Thursday, 31 August 2017

Crossing Borders

When a batsman hits the ball clean over the boundary, he scores six runs. No one’s required to run for the ball, but it usually comes back eventually. And it’s not just cricket pitches that have boundaries, most modern parenting groups advise that toddlers should have them too. When a toddler crosses a boundary, he or she is likely to end up on the naughty step.
Borders are usually considered to be the same as boundaries, defining regions into countries, counties or parishes. But borders differ in one important respect: they are designed to be crossed. Notwithstanding the current negotiations over Brexit, it is generally expected that governments and businesses will join together in order to promote trade across borders. And of course we welcome visitors too – tourists, investors and migrants offering valued skills and knowledge.
So despite my move to Kelso, where the racing season commences on Wednesday 20th September, I am looking forward to regularly traversing the border between Scotland and England in order to see my friends at Cartmel. I hope too, that jump racing fans in the north of England will come to enjoy racing north of the border and that I may see some of you soon.
I was given a great send-off following the final race-meeting of the season at Cartmel on Bank Holiday Monday. Despite protestations that I’d be seeing everyone again, I couldn’t avoid being dunked in the giant water tank in the horse wash-down enclosure. That hasn’t put a dampener on my enthusiasm for supporting northern trainers – including Donald McCain, who was there at the time. McCain trains this week’s selection, Dear Sire, who is preparing to make the long journey to Newton Abbot for a valuable prize at 3.25 on Saturday.
Happiness is infectious and spreads readily through a crowd, just as unhappiness stalks remorselessly through the stalled chain of a house sale. Therefore, if you’ve enjoyed one or more race-days at Cartmel, I can honestly take very little of the credit – so much of the happiness radiates from the people that I’ve been privileged to work with during the past seven years, not to mention the racegoers who generate so much joy. It’s been great fun.
If my blog selections haven’t made you any richer, I hope that I’ve been able to share some of the joy that prevails at Cartmel. I’ll continue to write on a weekly basis (you'll be able to find my ramblings at ) and will ensure that I keep my finger on the pulse of life in Cartnel, as well as the wider northern racing scene.
I hope to see you soon. Scotland may be over the border, but it isn’t out of bounds.


Thursday, 24 August 2017

Join The Crowd

According to prison psychologists, a common refrain amongst inmates is that they "simply got mixed up with the wrong crowd." No one actually admits to belonging to the wrong crowd – or can even tell you exactly where it gathers.
If you’re heading to Cartmel this Bank Holiday weekend, you’ll obviously be part of the right crowd – but what if you find yourself at Goodwood or Southwell? Can you be so sure? This week we’re giving a few pointers to keep you on the straight and narrow.
You’ll know the right crowd when you see it – they’ll typically have a large picnic, a good selection of pies or maybe even a barbecue with some sausages from Furness Fish & Game. They’ll cheer vocally whichever horse wins and they’ll wave their Union Jacks as the brass band of the Royal Armoured Corps plays ‘Last Night of the Proms’ from the bandstand after racing on Saturday.
The Cartmel Crowd
If there’s an ice-cream van, you’ll definitely find the right crowd standing in the queue. But if the nearest confectionary stand is doing a big trade in coconut fancies, be wary: nothing good ever came of a coconut fancy. Nor, since we’re on the subject, beef flavoured crisps, cherry cola or honey roasted peanuts. All of them revolting.
If you’ve been following my weekly selections in this column, you’ll probably be part of the poor crowd – unkindly referred to, by some, as a ‘bunch of losers’. Don’t worry, this year’s long losing stretch is nothing less than an elaborate ploy to lull the bookmakers into a false sense of security. I’m sure we’ll have the last laugh when Alderbrook Lad passes the post in front on Bank Holiday Monday. I can’t tell you which race it will be, because he is double entered - maybe the 2m 5f chase; the distance seems to suit him just that little bit better, especially with give in the ground.
It may be that you’ve been feeling a bit irritable recently, you might even have snapped uncharacteristically at your friends and family. This doesn't necessarily mean that you’re part of the wrong crowd – it’s more likely that you are either a Leo or a Scorpio and that you’ve been unsettled by the celestial carnage wreaked by last week’s solar eclipse. The changes heralded by the eclipse now present opportunities and you'll be pleased to know that you’re set for a profitable weekend. Have a good time and don’t gloat too much when you win.
If you’d like to be part of the right crowd but fear, like me, that you may not qualify, make sure that you join us for the Steeplechase Service at the Priory on Sunday at 11.00am. Nick the Vic (slang term for ‘Chaplain to the Racecourse’) will be requesting blessings for everyone – including a racehorse, outside the porch of the Priory, at noon.
And if you’re determined to join the wrong crowd, we'll see you in one of the pubs in the square after racing on Monday. Good luck.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Whip Debate

