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.

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Cartmel 2016 Fixture List - An Ennead

The British Horseracing Authority published the 2016 fixture list this week and we’re delighted that Cartmel has been allocated an “ennead” of race-meetings.

You might say that we’re sitting on the last (in a line) of enneadic clouds. We hope that many of our customers will go the whole ennead of yards - and come to them all. If you’re tempted, do consider purchasing an annual membership, you’ll find that it provides the best value.

An ennead is a collection of nine – so cats have an ennead of lives and Cartmel stages an ennead of fixtures. It's not a word I've ever used before - but then we've never had nine race-days before, so there is a first time for everything. Not that the additional race-date is new to us; for 2016 we've managed to retain the 2-day June meeting (run for the first time this year), while reinstating the traditional Saturday afternoon fixture on May (Whit) Bank Holiday weekend.

First run in 1947, the ‘Whit Saturday’ afternoon meeting was an instant success, attracting 179 entries and 52 runners. The horses had to negotiate a ploughed section on the north bend of the track; it wasn’t until 1948 that Mr Rigg (who rented the top field to the Steeplechase company) agreed to put his land back to grass, following a period of crop rotation during the war.  

Among the winners on that day was Rumpworthy, ridden by Dick Francis – famous in later life as a crime novelist. Coincidentally, Dick’s son Felix Francis will be coming to afternoon tea at the Cartmel Grandstand, on Wednesday 30th September, when he will be signing copies of his very own best seller: Front Runner. Tickets for the event, which includes a copy of the book to take home, cost £25.

In 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations forced the movement of the Whit Bank Holiday into the first week in June. The fixture list became too congested and Cartmel’s Saturday fixture became an evening for the next thirteen years. We are now delighted to have it back in its rightful position and hope that you’ll come and enjoy it with us.

The announcement of this welcome news came as a bit of a surprise, following the publication of the 2016 fixture list about a month ahead of schedule. But that's not all the BHA have achieved. The new fixture list accommodates: 1,482 fixtures in total (11 more than last year); 37 all-weather fixtures on the new track at Newcastle; and a small number of self-funded fixtures targeted at growing both racegoer attendance and the horse population. The BHA have also attempted to eliminate some of the more frustrating geographical clashes between racecourses racing on the same day. 

So the 2016 fixture list has been Stitched In Time (which happens to be the name of our selection at Market Rasen on Saturday - 8.15pm) - meaning that the BHA has almost certainly saved an ennead of stitches.

2016 Fixtures
Saturday 28th May
Bank Holiday Monday 30th May
Wednesday 1st June

Friday 24th June
Sunday 26th June

Saturday 16th July
Monday 18th July

Saturday 27th August
Bank Holiday Monday 29th August

Thursday, 6 August 2015

A Curly-Leafed Controversy

There may be 232 entries for the five Group Races to be staged on Champions Day, at Ascot, in October; it is possible that Golden Horn will head unbeaten to the £1.3 million British Champion Stakes… But whatever happens, there is unlikely to be any rivalry so strong as that experienced at Cartmel this season. 

While I am truly proud of the programme of races that we have scheduled this year, the contest to which I refer is not the £26,000 Totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup, nor is it the £20,000 Oakmere Homes Handicap Chase. It isn’t even the £18,500 Coral Bookmakers Handicap Hurdle because, when it comes to it, no competition is likely to match the ferocity of the 132nd staging of the Cartmel Agricultural Show on the first Wednesday in August. 

Staged in the centre of the racecourse, the show featured sheep, cattle, native ponies, show jumping, items of home-industry and of course fresh horticultural produce. There was controversy in the lettuce classes when the validity of one of the entries was questioned. Could it be that a smooth leafed vegetable was masquerading in the wrong class? It couldn’t have been the racecourse’s entrant, as I double checked with a fellow competitor: apparently the fairly curly leaves on our own lettuce (grown adjacent to the main pedestrian entrance) are definitely classed as smooth when it comes to horticultural judgement. 

There was some concern, early in the morning, that the leaves on our immodestly sized lettuce might wilt in the heat of the contest. I therefore wrapped the roots gently in wet tissue paper and placed them inside a disposable cardboard cup, wrapped in a decorative Asda carrier bag (we love to recycle here at the racecourse). In retrospect, it seems likely that that this innovative vegetable presentation led to the docking of points and the ultimately disappointing allocation of third prize – scandalous in some respects, although the £1.50 prize money will still come in handy. 

We didn’t enter any tomatoes as they suffered from an early frost, since when we’ve been forced to play ketchup. And we couldn’t submit any fungi because the rest of the vegetables took up too mushroom. But it was the issue of our purple pods that really made me grum-pea. The failure of the judges to recognise the beauty of our beautiful purple peas (pitted against common-all-garden green ones), was an unwelcome turnip for the books. 

They say that it is the taking part that counts, so please remember that when considering this weekend’s selection: Rock Canyon, who is down to an attractive mark in the 6f handicap at Ayr on Saturday evening.  

We’ll be back with more entries for the 133rd Cartmel Agricultural Show next year. If you’re growing salad locally (or even at a rival racecourse) and you think your produce cuts the mustard, endive in and beet us if you can!  

That’s shallot.