Thursday, 24 December 2015

Twas The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Course,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a horse;
The stockings were hung in the grandstand with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there;
As the Cumbrian rain made the track even wetter,
I hoped that Santa had found my short letter...

Dear Father Christmas (it began),

We have left plenty of bedding and some hay in the stables for your reindeer; I'm sure that they'll need a bit of a break on your way around the World. Please note that this goes against all of the BHA's general instructions, so I hope that Dasher, Prancer, Blitzen & Co have got their vaccination certificates up to date.

I've been really well behaved this year and, although the racing tips haven't been especially good, I hope that you might consider granting a gift or two to the team here at the racecourse.

Ideally I'd like to order some really fine weather for next Summer. I don't know if this is within your powers, but I remain optimistic. In anticipation, could we also have another couple of furlongs of irrigation pipe, some sunglasses and plenty of sun screen?

Jimmy Moffatt would like a filly to run in all our mares' races next Summer. There will be some reasonable prize money on offer, so please could you make her quite decent? He's going to have a lot more horses when Highland Lodge wins the Grand National, so could he have a few extra muck forks and wheelbarrows too?

Instead of the usual pound coin in the toe of my stocking, I wondered whether you'd consider giving me a betting slip instead? Please could it have the name Vautour written at the top and King George VI Chase, Boxing Day, underneath? If it was possible to make it for several times more than one pound, I don't think I'll need much else.

Many thanks and good luck,

Jonathan & the racecourse ticket pixies.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Simply Red at Simply Cartmel

Simply Red are coming to play Cartmel races in May. I know, who’d have thought!

I received the phone call confirming the gig this morning. Mindful of the recent prank played on Elton John, by someone pretending to be Vladimir Putin, I was suspicious at first; but this person didn’t sound much like the Russian President and Elton never calls me before midday. 
The line was a bit fuzzy. “Hay… pfff, Gold… pfff” went the voice. “Haydock?” I asked, “Jim Goldie?” Now that was a coincidence - I was just planning to make Jim Goldie’s Plus Jamais my selection for Haydock’s meeting on Saturday. The problem was: The voice at the other end didn’t sound much like Jim Goldie. And it can’t have been my bookmaker… I’ve asked him to stop calling me at work.
The voice cut in again, “Hey – I’ve got a golden opportunity for you…” It was Jason from Cuffe and Taylor; my heart sank: The guys at Cuffe and Taylor are very pleasant and all that; what they don’t know about staging live music events isn’t worth knowing. It’s just that I don’t think any of them know much about Jim Goldie’s horses.
“We’ve got Simply… pfff…” We were cut off. Simply what-did-he-say? Simply The Best? I turned to the girls in the office, “I think Tina Turner is coming to Cartmel” I said. They looked quite pleased, although I wasn’t sure about Naomi. She might not be a Tina Turner fan.

The phone rang again. “Simply Red want to play at your new race-day; the one on Saturday 28th May” said Jason. “Great,” I said. “You mean the real Simply Red, not a tribute band - like Simply Pink or anything?”

“No, the real Simply Red – not Simply Pink, Simply Purple, Deep Purple, Deacon Blue or even Barry White. Simply Red are coming to Cartmel, tickets are going on sale through Ticketline on Friday, although your annual members can come in for free – as the band will take to the stage straight after racing. It’ll be a fantastic way to start the season.”
“Wow!” I said. “I know,” replied Jason “you’re so pfff…  jammy.” 
Jamais? I thought; Did he just say Plus Jamais? Turns out those Cuffe and Taylor guys know more about horses than I thought. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Let the Business Flood In

In the fields adjacent to Lake Windermere the water shifts in wide unseen courses beneath the turf - like a large sub-cutaneous injection or an abscess on a horse’s knee. If the analogy sounds revolting, it is meant to: the instability of the ground is unnaturally creepy and disconcerting. 

Elsewhere, people have had to move out of flooded homes, while unfortunate businesses have been forced to close temporarily. The Swan Hotel & Spa, situated in a beautiful location close to the south end of Lake Windermere, was just one of several properties that found the water too close for comfort last weekend. It is one of the most popular local hotels, produces excellent food and also happens to sponsor generously at Cartmel Racecourse each season; for many good reasons, we wish the managers the best of fortune and hope they’ll be able to reopen very soon. 

But Cumbria is not closed. In fact the weather on Monday, as I strolled around Cartmel in my shirtsleeves, was almost balmy. The shops were open, the pubs were open and the Christmas lights were on, despite messages from North West Electric to use their power sparingly.

Sadly, as Cartmel’s shopkeepers optimistically tended their tills, customers there were few. The reason was obvious: According to the e-mails in my inbox and the texts on my phone, we must be drowned, depressed and drummed into submission: everyone has seen it on the news. 

Except the camera lies. Secretly, all Cumbrians have been quietly counting their winnings from Jimmy Moffatt’s famous win in the Becher Chase at a rain-sodden Aintree last Saturday (except for me of course, because I’m not really a Cumbrian and I tipped Pineau De Re). Don’t tell anyone, but we’re all wondering how to get enough money on Highland Lodge for the Grand National next April, without wrecking the odds. Did you hear about the £50 million pledged by the Government to help Cumbrian flood victims? It’s all going on Highland Lodge.