The whip can be an emotive subject and it is right to continually review our stance in the light of public perception. For that reason alone, I am quite sure that Nestle completed extensive customer research before they decided to rename their oldest confectionary brand – but I can’t help feeling that it is a mistake to remove the walnut from the Walnut Whip, first created in Edinburgh in 1910.
To draw an analogy, it’s a bit like taking a steeplechase and doing away with the obstacles. What are you left with? Oh yes... that’s right - it’s called Flat Racing.
But while Flat Racing still offers a great day out for the family (obviously – I’ve got to support my friends who happen to work at Flat tracks here), it’s not quite the same. Even Nestle have realised that they’re going to have to spice up their new range of Whips using a variety of flavours including caramel, vanilla and mint. What, I wonder, could we do for Flat Racing? Perhaps we should ask the jockeys to ride side-saddle, or make them face the horse’s tail, to up the stakes a little. Now that would be fun.
I don’t mean to scaremonger though - Jump Racing fans will be relieved to know that the Walnut Whip is not actually being discontinued, the plan is to continue selling it alongside its less nutty sister-products. Because, like Jump Racing, walnuts offer important health benefits – they’re good for the brain and the heart, help to fight cancer, stave of heart disease and promote fertility. I am fairly sure that the same has been said of racing at Cartmel, where we shall shortly be staging the final race-meeting of the season on Saturday 26th August and Bank Holiday Monday 28th August.
At Cartmel we’ve always stuck to the principle that variety is the spice of life. It’s why we like to make sure that there are always plenty of things to see and do. So, quite apart from the racing, visitors can take a tour of the medieval village, enjoy all the fun of the fair, participate in a jamboree of kiddies’ cricket matches and ball games, eat their picnics and have fun with their friends. There are also a number of trade-stands.
This August, however, we are on high alert. Following the theft of a lorry from Neustadt, in Germany, containing 20 tonnes of Nutella and Kinder Surprise Eggs, members of the public have been asked to keep an eye out for anyone offering suspiciously cheap chocolate in unusual locations. Could be the sort of thing that occurs in the Course Enclosure on Bank Holiday Monday – we’re preparing for a visit from Trading Standards just in case.
This week’s selection runs (over obstacles) at Perth on Saturday. I’m hoping that Caius Marcius will allow us to sample the sweet taste of success.
Psst… anyone want to buy some cheap chocolate?

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Case of Mistaken Identity

There have been plenty of excellent people called Geoffrey: Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Palmer who appeared in the sitcom Butterflies and Geoffrey Boycott, who is apparently quite famous in Yorkshire. Geoffrey is obviously a marvellous name, but it isn’t my name – which explains why I didn’t respond to it when the furniture removal man shouted out from the kitchen, "Geoffrey, have you got a spanner to disconnect this washing machine?"
At least, I didn’t respond straight away. It finally dawned on me that the question was being addressed to me at the fourth or fifth time of asking, at which point I simply went and found a spanner. I refrained from pointing out that my name’s not Geoffrey which, given how stressful moving house can be, could easily have slipped out as a rude or irrationally irritable statement. Which is why I spent the next 48 hours being called Geoffrey – because if you don’t put these things right at the first opportunity, they have a habit of escalating.
It’s also why I have some sympathy for Charlie McBride, the trainer who saddled the wrong horse in a race at Yarmouth recently. At least Millie’s Kiss had the decency to respond to the jockey’s urgings as if she really was Mandarin Princess – by passing the winning post in front. It’s an unusual situation, one that will inevitably lead to the disqualification of the winner and the promotion of the second-placed horse – with most bookmakers paying out on both.
The problem is that, what starts as a simple mistake, soon escalates to become a major issue. Hence the subsequent questions: Was the saddling error really a mistake or was it intentional? When and how was the horse’s identity checked? Should anyone have prevented the wrong horse from running? Who’s lost out and will they sue?
I am convinced that the regulation surrounding the integrity of horseracing is second to no other sport. There will, occasionally, be individuals that are tempted to break the rules for financial gain – but I doubt that Charlie McBride is one of them. Every horse that runs at a British racecourse has an identity chip which is checked on arrival at the racecourse – and the BHA is trialling procedures for further identity checks before each horse departs for the Parade Ring.
Every race is analysed from a plethora of camera angles, jockeys are grilled by stewards and horses are tested for a myriad of performance influencing substances.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent approximately half the population from believing that horseracing is fixed – according to a recent survey of 2,000 people conducted on behalf of Portland Communications. I can’t say that I’m very surprised – if you stand in any betting shop long enough, you’ll hear enough conspiracy theories to explain away all the losing bets ever struck. It doesn’t mean they’re true – just that humans make mistakes, especially when they’re backing and tipping horses.
As for me, I’ve no need for conspiracy theories. If Autocratic doesn’t win the Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock on Saturday, he wasn’t my selection – he was Geoffrey’s.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Planning Ahead - The 2018 Fixture List

The BHA fixture allocation process has concluded and Cartmel is set to stage 27 fixtures. I know what you're thinking: what new excuse can you give to your employer / spouse / dog-sitter for bunking off to Cartmel races on more days than ever before?

But relax! In an effort to help racecourses to grow the sport, the BHA have used the fixture allocation process to look further ahead and has attempted to give racecourses greater certainty over a three year period. So while there will still be a small percentage of fixtures that remain to be allocated annually, and there will still be opportunities for tracks to exchange dates, we now have the ability to make plans over a longer period.

