable staff were instructed to back this horse in preference to Gay Future – so that it appeared he was the better fancied of the pair. Consequently, Gay Future started at the generous odds of 10/1 - before winning easily by two lengths.

Away from the racecourse, the conspirators placed their bets in a series of doubles and trebles (accumulator bets which require two or three horses to succeed) with unsuspecting bookmakers such as William Hill, Mecca and Ladbrokes. Poor old William Hill had only been in business for forty years at the time. This weekend they are celebrating their 80th anniversary; they are much older and wiser now – which is why they have chosen to sponsor the highest quality race ever to have been programmed at Cartmel – the £20,000 William Hill 80th Anniversary Handicap Hurdle on Bank Holiday Monday.
Unbeknown to the off-course bookmakers, the two horses coupled in bets with Gay Future (also trained by Collins) were always intended to be non-runners. This meant that all of the bets rolled on to Gay Future only. The downfall of the entire operation occurred when it transpired that Opera Cloak and Ankerwyke, who were supposed to be running at Southwell and Plumpton respectively, had never even left Scotland. On the advice of the Betting Office Licensees Association (BOLA) many bookmakers declined to pay out.

It was subsequently revealed that the real Gay Future had been prepared for the race in Ireland, while a less useful horse masqueraded as Gay Future at the Collins yard in Scotland - raising further questions from the sports governing body.

The plot was regarded by many as a superbly planned, but ultimately flawed coup. However, in a somewhat surprising turn of events, the conspirators were apprehended by the Police and charged with fraud. The judge, Justice Caulfield, who tried the case commented that he regarded the syndicate’s misdemeanour to be "very much at the bottom end of the scale" and handed out the lowest fine possible.

On Monday we shall be uniting Tony Collins with the two sons of Justice Caulfield - and interviewing them in the Parade Ring before racing commences. I don’t anticipate any massive coups, but I hope think Ballybough Gorta has an interesting handicap mark in the big race sponsored by William Hill.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Grade A in Racing Studies

Britain’s teenagers have been receiving their A-level results this week, proving once more what a brainy bunch they are. Apparently 26% of them have achieved an A or A* in their exams, whereas less than 10% received an A grade in my day - so the bookmakers had better watch out.

Having just turned 18, today’s school leavers are the newest recruits to the punting ranks and I’d expect them to be fully clued up. Unfortunately, having performed a quick poll of youngsters, it appears that Gambling Studies did not appear on the syllabus in most schools. What on earth do they teach them these days?

Even basic fractions such as 6/4, 11/2 and 33/1 seem to stump most students – so it is little wonder that Richard Glynn, the Chief Executive of Ladbrokes raised concerns about the future of betting on horseracing when he announced his own set of results to the stock exchange on Tuesday. Glynn, who has been allocated a D grade (must do better - walloped by William Hill) from city analysts, warned that horseracing is becoming a mystery to young people.  

So, in the interests of education, here are a few betting facts for those planning to attend Cartmel races on Saturday 23rd August and Bank Holiday Monday 25th August: 

The feature race on Saturday is sponsored by the Tote. They offer "pool betting" at the racecourse – similar to a sweepstake. All the money staked by punters (except a share retained by the Tote) is divided between the winning punters. The resultant "dividend" is declared after each race. Racegoers can place different types of bet – for the horses to win, to be placed, win or place (called each-way), or to specify the first and second horses in the correct order (an exacta) and so on. 

The feature race on Monday will be sponsored by William Hill – the biggest bookmaker in Britain, who will be celebrating 80 years of business by supporting the classiest race ever to be run at Cartmel – a Class 2 handicap hurdle, open only to horses which achieved an A grade in their most recent exams. Betting shops have only been legal since 1961, demonstrating how William Hill have achieved an "A" for adaptability during their four-score years. 

According to the betting industry, 37.5% of favourites have won their races during the current financial year - an unusually high proportion. Statistics being what they are, that probably means that we should expect more outsiders to win in the second half of the year. I still believe that Jimmy Moffatt’s Dumbarton looks like a winner waiting to happen - and he should fit the "outsider" criteria – so he is this weekend’s selection in the 5.15 at Perth on Saturday. 
If you hurry, there is just enough time to secure a discount of £2 per ticket by booking your tickets for Cartmel online, in advance, at While the advance booking system closes at midnight on Sunday, full price tickets will be available at the entrance on each raceday.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Roger Bannister, My Dad and Me

My father once ran in a race against Roger Bannister and Roger Bannister finished second. 
There were other people in the race too and history doesn’t record the exact finishing position of my father. I know it wasn't first, but that never mattered much to me as a child. The class of the race was obviously so high that even the legendary Roger Bannister, breaker of the 4 minute mile, didn’t prevail. But, the source of my pride - my dad – he was there. 
My father died this week, unlocking a hoard of childhood memories and a dawning recognition of the debt that I owe – who I am, what I do, the person that I aspire to be.
He taught me to gamble whilst at Charing point-to-point and he read me the novels of Dick Francis, igniting a passion for horseracing that seems destined never to fade. His own passion for breeding and showing cattle taught me to dream. And if gambling and dreaming are considered faults, they are faults that I am glad to live with. 
In 1988, when I fancied Cavvies Clown, he impressed me by tipping Charter Party for the Gold Cup two weeks before the event. Charter Party won at 10/1. Although he didn’t gamble much himself, he liked to back the outsider of three when visiting the racecourse. In the racing industry we tend not to like three runner fields, believing that they are bad for betting turnover. Privately, I have always enjoyed three runner events; riding tactics take on added importance and there is a sharpened definition between the underdog and the favourite. I can’t watch one without thinking of my father. 
An unwaveringly fair man, he never failed to examine both sides of a coin. If Kipling had dedicated a poem to my father, it would be “If” – once voted the nation’s favourite poem by BBC listeners. If ever there was a man who knew how to treat the twin imposters of triumph and disaster, that was my dad. Yes, he could keep his head; yes, he could dream; yes, he would risk his winnings (although more usually by buying cattle - not horses) and yes, he could talk with crowds. 
He filled the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run – his was the earth and everything that’s in it – he was my father – and I am very proud to be his son.