And just to prove that the racing industry is thriving in Cumbria, the team at Carlisle Racecourse has decided to open the gates for free for racing this Sunday. Which is especially nice if you want to go and watch Jimmy’s next winner: Quel Elite in the Pertemps Hurdle Qualifier.  

So, if you’ve been thinking about coming to Cartmel for a spot of Christmas shopping, backing a winner at Carlisle or simply enjoying a lunch in one of those incomparable Cumbrian pubs, forget the news: Cumbria is open for business.   

Friday, 4 December 2015

May the Force be with You

I saw the Star Wars movie this week. No, not The Force Awakens, the latest in the franchise, I mean the first one made in 1977. Heavens! What drivel. 

After 38 years of successfully avoiding the inevitable, I was finally forced by a seven-year old to sit down for two hours (which I’ll never be able to live again) and watch as Luke Skywalker battled the heavy-breathing bloke in black, who (according to wikipedia) subsequently turns out to be his Dad, while saving the girl of his dreams, who is actually his twin sister. It sounds like a case for Jeremy Kyle. 

How on Earth (or Alderaan, Tatooine or even the planet Naboo) did anyone imagine that it would be worth making another six or possibly even eight films? It made me feel sorry for the underrated Flash Gordon, produced just 35 years ago with a similarly flimsy plot line – but with immeasurably more fun and better music, despite the best efforts of the London Symphony Orchestra who played for the Star Wars team.

But Flash Gordon isn’t the only star to suffer from a lack of recognition. In an ironic twist of fate, it turns out (according to a poll published in the Sunday Times last week) that Luke Skywalker is only the fifth most popular character in his own film, accumulating less than half of the votes accorded to Han Solo and only three quarters of the votes attributed to the baddy Darth Vader - or the Daft Waiter, as my daughter likes to call him. 

Fame is a fickle friend and there is no accounting for where she (or he) will settle. So it was interesting to read the comments attributed to Sara Bradstock, assistant trainer of Coneygree, in the Racing Post Online on Monday. “I want him to be considered great,” she said of last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. “I don’t mind if he’s compared to Denman but prefer it to be Arkle.”  

Such comments could be considered blasphemous by some fans of the sport – as Arkle set a standard that few believe will ever be equalled (even by the Grand National winning Pineau De Re, our selection in the Becher Chase this Saturday). And yet, in a recent poll of 5,000 members of the public, conducted on behalf of the racing industry, just 5% recognised Arkle’s name as belonging to a racehorse.  

Clearly racing (by which I mean racecourse management teams, racehorse trainers, the governing bodies, bookmakers and racing enthusiasts) has a huge job to do to educate our friends and family (and anyone else who will listen) with regard to the history of racing and those that deserve legendary status. Fortunately, a knowledge of racing is no barrier to enjoying a great day out at the races - and bringing your friends racing is a great way to get them interested in a passion that can last for life.  .  

So: Good luck to the Bradstocks (and thank you for trying): I hope Coneygree fares better than Skywalker in his quest for fame. May the force be with you.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Racing Network

Speak to anyone involved in the racing industry and, more likely than not, you’ll find that they navigate their way around the country via racecourses. So Brighton, Worcester and York are all pretty easy cities to find; Cambridge is somewhere on the way to Newmarket and London (which is apparently quite a big place) is relatively close to Epsom, Sandown and Kempton. 

Naturally, one needs to be careful: Folkestone isn’t very near to Folkestone Racecourse (especially now that it's closed) and Bangor Racecourse is miles away from Bangor, although it is just a stone’s throw from Bangor-on-Dee, a quaint village, significantly lacking in airports, cathedrals and universities. 

North of Perth, navigation becomes tricky. Racecourses are thin on the ground (okay, they’re non-existent), but the territory is rich in landmarks named after famous horses: There’s a mountain called Ben Nevis, another called Arkle; they even named Scottish towns after the dual winner of the Schweppes Gold Trophy (Rosyth), the 1977 Oaks and St Leger winner (Dunfermline) and a port in the Orkney Islands after the winner of the 2002 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (Stromness).  

But don’t just think about racecourses as a series of points on a map, racecourses are linking people together in more meaningful ways too. Yes, there are networking events to be attended, but I’m not thinking about race-day corporate hospitality, nor even the dear old Chamber of Commerce, valuable though these occasions are. I’m talking about superfast broadband. 

Once BT have finished connecting fibre optic cable across the country, I’m told that a significant number of rural properties in Cumbria will still be unable to access superfast broadband. That’s why we’ve just signed an agreement with a company called Kencomp, who are installing wireless equipment to the top of our grandstand, which will bounce high frequency broadband signals to residents and businesses in the less accessible areas around the Cartmel Peninsula. The equipment will form part of a network which will ensure reliable coverage across to Coniston and beyond. 

It means that more people will be able to live and work in the area. The days of the big commute will be over: No longer will the young people of Cumbria be forced to leave home to seek work in the giant conurbations. You know: the ones near Haydock and Aintree...