At Cartmel, that means that (subject to fulfilling various criteria) we'll be able to stage nine fixtures between May and August for each of the next three years.

While that's still the second smallest number of fixtures staged by any racecourse in Britain, it's a format that works well for us: optimising the use of our track (which has less wide bends than most), while providing plenty of fun for racegoers throughout the Summer holidays.

If you're anything like me, you'll probably struggle to remember what you're doing tomorrow, never mind next next year. So now is the time to put the following dates in your diary...

There could be a few changes to the forecast dates for 2019 and 2020, so the BHA isn't able to publish those dates yet. But I can tell you that in 2018 we shall open the season with the traditional Whit Holiday Meeting on Saturday 26th May, Bank Holiday Monday 28th May and Wednesday 30th May. The June Meeting (no music acts booked at the current time) takes place on Friday 29th June and Sunday 1st July.

We'll be smoking at the Barbecue Meeting on Saturday 21st July and Monday 23rd July, before the season concludes on Saturday 25th August and Bank Holiday Monday 27th August.
Just in case you're wondering where you'll be on 31st August, 2020, that's the date that I've got earmarked for the Cavendish Cup Steeplechase - which will probably be won by the Jimmy Moffatt trained Altruism, who (with five career wins following his victory in the Totepool Cumbria Crystal Hurdle) has a great chance of surpassing Soul Magic's superb record of seven wins at Cartmel.

And for those of you who still don't know what you're doing next week, could I suggest a trip to Perth where Bon Chic is likely to find her required good ground and is our selection on Tuesday evening.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Diamonds, Champagne & Sticky Toffee Pudding

The French have no idea how to treat ladies, at least not when it comes to lady jockeys. In March this year the French racing authorities told all female jockeys that they needed to lose weight – that’s right, they told them that, if they wanted to ride the same horses as their male equivalents, they needed to weigh 4lbs less.
Why? I hear you ask. Well, according to our sexist continental neighbours, girls just aren’t as good at riding – so they thought it'd be better to help the horses by taking some extra weight off their backs. Or something like that; it’s possible that I’ve wilfully distorted some of the public relations messages around the story to make the French look bad. There may have been something about encouraging more French racehorse trainers to use female jockeys too.
The point is that we don’t behave like that in Cumbria. No - here at Cartmel Racecourse, we're aware that the girls are more than a match for the boys. And what's more, we like to think that we know exactly what lady jockeys really want – which is why we give them diamonds, Champagne and sticky toffee pudding.
The male jockeys get Champagne and sticky toffee puddings too, but it is only the ladies to whom we award diamonds – as the winning jockey’s prize for the Banks Lyon Jewellers Lady Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, to be staged this Saturday. This year’s prize is an 18ct white gold, Marquise cut diamond cluster pendant necklace with a retail value of £5,500. It’s so pretty that Anthea Morshead, our Clerk of the Course, is thinking about reapplying for her jockey’s licence. Meanwhile, the girls in the office have booked a series of refresher riding lessons in anticipation of next year’s renewal.  
This is the third year that Banks Lyon Jewellers have sponsored the £15,000 hurdle race, which is the most valuable opportunity in the British racing calendar, to be staged over obstacles, specifically for female jockeys. The race comes just two months after the opening of their new shop in Kendal, at 33 Market Place. Like the sumptuous Banks Lyon show room in nearby Lancaster, the Kendal store stocks a range of prestigious Swiss watches as well as fine jewellery and diamonds.
Local lass Charlotte Jones will be hoping to win her third consecutive race at Cartmel on board Lough Kent, trained by Charlotte's employer Jimmy Moffatt on the opposite side of the village. She’ll face stiff competition from last year’s winning jockey Rachael Blackmore, who returns to ride Baby Jake for Irish trainer Shark Hanlon.
The Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson, hasn't got a ride in the race on account of being the wrong sex - his fault really. He could gain compensation by winning the Totepool Cumbria Crystal Hurdle, in which he rides our selection Royal Village

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A Rare Treat

Grazing at High Lickbarrow Farm, near Windermere, is a breed of cattle so rare that they aren’t even recognised by the Rare Breeds Society of Great Britain. According to the Albion Cattle Society website (, Blue Albions were once prized throughout Britain as dual purpose animals – which may suggest that they competed both on the Flat and over Jumps, but probably just means that they were reared to produce milk as well as beef.