It’ll open opportunities for entrepreneurs to launch businesses from home, to spend their money in the local shops and place their bets* on Saphir Du Rheu, our selection for Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup, online.

* Subject to the bookmaker being a Cartmel Racecourse sponsor and having BHA Authorised Betting Partner Status. Entrepreneurs must be aged 18 or over to place bets. Players are reminded that your investment may go down as well as up - especially if past performance is any guide (which it isn't).

Friday, 20 November 2015

Ask Yourself Three Questions

I was up before dawn this morning, which sounds virtuous but is getting quite easy to do at this time of year. A thought hit me… Assuming that I live to be 80, which might be a bit optimistic depending on how many sticky toffee puddings I eat, I should have another 306 race-days to enjoy at Cartmel.  

I hope that someone else will be in charge by then, because I doubt I’ll be able to keep up with our Clerk of the Course (Anthea Morshead) when she walks the track. The only thing is: 306 doesn’t seem very many does it? 

We’re busy planning now for next season and experience tells me that we’ll get to March and then it’ll all be over like a flash: I’ll only have 297 left. Now I don’t want to get gloomy about this, Cartmel race-days are a joy and I won't benefit from counting them down as if they’re the last biscuits in the tin. It’s just that knowing there are so few makes it all the more important that we appreciate them to the full.   

With this in mind, I need you to ask yourself these three questions: Have I bought myself an annual members badge yet? Have I blocked off all the race dates in my diary?  Have I invited all my friends and family to come along too?

And when it comes to race-day, it’s important to enjoy every live-enhancing moment as it happens: Give your parents / children / grandchildren a hug when you arrive; savour the English Lakes Ice Cream before it slips off the end of the cone and, as you pass your money to the bookmaker, don’t forget to kiss it goodbye – because you might see it again, but that would just be a bonus.

The same goes for all the big events in the calendar, like Christmas Day, Birthdays and Cheltenham Gold Cup Day. Enjoy them all, knowing that they are a finite resource – and amplify the enjoyment by getting excited in advance: Buy yourself an advent calendar, write a letter to Santa and get a tenner on Saphir Du Rheu now, before he wins the Hennessy next week.

While you’re at it, have a modest punt on this week’s selection: the outstandingly handicapped Bold Sir Brian who has been off the track a while, but should start at a big price in the Betfair sponsored Fixed Brush Hurdle, at Haydock, on Saturday.

I’m hoping that I’ll see at least another 34 Grand Nationals and I’m delighted to be able to give you the winner for the 2021 race now. His name is Sky Lino and, trained by Nick Williams, he appeared in a Juvenile Hurdle at Bangor last week.

Having lost his jockey and galloped an extra mile before the race, the massively framed gelding pulled like a train – all the way to the second last hurdle, where he eventually tired and finished second. At some point during the next six years, I’m sure he’ll learn to chill, enjoy the moment and stay four and a half miles.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

No Product Placement Here

Is there anything more satisfying, after a chill Winter’s day at the races, than a Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding? A spoonful of comfort and warmth, mingled with the distant memory of a Summer afternoon spent on a picnic blanket in the centre of Cartmel Racecourse.

That’s one of the many things that I love about Winter – like settling down to watch Ski-Sunday with a glass of Louis Roederer Champagne and a small dish of Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimps from Furness Fish & Game. 

Fortunately, here at Cartmel Racecourse, these things are fairly close to hand. But fear not… if you don't have a fully stocked cupboard at home, you can now order a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne or a Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding to be delivered, together with your annual membership badges, in time for Christmas.

The Cartmel Annual Membership badge admits the holder to all nine Cartmel race-days (including free parking on those days) as well as 44 other specified events at other racecourses throughout Britain and Ireland. It makes a great Christmas gift and is a bargain at just £130.

If you have nothing to drink Champagne out of, you could always purchase one of our Cartmel branded “Handsome Beast” or “Fine Filly” mugs – also suitable for tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Simply call the racecourse office, before 14th December, to order yours now for Christmas

Need more gift ideas for your racing obsessed friends? A couple of recently published books have just dropped through the blog's letterbox for review, both of them captivating and lengthy enough to keep a spouse quiet until the end of Boxing Day (or longer, assuming they stop to watch the racing from Kempton).

Beckhampton – the men and horses of a great racing stable  - is by Paul Mathieu, probably the most eloquent racing historian in the business. If you’ve ever wondered whether Frankel was really the best racehorse in history (and if he wasn't which horse might have been), or how it happened that King George VI came to own the winners of four Classic races during the middle of the Second World War, this is the book for you. It’s available now from Racing Post books.  

Alternatively (or perhaps additionally), if you want to know what goes on inside a horse's head, then you need a copy of Marten Julian’s Strictly Classified. Marten has spoken to many, perhaps most, of the World’s top horsemen to find out what makes their minds tick in synchronicity with their equine companions. The result is a fascinating insight into the world of racehorse training; sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always enlightening. 
If you’ve never come across Marten Julian before, you should know that he also produces an annual publication entitled Dark Horses, detailing dozens of little known horses which are soon to become big race winners. He doesn't mention Sausalito Sunrise in this year's edition - which is a shame because he's my selection at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Please note, the above items have been tried, rigorously tested and approved by the Cartmel office staff. Unfortunately we can't promise to mention every product that is sent for the blog-spot's attention...
Next week : Fine whiskies & super-cars.  Anyone?

Friday, 6 November 2015

All Change

I only went away for ten days. Even so, I feel lucky to have found my way safely back to the racecourse after the continental plates of racing shifted while I was on holiday. 

The first clue that something odd was happening was when I read that Frankie Dettori (the Italian born flat-racing jockey, who lives in England) had been penalised for his riding on Max Dynamite (trained by the Irish Jumps Champion Willie Mullins) in the Melbourne Cup, Australia. Weird, I know. They finished second. 

But in even more ground-breaking events, the Racecourse Association voted in favour of signing a document called the Members’ Agreement alongside the British Horseracing Authority and the Horsemen’s Group (who represent owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys and stable staff). The agreement sets out for the first time, in black and white, how decisions affecting the industry should be made between the three parties. 
It may all sound terrifically dull to the casual racegoer, but the agreement creates a framework for the key stakeholders to make the industry better… A bit like taking a bunch of random musicians and giving them all a copy of the same musical score. At Cartmel we might be compared to the guy holding the triangle at the far back corner of the stage, but even so, we look forward to receiving our sheet music.
It’s just as well that the sport is pulling together because, in less earth-shattering news, the Levy Board failed to agree a structure for the betting industry’s financial contribution to horse racing as part of the next levy scheme. While the proportion of profits paid by bookmakers with high-street betting shops is reasonably well established, the amount paid by online operators based overseas is not: some are willing to contribute, others only want a free ride. 
Part of the BHA’s plan to create Authorised Betting Partners is to encourage punters to play only with bookmakers that play fair with racing - and avoid those that avoid paying the levy. The plans are already being questioned by Paddy Power, which suggests that they are one of those bookmakers that resent paying a fair price for the product. If you’re not sure what to back this Saturday, I’m going to suggest that you keep an eye on Creepy at Kelso.
Closer to home, events have conspired to change the Cartmel landscape forever - following the death of two members of our race-day team. Both Bruce Lodge and Robin Webster were aware that they had terminal illnesses, but both insisted on reporting for duties at Cartmel throughout the racing season. A large contingent of Bruce’s friends and colleagues will be gathering at the Grandstand this afternoon (Friday) to drink to his memory and tell stories – of which there will be many.
Apparently Bruce’s only regret was that he’d have preferred to have died beneath the hooves of one of the loose horses he caught occasionally at Cartmel. While there are many wonderful things that I would have wished for Bruce, I’m altogether quite relieved that he didn’t get his way.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Big Betting Freeze

While the mild Autumn in Cumbria is already helping to mend the scars inflicted on the turf by our recent drainage works, there is a distinct chill settling in London. Ladbrokes are offering odds of just 7/1 about a white Christmas – presumably because of the frosty atmosphere hovering over the offices of the British Horseracing Authority in Holborn. 

The BHA announced on Tuesday that all bookmakers, accepting bets on British racing, will be required to pay a levy or similar voluntary payment in order to become an Authorised Betting Partner of British racing. We don’t yet know exactly what the benefits of being an authorised partner will be – but one of the drawbacks of declining the partnership scheme is that it will become more difficult to generate publicity through race sponsorship. 

Jockey Club Racecourses and ARC Racecourses have signalled that they will not agree to any new deals with non-partner bookmakers. I wonder if their sponsorship departments have already tied up all the major sponsorship contracts that would have terminated in the near future. That’s certainly what I would have done if I’d known an announcement of this nature was heading down the line. 

Cartmel benefits from sponsorship agreements with three betting operators and, needless to say, they are all vital to the development of our race programme. Betfair has already been acknowledged as an Authorised Betting Partner and their support for Cartmel is underwritten by a recognised grass-roots funding programme.  

Betfred (incorporating the Tote) and Coral, the other two bookmakers to sponsor here, support our most valuable races - including a number of relatively new Class 2 and 3 events. Both organisations are contributors to the £4.5 million additional voluntary contribution (AVC Fund), which has boosted prize money for races, throughout Britain, down to sixth place and beyond this year. Negotiations to develop this scheme, or similar ones, will hopefully result in their securing partner status too. 

To some observers the latest developments will appear as a provocative action against some of racing’s biggest customers: Pay up – or else we’ll cut off our nose to spite both our faces. But the key lies in the word partner: For bookmakers are racing’s most natural and potentially beneficial partners; it makes sense for us to work together.

And while some bookmakers pay a voluntary contribution based on revenue from their digital platforms, others are getting a free ride altogether – paying nothing for the privilege of using our product while freely promoting their services throughout British racing. 

There are bound to be some sensitive discussions ahead of the 1st January deadline. Nick Rust (the BHA Chief Executive), who has first hand experience of life in the top echelons of the betting industry, will be attempting to convince his old pals at Ladbrokes and Coral that it makes sense to put some distance between themselves and the non-contributors.