Disaster struck the breed in 1923, when Foot and Mouth wiped out many herds. It wiped out horseracing too at many venues, although thankfully that was only a temporary measure. The Blue Albions, so named because of their beautiful blue-roan colour, were less fortunate and many people feared that the breed had been lost altogether when a further outbreak of Foot and Mouth struck in the 1960s.
While a small number of cattle did survive, there are fewer than 300 Blue Albion cows registered today. The Albion Cattle Society is currently seeking documentary evidence to prove that the forebears of today's stock were alive and well in the late sixties and early seventies.  Only when this period of continuity is proven can the Blue Albion cattle be accepted as a genuine rare breed.
The good news is that they taste very good. While it may seem counter-productive to eat cattle that are so scarce, the more people that want to eat them, the more people there will be who want to breed them and keep them.
So, with the Barbecue Racemeeting just over a week away, perhaps it’s time to seek out a few rare breed steaks to put over the charcoal. Not that charcoal is necessarily the thing anymore: according to Hayes Garden World, who will be demonstrating some of the World’s best barbecue equipment at the races, the serious foodies now prefer to smoke their meat ‘low and slow’ over wooden pellets. Hence the slogan for the Traeger Grill which is said to be ‘Kickin Gas in the Ass’. It’s an excellent idea as we don’t permit racegoers to bring large gas canisters on to the racecourse unless they come fully certified by a Gas Safe engineer.
Richard Holden, one of the UK’s top barbecue chefs, will be running a cooking theatre in the Course Enclosure on both racedays. As well as teaching people how to eat more healthily, he’ll be showing off equipment from the Weber World outlet located at Hayes Garden World in Ambleside, plus the Traeger Grill and the Uuni wood fired oven (capable, apparently, of cooking a pizza in less than seconds).
So there you have it – get down to Cartmel Racecourse next weekend with a decent piece of meat and learn how to barbecue with the best. It sounds like the Perfect Summer – which coincidentally happens to be the name of this week’s selection in the 4.45 at York on Saturday.  

Friday, 7 July 2017

Snakes and Adders

I’ve never liked reptiles very much. It’s something to do with the way they shed their skin, lick their eyelids and issue parking tickets. Oh sorry, that’s traffic wardens... I’ve had trouble telling them apart ever since my wife’s vehicle was issued with a £75 parking penalty outside Marks & Spencer’s. Not that she hadn’t paid for parking you understand, just that she’d made the mistake of outstaying her welcome after handing over our weekly grocery budget.
But anyway, back to the reptiles... Our amateur jockeys are so tough that we thought they deserved a different kind of challenge. Negotiating a few hurdles at 30 miles per hour didn’t seem nearly dangerous enough – so last Sunday we added snakes! That’s right: a uniquely dangerous contest in which the first contestant to make it across the snake infested pit on horseback would be named the winner.
Okay, it wasn’t actually snakes as in the plural. It was just the one snake, spotted slithering across the track as the horses galloped down the wood-side straight, but it was an Adder. According to Wikipedia, the Common European Adder is poisonous and has a diet which consists mainly of small mammals – so I dare say we were extremely lucky that none of the jockeys fell off in front of it.
Anyway, it got me to thinking: what other challenges could we set for our jockeys? I suggested to the team that perhaps we could have the horses jumping through giant rings of fire – which seemed like quite a thrilling idea until they pointed out to me that they already gallop through clouds of barbecue smoke.
The next meeting, on Saturday 22nd July and Monday 24th July, is the traditional BBQ Weekend. There’ll be barbecue demonstrations and prizes for the most stylish picnics or barbecues within the public enclosures. So gather up your finest folding chairs, your candelabras and stripy picnic blankets – we want to see them all.
As always, there are a few ground-rules to follow for those barbecuing at the racecourse: we recommend that you stick to charcoal as we don’t allow gas canisters of the Calor-gas type, unless they come complete with a valid gas safety certificate. We also reserve the right to ask all customers to extinguish their barbecues before the first race, so as not to create those smoky clouds for the jockeys.
Finally, when it’s time to go home, please dispense of your quelled barbecue embers in the metal cages provided next to our bins. If they reignite, the fire makes a nasty mess of our nice red plastic wheelie-bins. The molten plastic isn’t very good for the grass either.
And watch out for snakes. They’re protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, so you can’t put them on the barbecue.
This week’s tip is Decorated Knight in the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The All Weather Track

"Can you make it NOT rain?" read the text message.

I can do a lot of things, but for influence over the weather I have to turn to someone much more powerful than myself. I won't tell you who, because she wouldn't thank me, but she says she'll see what she can do.

If that fails, we've got two pallets full of plastic rain ponchos to give away - when you live in the Lakes, you learn to come to work prepared for the odd shower.

If you're planning a trip to the races on Friday (for the Tom Jones experience) or on Sunday (when we've a troupe of circus performers wandering the enclosures), I'd suggest you pop a pair of wellies in the back of the car. It doesn't hurt to be prepared and they're easier to walk in than high heels - or so I've been told.

Not that any of that advice will help the trainer who sent me the text message, because we don't have a rain poncho that will fit his horse and I've practically never seen a Thoroughbred shod in flip-flops, never mind heels.

I think he was hoping we'd describe the ground as Good to Firm. Which of course we could, if we wanted to, although it wouldn't be true - and racehorse trainers get funny about that sort of thing.

So does The Racing Post for that matter, although I'm not sure when journalists became so proficient in assessing the condition of the turf. Ascot took some flack from the media for watering at the Royal Meeting and yet their excellent ground staff (second only to the team at Cartmel according to last year's RCA Showcase Award judges), work to the highest professional standards to provide a consistent and safe racing surface. Could it be that some of the critics were talking through their pockets?  

But I digress. If you're coming to Cartmel this weekend (and we still have tickets for both days) the best thing to do is to prepare for all eventualities. Bring a pair of sunglasses, in case the sun shines, and a decent coat in case it doesn't. You can always use it as a picnic blanket when it turns out fine.