I won't be taking 7/1 about a white Christmas (our weekly selection is Karezak at Cheltenham this weekend). I hope there'll be a thaw in relations in time for the Coral sponsored Welsh National at Chepstow on 27th December. 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

My Week - Coneygree

(as imagined by Jonathan Garratt)

I had a nice Summer break thanks. But now it’s all work, work, work. Have you ever noticed how, even when you win a Gold Cup, you’re hardly ever allowed to eat out of it?

Apparently I’m too fat anyway – for every bowl of oats I have to do an extra gallop. I’m supposed to be getting fit for my first outing of the season, which could be at Carlisle on 1st November. It’s one of those graduation races which means that, even though I’m the best horse in the country, most of the other good horses won’t be allowed to run because it’s only for horses in their first or second season over fences.

It’s in the media today... They (the boss and other humans) want to win another Gold Cup, but this time it’s got to be a Hennessy one – like the one Carruthers (my half brother) won a few years ago at Newbury. You can fit a lot more oats in it.

The nice people from Jockey Club Racecourses have been in touch to ask why I’m not trying to scoop their million pound bonus for winning the Betfair Chase, King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup in a single season. It’s very kind of them, but really – oats are all I need.

Apparently you can buy a lot of oats for a million pounds, we might enter that race at Haydock after all.

Don Cossack is running at Punchestown today. The bookies make him 8/1 for the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the same price as me - Neighhhh. I’m more worried about Vautour – he’s just 4/1 for the Gold Cup and he’s only had three runs over fences. I hope he doesn’t turn up at Carlisle. Perhaps he won't know where it is. Come to that, does anyone know where Carlisle is?

I’ve been told that Carlisle is just a bit further north than Cartmel – I’ve always wanted to visit Cartmel; could someone tell the boss?

Never mind the million pound bonus for winning three major races with a combined distance of nearly ten miles, the horses at Ascot today don’t have to jump any obstacles and are competing for more than four million pounds. And get this: some of them don’t even have to run a whole mile!

As the boss says, it’s not all about the money – it’s the romance that counts… and the oats.

We all won loads of money when Clever Cookie won the stayers race at Ascot yesterday, so I’m going to buy some more oats. Clever Cookie is trained by Peter Niven who is probably more familiar with Carlisle than Ascot, but he was tipped in the Cartmel blog-spot – so we dived in. Nice place Cartmel. Hope to visit one day…

Friday, 9 October 2015

Superheroes of Turf Supervision

Congratulations to the team at Huntingdon Racecourse, who have won the Jumps Racecourse Ground Staff of the Year Award for the second time in three years, narrowly pushing Cartmel and Worcester into the joint runners-up position.

Well done! And no hard feelings at all. Honestly. I have almost, nearly, completely forgotten the day (back in 1988) when the gate-staff at Huntingdon charged me twice for admission on the same day – once on arrival and a second time after mistakenly visiting the centre of the course, without a pass-out ticket, to watch the first race. If anyone from Huntingdon reads this, I reckon I’m owed about £33.25 including compound interest at 5% per annum over 27 years – but really, it’s nothing. Forgotten already! Congratulations with the award and all that… 

Gary Sharp (the Head Groundsman at Cartmel) and his team are justifiably proud to have been commended by the judges – who included representatives from the BHA’s racecourse inspectorate, the National Trainers’ Federation and the sponsors Pitchcare. Gary runs a small team, consisting of just one other full time groundsman, Martyn Fogg, and several dedicated seasonal workers and local contractors. Together they have worked hard to prepare the track to ever-improving standards. 

The fruits of their labour have been evident this Summer: a season in which we staged more days racing than ever before; introduced a new 2-day June meeting; hosted a record number of runners on the track and welcomed the highest rated horses ever to grace the Cartmel turf. The obstacles were so beautifully presented that, from 467 starters, we witnessed just five fallers and nine unseated riders during the entire season. The track really did look as good in advance of the final meeting, in August, as it did prior to the first race-day in May.

While Cartmel might not be the shortest circuit in the country, the nature of the track means that each horse traverses the south bend between two and four times in each race. That means that the equivalent of 1,193 horses went around the bend within the 99 day duration of our short season. That’s a lot of divots to repair and there’ll be even more next year when we have nine race-days - which makes me think that Gary could soon acquire superhero status... Which probably means that the team at Huntingdon are already superheroes; perhaps they’ve recruited the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, or the X-Men, in disguise? 

Either way, it sheds new light on the true identity of our own hard-working Clerk of the Course who also supervises activities at Kelso and York (where this weekend’s selection is Gracious John in the Rockingham Stakes).  

As well as being associated with our runner-up award for the best Jumps grounds-team, she can also claim a jewel in her tiara for her efforts at York Racecourse, the much deserved winners of this year’s Flat Racecourse Ground Staff of the Year Award. Step forward, that mysterious mistress of award winning turf management: Anthea “Wonder Woman” Morshead.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A Tip of Patriotic Prejudice

And all the world over, each nation's the same
They've simply no notion of playing the game

They argue with umpires, they cheer when they've won
Flanders and Swann
And they practice beforehand which ruins the fun!

So sang Flanders and Swann in their Song of Patriotic Prejudice, the chorus to which modestly opines: The English, the English, the English are best; I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest. I sang it loud and proud for the first 75 minutes of last Saturday’s match against Wales, before conveniently remembering that I actually have a great-grandfather who is buried at Llandaff Cathedral.

If it turns out that the England rugby team should scrape through to the quarter finals of the World Cup, there is a reasonable chance that they will face Scotland at Twickenham and I have a fall back position there too: No Scottish ancestors, but a great love of whisky... And if that isn’t enough, I have several younger relatives with Scottish passports, which practically ensures that I qualify for my own tartan.

Yes, it might hurt, but I am prepared for just about any result - except losing to Australia. There’s no Australian blood in my family; in fact I don’t think there are any convicts at all, unless you include a few counts of shoplifting pick-n-mix sweets in the early seventies – the evidence of which disappeared pretty quickly. 

Then there’s the French. Now I love France; I love the wine, the café culture, the food (especially the foie gras), the wine, the women (but obviously not since meeting my wife), the countryside, the mountains, the beaches and the wine. They even have some lovely racecourses. But that doesn’t mean that I have to support the admirable French trained, dual Arc-winning, Treve – especially when the flower of the English, the Derby winner Golden Horn, has been supplemented in opposition.  

I almost wrote the English Derby, but that would have been pointless. Because, while there are other Derbys (French ones, Irish ones, Kentucky ones), there really is only one that matters. It is a measure of how great we English are, that our Derby winners require no prefix. So come on Golden Horn (the selection for Sunday’s Arc De Triomphe); come on the England rugby team:  

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

(Shakespeare - Henry V)

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Feeling Better than Jeffrey Bernard

I am sitting at home feeling unwell. Not the Jeffrey Bernard sort of unwell, the result of nights of excess in Soho - but a boring, coughing, sort of unwell, whereby the doctor has told me to stay in bed.

Jeffrey Bernard wrote for The Sporting Life (before and after being sacked in 1971) and famously enjoyed the company of many women while over-indulging in strong spirits. A play was written about his life: Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, written by Keith Waterhouse and set in a pub, where Bernard (played by various great actors including Peter O Toole, Tom Conti and more recently by John Hurt for radio), has mistakenly been locked in the bar overnight. The title refers to the line that would appear in The Spectator magazine when his regular column did not. 

It happened that Jeffrey Bernard, who was alive and well when the play was first performed, died during the same week as Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. The scene at the pearly gates could have been the basis for a great joke, although I have no idea what the punch line would have been – something about pure spirits for sure. 

In any case, you’ll understand now why I couldn’t just ignore the blog this week and post the note “Jonathan Garratt is unwell”. It would have created quite the wrong impression and, honestly, my life is not nearly so exciting. While sitting at home, I am working on next year’s race programme and waiting for the Levy Board’s auction, where racecourses are expected to bid for the right to receive prize money grants for selected race-days.

There are some days in the racing calendar when the BHA permits more race-meetings to take place than the Levy Board feels is optimal for the off-course betting industry. Bank Holidays are a good example – they are a great day to attract visitors to the races all over the country, but there are only so many races that are required on the screens of the betting shops. So the Levy Board sets a funding criteria, stating how many fixtures they will award prize money grants to.

Confusingly, to determine which fixtures receive the grants, racecourses have to bid using prize money. If there are three prize grants on offer, the three courses to pledge the highest total prize funds will secure the grants. It is a competitive process with some racecourses upping their bid several times.

Since the process was introduced, it is noticeable that the programme of racing on Bank Holidays has improved too – which is good news for horses like Alderbrook Lad (last seen just failing to get the distance over an extended 3 miles at Cartmel’s August Bank Holiday Meeting) who is our selection for a valuable chase at Market Rasen on Saturday.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Angry Bishop

The Magna Carta doesn’t specifically mention Cartmel races, but without one of the charter’s key instigators, our seasonal festival of picnics, funfair and horseracing probably wouldn’t exist. 

William the Marshal, described by one thirteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury as “the best Knight that ever lived”, was a supporter of the embattled King John before becoming Regent (administering the state on behalf of Henry II, who was too young to do so himself) in 1216. In addition to reissuing several copies of Magna Carta, to which he was a signatory, he founded a Priory in Cartmel. 

It was the monks from the Priory who first started racing on the peninsula. There is a document, somewhere in the vaults of York Minster, which records a visit paid to Cartmel by the Bishop of York. Having crossed the sands of Morecambe Bay on foot, the Bishop was mightily displeased to discover that there was no reception committee – the monks having bunked off to enjoy a day of sports, including races, on the nearby park. 

Today the link between Cartmel Racecourse and Cartmel Priory remains as strong as ever and the vicar, the Reverend Nick Devenish, holds an additional responsibility as Chaplain to the Races. Each year, on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday weekend, the Priory hosts a special service to celebrate the races – after which Nick Devenish blesses a racehorse outside the main porch. The congregation has been swelled in recent years by racegoers who have journeyed from afar to visit the races – a different type of pilgrim from those that accompanied the Bishop across the bay, but pilgrims none the less. 