If you're backing a horse, look for one that won at the last meeting at Cartmel, when glorious sunshine gave way to rain and glorious sunshine again. Although, if the racecard form comment reads "well suited to all-weather," be a bit wary - because that doesn't mean quite the same thing.

This week's selection is Morning Royalty who goes in the £20,000 Oakmere Homes Handicap Chase on Sunday. He’s a three-times course winner and has proved successful on Good ground, Soft and Heavy.

Friday, 23 June 2017

A Village Story

Following the sad news about the passing of children’s TV presenter Brian Cant, I can now reveal the proposed plot-line for the fourteenth and final episode of Trumpton – which remained unscreened due to a legal dispute over the use of data rights at Trumpton Racecourse. 
Entitled ‘It’s Not Unusual’, the story follows the residents of the small village as they prepare for a concert that’s about to be performed by a famous Welsh singer. The episode opens with a shot of the villagers as they go about their daily business...
"Good morning Mr Clamp," says Miss Lovelace, the milliner, who is being towed across the square by three small Pekingese dogs. "I’m so excited about Jim Tones coming to Trumpton Racecourse. Apparently he’s going to sing live on a big stage after racing. I’m working on a very special hat for Mrs Cobbit the florist, as she’s landed the contract for arranging the flowers in the hospitality marquee."
Mr Clamp, the greengrocer, is loading his van with vegetables for the racecourse caterers. "Great!" he says, "It’s important to use local suppliers when events like this come to Trumpton. This Jim Tones concert is really going to help the local economy." The pair pause in their conversation while Mr Munnings, the printer, pins a poster to the village notice board.
"What does it say about taking dogs to the racecourse?" asks Miss Lovelace. The narrator explains that dogs are allowed on the racecourse but must be kept on a lead at all times. Due to the crowded nature of the event, dogs will not be permitted in the area immediately in front of the stage. Visitors will be welcome to bring picnics although, as with the dogs, they’ll be discouraged from depositing chairs and other structures in the area designated for standing spectators. They will be allowed to bring knickers for throwing, but nothing made of glass.
"Can you read that Mitzi, Daphne and Lulu?" says Miss Lovelace to her dogs. "I'm afraid you won’t be allowed in the mosh-pit."
Just then Chippy Minton, the joiner, walks into shot. He’s looking grumpy because he’s just been told that the big stage will be arriving on the back of a lorry and he won’t have an opportunity to tender for the work. "I’m fed up." he says, "I’m not even a fan of Jim Tones and the traffic in the village is going to be awful."
"Don’t worry about the traffic!" says Mr Troop the mayor. "I’ve been working with my friends in the Highways Department. The racecourse will implement a traffic management plan which will include some one-way systems and a taxi pick-up area within the south car park. As long as all visitors follow the yellow event signage and all taxis use the official pick-up area, any congestion should be limited and manageable. I am sure that the racegoers will be respectful of our beautiful village – we’ll be asking them to dispose of all their litter appropriately too, so that it can be recycled and the streets kept tidy."
Captain Flack and his men arrive in the square, clinging to their fire engine. "We’ve just visited the racecourse," he says "to carry out our annual assessment of their risk management plan. Did you know they’re going to have a big concert there after racing on Friday? If you’re going to go, you might want to make sure you arrive in plenty of time, as there will be a few additional security measures in place and the Police will have a heightened presence there."
Chippy’s son, Nibbs, arrives. "Can we go to the races too please Dad... please? It's going to be great fun and we can still get tickets at the entrance on the day!" 
"Of course we can." Says Chippy, who has now cheered up substantially. "I love a flutter on the horses, which reminds me: let's go down to the bookies, I've got a tip for Raucous in the Wokingham Handicap on Saturday at Camberwick Green."

N.B. Any similarities between the fictional characters described here and the actual residents of Trumpton are purely coincidental.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Two by Two

When it comes to threats to Cartmel’s cyber security, I’m not sure which scares me most: the malevolent money-extorting maniacs from North Korea or those good old guys at Microsoft who try to update my lap-top with ‘patches’ while I’m not at my desk.
This week’s Microsoft update has all but paralysed the racecourse office, having rendered our printers temporarily obsolete. Many thousands of tickets for the Tom Jones Raceday on 30th June and the Sunday Funday on 2nd July have already been packaged up ready for posting. But with just two weeks to go we’re selling more tickets every day – so there are more to send and the postman is going to be jolly busy.
Happily, the hugely professional team at EMS (who look after our ticketing system) have got together with SystemHost (who look after our computers) and they’re on the case. Together with the dedicated girls in the office next door, they’ll be working through the weekend to ensure that all the tickets get printed and dispatched before racing commences on 30th June.
In the meantime I’m typing this week’s blog on my telephone – so if you notice any unusual smelling errors, please put it down to the predictive text.
If you’re waiting for tickets that you’ve already purchased for the Tom Jones Race-day (or for Sunday 2nd July) – don’t worry, they’ll be on their way shortly and we expect all the tickets to reach their destination in good time.
And if you haven’t booked your tickets yet, what are you waiting for? The Tom Jones Raceday event will have limited audience of just 19,999 people – so while we’ve some availability remaining, the tickets are running out fast!
You'll have noticed that, at Cartmel, we like to do things two by two: most of our meetings feature two racedays. The June meeting will feature two musical acts - as Sir Tom Jones will be joined on stage by his protégés Into The Arc.
Having reached the final of The Voice UK, the Welsh duo (Taylor Jones and Dane Lloyd) have proved incredibly popular in front of crowds throughout Britain. The pair met six years ago and paid for a trip around Australia by busking – but they’ll not be asking racegoers to put a dollar in their bucket on this occasion, their performance will be part of the ticket price of £45 – as long as the tickets are booked before the end of next week.
I’m getting a bit concerned that computer hackers may have accessed my betting-account, as the balance appears to be perilously low. Is it really so long since I backed a winner? This week’s selection is East Street Revue in the Musselburgh Sprint Cup.  