And next weekend, Saturday 26th September and Sunday 27th September, the village will be celebrating its connection with William the Marshal – hosting a series of events including a “living history” medieval encampment, tournée and fayre. There will be archers, sword fights and a “grand melee”, which sounds a bit like the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, but with weapons. 

The Magna Carta 800 event also features a flower festival inside the Priory and a son et lumiére (projected light show and music) at dusk within the Priory grounds. Tickets for the Tournée Field can be bought on the day or booked in advance. Up to two children will be admitted free with each adult.  The son et lumiére can be viewed by everyone free of charge from Friday evening until Monday evening. 

We’ll be joining in with the Magna Carta celebration on the basis that it has helped to inform this week’s tip. After all: The Magna Carta strengthened the authority of  William the Marshal. William the Marshal founded the Priory. The Priory gave a home to the monks. The monks gave us the romantic heritage of the races. And it is the romantic heritage of the race that suggests to me that Jack Dexter is finally going to get his head in front in the Ayr Gold Cup on Saturday.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Winning Barefoot

There is a saying amongst farriers and paddock watchers: an ounce on the foot is worth a pound on the back.  

It means that when you’re eyeing up a horse before a race, you should always look at its feet: shiny aluminium shoes indicate that the trainer is taking the race seriously; massive hulks of steel may suggest that today isn’t expected to be the day. 

But now it seems that we should also check out the jockeys’ feet too. Having arrived late at Goodwood two weeks ago, Seb Sanders was short of time to shed weight, and so resorted to running Zola Budd like (without boots), into the Parade Ring. Of course Zola didn’t have to worry about having her toes squashed by a horse and was therefore not breaking the Pony Club code of conduct. 

Many other jockeys have faced the Seb Sanders dilemma. On a nostalgic visit to Cartmel last week, the ex-jockey JP McNamara recalled sprinting on the spot, inside the sauna, having been delayed by the Bank Holiday traffic. And a point-to-point jockey of my acquaintance (who shall remain nameless, but might even be related to me) once went blood-doning in order to avoid putting up overweight. 

There are other jockeys that have ridden sans shoes: Apparently when Pierre-Charles Boudot was reprimanded by the stewards for doing so in Japan, he replied “We often ride barefoot in France”. Perhaps they do, but to have ridden Barefoot in Britain, you needed to have been born before 1823, which is when the horse of that name won the Great St Leger... 

The race was notable for the number of false starts. After the first two failed efforts to get the horses away, the jockeys were successfully recalled; but on the third attempt, twenty-three of the twenty-seven runners ran the full course. Barefoot, ridden by Tom Goodisson at 13/1, was beaten into second place, by a head, in the void race.

Barefoot, winner of the St Leger 1823 
He was then installed as the 4/1 second favourite for the re-run, staged only a short while later, that very same afternoon. With fifteen of the original runners withdrawn, Barefoot won easily by two lengths. 

The World’s oldest classic has a rich history and has thrown up plenty of shock results in its time, but this weekend I’m going to stick with a fancied runner: Storm The Stars and jockey Pat Cosgrave will show a clean pair of heels to the field.

It’s 192 years since Tom Goodison won riding Barefoot, but I’d recommend that you take a good look at Pat Cosgrave’s feet just in case.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Fun, Safe & Sexy - Now Available in Cartmel

“We’ve enjoyed ourselves so much, we just don’t want to go home.” It’s a common refrain at the end of a race-day and it’s one of the reasons why we always have a day-off in the middle of each two-day meeting. The extra time allows racegoers to conclude their festivities without being hassled to move, while affording our litter-pickers the opportunity to clear up the following day. 

Since we launched the race-day camp site, some racegoers don’t go home at all. At least not until the Tuesday morning, following a Bank Holiday weekend. The shops, restaurants and pubs have been heaving in Cartmel all weekend. But even now, I am beginning to hear the age-old question:  “Can we stay a while longer?”  

Fortunately I have a solution… And it is one which has become highly fashionable this year. According to an article in The Times, British holiday makers are increasingly investing in static caravans and holiday lodges because we’re “looking for fun, safety and sex.” A psychologist, Corinne Sweet, is quoted explaining why we all need a “sanity break” and how we’ve become a nation of “staycationers”. 

Nearly a quarter of those asked said that they bought holiday properties in Britain to avoid driving in another country. Two thirds said that they felt less stressed since they had made their purchase and a whopping three quarters thought that it had brought the family closer together.

Half of the respondents said the relationship with their partner had improved because “buying the static caravan or lodge had meant they had more sex.” 

It just so happens that one of our race sponsors, Cartmel Lodge Park, have a selection of two bedroom luxury lodges within the village of Cartmel. And just down the road, with views over Morecambe Bay, Old Park Wood offers static caravans and lodges on the Holker Estate. The 5 star park, which is a sister-enterprise to Cartmel Racecourse, offers an indoor pool, children’s play area, football pitch, sauna and a shop that stocks lots of local produce.  