Friday, 9 June 2017

There Can Be Only Five

While the media followed each twist and turn of a remarkable General Election this week, another drama was unfolding unbeknown to an unsuspecting public.
[Cue pulsating music. The opening shot: a city skyline; the camera pans down to a busy streetscape where men and women pass each other on their way to work...]  
Like the immortal warriors in the 1986 film Highlander, we gathered to do battle while ordinary members of the public bustled about their ordinary lives - oblivious to the looming conflict. Studiously avoiding the gaze of others, we converged on the agreed venue at the appointed time.
Except of course we weren’t immortal warriors, we were just a group of nervous racecourse executives - come to meet at the BHA’s offices in High Holborn to participate in the inaugural auction of fixtures. There were no bolts of lightning connecting with the top of the office block, as we experienced ‘the quickening’ – although, from what we could see on the telly, it looked pretty wet at Chepstow where the going changed to soft as they recorded 21 non-runners.
Queen’s theme tune, Princes Of The Universe, wasn’t blasting across the airwaves. Nor did any of us wield 5-foot long broad swords; the current security status being what it is, it didn’t seem appropriate.
"There can be only five," said the auctioneer ominously, confirming the BHA’s decision to allow five afternoon fixtures, with prize money grants and integrity funding, on a series of Saturdays between May and September from the year 2018 onwards. The auction was staged to determine which racecourses would race in which slots. And it was tense: several of the racecourses represented, including Cartmel, already stage fixtures in these ‘fifth Saturday’ slots, albeit without any central funding. For the sake of our customers, we were anxious not to lose them.
All in all, 27 fixtures went under the hammer, including a few opportunities on Bank Holidays and Friday evenings as well as the Saturday afternoon slots. In true Highlander fashion, Musselburgh were the first to strike, securing two of the first three lots in the catalogue. "It’s A Kind of Magic," said Bill Farnsworth although he doesn’t look much like Connor MacLeod, the character played by Christopher Lambert, nor Freddie Mercury for that matter.
In the film, the prize gained by MacLeod was the mystical ability to read the thoughts of humankind, inspiring peace and prosperity - a bit like Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May. I’d settle for being able to tip a decent winner – this week’s selection is Katgary at Stratford on Saturday evening.
Back at the auction, it seemed as though most racecourses managed to get what they came for. And I’m happy to report that Cartmel secured the right to race on the final Saturday in May (Whit Holiday Weekend), as well as the Saturday afternoon of Totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup Day in July.
The full fixture list won’t be finalised and announced by the BHA until August, but this week’s auction represented a significant milestone in the process. We may not know who our Prime Minister will be in a few months time, but racegoers at Cartmel can look forward to greater certainty when planning their holidays for 2018 and beyond.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Living the Dream

We all have dreams. I don’t mean the ones about standing in the Winners’ Enclosure and then realising that you’re not wearing any clothes, I don’t suppose everyone has those sort of dreams. I mean aspirations, desires of the heart or whatever you want to call them. 

Horseracing is a field of dreams: every owner, every jockey, every trainer; even every racecourse manager... and certainly every punter. We all dream about our big day – the big occasion, a big race or a big win. Racing is nothing without dreams.
It’s the reason why National Velvet is such an enduring story – girl sees pony jump out of field; girl imagines winning Grand National; girl overcomes all the obstacles (literally and figuratively) to achieve her dream. But the thing about racing is that we don’t have to indulge in fiction – dreams come true every day.
On Wednesday it was the turn of Charlotte Jones, who rode her first ever winner on Lough Kent in the Wainwright Ale Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at Cartmel. Sixth at the second last hurdle, Charlotte was still only fourth at the final flight, before scything into the lead in the last 50 yards. She punched the air, smiled and received her sticky toffee pudding before returning to muck out at Jimmy Moffatt’s yard on the other side of the village.
Charlotte Jones wins at Cartmel on Lough Kent 
We now know that Gina Mangan won't be living the dream next Saturday: she's been told by the BHA that she won't be permitted to ride Diore Lia in the Investec Derby. Mangan, an apprentice jockey, had been nominated to partner the outsider by owner-breeder Richard Aylward, who was understandably upset at being informed that the governing body didn’t share his dream.
While the story runs counter to the generally romantic notion of the turf, it’s also quite understandable. How could the BHA possibly defend itself in the event of an accident, knowing that Mangan had ridden just one winner (eight years ago at Roscommon) and has never ridden at Epsom at all. The publicity will be enormous, the stakes high and the potential liability unimaginably huge. It isn’t the BHA’s fault; the blame rests with every single one of us for permitting the risk averse blame culture that pervades modern life.
The heart says that it would be lovely to see Gina Mangan ride in the Derby. The head says I wouldn’t want to be in the Stewards Room if she knocked over one of the favourites. The race will be won by this week’s selection: Permian, ridden by Velvet Brown… I mean William Buick.  

Friday, 26 May 2017

Ready for the Races?

We’re almost ready for the races. The track’s been watered and is in excellent condition (tick). The funfair’s arrived with some massive rides (tick). I’ve taken delivery of several new shirts from Marks & Spencer in an effort to ensure that I’m not too scruffy come race-day.

Having announced a major slump in profits this week, I dare say Marks & Spencer will have been grateful for my annual buying spree which included a bottle of orange juice, some scotch eggs and one of their delicious chicken pies – easy meals for consumption in a busy racecourse office.

But enough about my preparation. Are you ready for the races? Here’s a quick check-list to make sure you’ve got it all covered...

Have you set an alarm clock? It’s a good idea, especially if you’ve a sleepy teenager as part of your party (remember: children aged 17 years old and younger are admitted free of charge). Apart from those that are camping at the track, we don’t allow admission to the racecourse until after seven in the morning. While there’s usually a queue outside the gate at that time, we don’t recommend that you join it. We’ve lots of car parking space and there are plenty of tickets available to purchase on the gate – so arriving from 10am is generally recommended. The first race is at 2.10pm on Saturday and 2.15pm on Bank Holiday Monday.

Did you remember to pack a lead for the dog? We do allow dogs within the enclosures at Cartmel, but they must be kept on a lead at all times. The weather is going to be very warm, so it’ll be far too hot to leave them in the car and you might want to consider packing a bowl for some water – you can get some of that, free of charge, from a tap at the racecourse.

Have you got a corkscrew? If you’re not booked in to one of the restaurants, the chances are that you’re planning to bring a picnic – it’s the Cartmel way, everyone should do it at least once a year. We like responsible drinkers at the racecourse, which means that you’re welcome to bring alcoholic beverages as part of a picnic – although we frown on customers who load up with booze but forget the food altogether.

Have you studied the runners and riders? It’s not really essential, because you can buy a race programme when you get to the races. The form summaries of each horse are very helpful and the tips are much better than those contained within this weekly column. But there’s also another simple system. Over the last two years it’s been a simple and effective strategy to back any horse trained by James Moffatt. Especially if its name happens to be Altrusim, which happens (coincidentally) to be my selection this week – in whichever race he turns up for on Saturday or Bank Holiday Monday.
Good luck!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Funland's £1 Champagne Offer

If ever we needed proof that snobbery is alive and well in the horseracing industry, we received it following Epsom’s recent announcement that Poundland is to become the proud sponsor of an enclosure at the forthcoming Derby meeting.
I love Poundland. Where else can you buy three cans of Vimto, four Snickers bars, twenty disposable plates (floral design), thirty party balloons and eight plastic cocktail glasses for just £5? Add a picnic blanket and a cool-bag for your trip to the races and you’ll still get £3 change from a tenner.
I particularly like buying their After Eight Mints, which come in a slightly smaller-than-normal pack size: just right for a treat on the journey back from the shops. And so much healthier than those big packs, which have the additional inconvenience of being more difficult to hide in the glove compartment of the car. When I mentioned this to Lois, who is busy packaging tickets for the May Bank Holiday race-meeting, she suggested that boxed chocolates are usually intended for sharing. Can this really be true?
Either way, Epsom have been accused of diminishing the brand value of the World’s most important Classic as well as being condescending towards their customers; the theory being that the 'poor Poundland people' will have to stand and watch as the Millionaires, across the track, live it up in the Champagne drenched grandstands. Only I suspect the customers on Poundland Hill won’t care one iota. They’ll be enjoying a fantastic party with a picnic procured from an inexpensive retailer – laughing at the absurdity of the fellows dressed like penguins on the far side of the course.
When you’ve backed as many losers as I have in recent weeks (this weekend’s selection is Aclaim in Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes) it’s nice to pick up a bargain – so, in honour of Epsom’s latest sponsor, we’ve come up with a pound offer of our own. We’re giving up to twenty four restaurant customers the opportunity to purchase a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne for just £1. Yes just £1!
Anyone who books (or who has already booked) a seat in one of our restaurants during the Cartmel May Meeting will be eligible. There is still limited availability in both restaurants, although we’ve fewer spaces in the Louis Roederer Restaurant, located in the Grandstand, than the Conservatory Restaurant, which is situated in the marquee running parallel to the finishing straight. Just like the team at Epsom, we’re confident that whichever facility you find yourselves in, you’ll enjoy a great day at the races.
The £1 offer is strictly limited to 24 bottles (and one bottle per party - we’re not completely crazy), so telephone the racecourse office as soon as you can. Unlike the After Eight Mints, each bottle is standard sized – so ideal for sharing with friends. Although, if you decide to keep it for yourself, as the person that making the booking, you’ll still be welcome. No one here is going to judge.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Our Survey Says...