Bargains both – and easy to investigate further, if you google the names online. A modest bet on Carrigmorna King (Stratford on Saturday) might just help towards the purchase price.  

I’m all for holidays that offer a beautiful environment, low stress, safety and lots of fun – and if the next generation of Cartmel racegoers happens to be propagated along the way, so much the better!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Forecasting Sunshine

There is a saying in some parts of Cumbria that it only rains twice a year: once from September through to April and again from May until August.

Having endured nearly three inches of rain in the past week, it’s felt a little like that at times, although it seems that a change is in the air for the Bank Holiday weekend. Fortunately, we benefit from a special micro-climate on the Cartmel Peninsula, where the sunshine in our hearts ensures that we always have a bright smile and a warm welcome for visitors.

The BBC recently announced that their contract with the Met Office would be terminated next year and I am thinking of applying for the vacancy. Having studied a variety of forecasts over the last few months, I have come to the conclusion that it is a fairly straight forward business: in the long term we can expect drier and more settled weather in the south-east of the country, while the north-west will be changeable. 
When it comes to local forecasting, the standard procedure seems to involve the application of both the sunshine symbol and the rain-cloud at the same time. A cynic might suggest that the forecasters are hedging their bets, but more often than not this pattern of opposites is quite accurate. First we’ll get sunshine, then a burst of rain, followed by sunshine and perhaps a bit of drizzle (or heavy-downward-dew as we prefer to call it in the office).
I don’t intend to invest in a super computer; I think you’ll find that when the cows’ tails are facing west, there will be rain on the way (not that the weather will be at its best, as the old adage indicates)… And that we should expect a storm if we see seagulls perched on the ground… Unless it’s in the centre of the racecourse, which probably just means that somebody has spilt their popcorn.
So, what will the weather be like over the Bank Holiday weekend? According to the Met Office we could have some sunshine or possibly some showers. My favourite forecaster (for now) is the Norwegian based YRNO, who predict a predominately dry day on Saturday (sunny spells during the races) with a completely dry and sunny Bank Holiday Monday. There is one forecast that says it won’t rain for the next 360 days, although it turns out that this is for a place called Ica, in Peru, where they receive a total of 2.3mm of rain per annum. If they have a racecourse there, I expect the going is very firm indeed.
Back at Cartmel we get a lot of calls about the going. Notably from Jimmy Moffatt, who lives little more than half a mile from the track and who has probably walked it more times than I have in the last three days. I’m forecasting that he will have at least one winner over the weekend; maybe Altruism who showed a bit of class when taking the Maiden Hurdle at the Cartmel July meeting.
There are no seagulls here today, but the sheep in the field opposite are running towards the gate. I think that means we’re going to have a sunny weekend; it might be that their owner has just arrived with some food, or perhaps they’re heading for the bookies to back one of Jimmy’s…

Thursday, 20 August 2015

All The Big Names

Three times I have been asked for my autograph. On the first occasion the recipient was desperately upset to discover that my name wasn’t Mike Cattermole. I’m not entirely sure why; Mike is at least eight feet tall, wears glasses and has a talent for commentating – to mention just three characteristics that we don’t have in common.

The second time I politely explained that I wasn’t Mike Cattermole, only to be told “Of course you’re not... You’re Mick Fitzgerald!” This was while Mick was still a jockey, weighing in at about ten stone. I was at least 25% heavier and not nearly so useful in the saddle. 

On the third and final occasion, I found myself totally incapable of convincing a short–sighted racegoer that I wasn’t the racehorse trainer Andrew Balding. Eventually I just signed his name and walked away; I hope it never comes up for sale.

Fortunately there can be no uncertainty regarding the veracity of the signatures accompanying a special painting that has been commissioned to raise funds for the Injured Jockeys Fund and Pendleside Hospice. The painting, which features the four winning jockeys of last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and World Hurdle has been signed by Ruby Walsh, Sam Twiston Davies, Gavin Sheehan, Nico De Boinville, Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls, Warren Greatrex, Sara Bradstock and all of the winning owners. 

The picture will be on display at our fixture on Bank Holiday Monday, 31st August, when we stage the Michael Ennis Memorial Steeplechase. The Ennis family will then allow the painting to be raffled in early September – so if you like the idea of it hanging on your wall, make sure that you donate at least £10 through their dedicated website at: £20 will secure you two chances of winning.

As we all know: Charity begins at the racecourse. As well as an exit collection in aid of St Mary’s Hospice on Bank Holiday Monday, we shall be welcoming Richard Farquhar on Saturday – who is raising money for Racing Welfare and Pancreatic Cancer UK by walking to all sixty racecourses in Britain.

Richard will be joined by Oliver Sherwood and Alan King (who trains our selection Paddys Runner, Newton Abbot 1.55 pm, on Saturday) on the picturesque walk between Catterick and Cartmel. Please give them your support, by all means ask them for an autograph – but don’t forget that you don't have to walk. It is also possible to arrive at the racecourse by car, train (and bus), coach or helicopter. 

We’ll look forward to seeing you.