Sometime, maybe as long as two years ago, I came across some fascinating research that had been conducted into a matter of vital national importance. Apparently 60% of us own a favourite mug which we don’t like to share with anyone else – and a third of us would feel ‘totally devastated’ if that mug was broken. The bad news is that, on average, each mug has a lifespan of just three years – making for a nation which must be nigh on inconsolable.

I never suspected, for one moment, that this was a spurious survey conducted on behalf of a multi-national company in a cynical attempt to get us thinking about steaming mugs of Heinz Soup. Having googled the story again, I see that I was probably fooled, although it’s quite plausible that the surveyed population could simply have consisted of a small sample of the office team at Cartmel – where we all have our own individual mugs.

I have three mugs that I don’t like anyone else to use – and total devastation wouldn’t cover my feelings if any of them were broken. In fact I did drop the Sporting Life mug a few years ago, but the tears eased once I realised that I could glue the handle back on. It now sits high on a shelf where I can admire it, but not fill it with coffee. Then there is the blue stripy mug which Mrs Garratt gave me to take to work on my first day at Cartmel – which was lost in the Stewards' litter bin for several weeks, but always manages to find its way back to my desk eventually.
The mug which came to hand, when I sat down to write this week's blog, features an attractive sponge-ware design of a racehorse and was given to me by a racehorse owner as a generous ‘thank you’ for a pleasant day spent with friends at Cartmel races. When the same owner called me to say that there was no two mile novice hurdle race, at our May Meeting, for horses without a handicap rating aged over four years, I was compelled to act.
Never let it be said that we don’t respond to feedback, especially when we've been softened up in advance. Following a short consultation with the BHA and the race sponsor, we decided to open the ‘Tash & Rob "I’ll Give It Six Months" Wedding Novices Hurdle’, from a race restricted to four-year-olds to one for all ages. There’s no limit to what can be achieved with a decent cup of coffee in your hand – except perhaps tipping winners, where nothing I try seems to help. This week’s attempt at a tip is Zubayr in Haydock’s Swinton Hurdle on Saturday.
In a survey of our own, conducted with racegoers attending last season’s August meeting, we discovered that the five words most commonly used to describe the event were: FANTASTIC, FUN, BRILLIANT, GREAT and ENJOYABLE. The atmosphere was awarded an average rating of 9.2 out of 10 by all respondents, while the overall experience received a score of 8.9. We were pleased with that, but we couldn’t ignore the relatively low score (just 5.6 out of 10) for seating. Of course racegoers are welcome to bring their own folding seats to Cartmel - but we’re still going to take delivery of 160 extra seats next week, with tables, in readiness for racing over the Whit Holiday weekend.
We also have plans, at the busiest events, to provide assistance for those racegoers who arrive late – and find themselves at the back of the car park – to transport their picnics, folding chairs and less mobile relatives to the main public enclosures. We hope that this will help even more customers to fully enjoy their day. 
If you tell us what you think about the races, we’ll do our best to make them even better - as long as no one messes with my coffee mug.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Racing Brains

Fantastic news! According to a report in The Times last week, doctors could soon be able to scan our brains and tell us how much longer we have to live. One simple MRI scan can measure the volume of brain tissue that each of us has remaining. We’ll then be presented with something akin to an advent calendar, helping us to count down a finite number of birthdays, Christmases and Cartmel race-meetings.
The prediction is the result of a trial involving a group of people born in Lothian in 1936. Following a series of scans, a computer estimated the ages of 669 individuals based on the condition of their brains. Individuals were much more likely to die early if they possessed brains that looked significantly older than they should. So the optimistic theory goes like this: if we know our brain is shrinking at a dangerous rate, we might do something to expand it – like taking exercise, eating spinach or working out who’s going to win the Ramside Event Catering Handicap Chase at Hexham on Saturday (Rolling Thunder is my selection for the weekend).
On the other hand, we might simply get depressed, drink more whisky and forget why it was we went to the doctor’s in the first place. Certainly, if you live in East Lothian, you’ve got more pressing things to worry about this week, like the outcome of Thursday’s local council elections which, apart from anything else, will help to determine which individuals sit on the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee whose purpose is to oversee business at Musselburgh Racecourse.
The committee is comprised of four elected councillors and three racing nominees, supported by the highly professional executive team at the racecourse. Unfortunately, a series of disagreements between the groups has led to a stand-off which jeopardises the proper governance of the track. The situation has now deteriorated to the point whereby the British Horseracing Authority has opted to issue Musselburgh with a temporary licence only. If the situation isn’t resolved soon, the BHA could effectively remove Musselburgh’s right to stage racing for the remainder of the year.
As you might expect, I’d count several of Musselburgh’s executive team and racing-nominated committee members as friends. I’m not impartial. However, I think that it is fairly safe to say that any person, with a reasonable knowledge of the racing industry, would tell you that the executive team at Musselburgh perform to a very high standard. I’m struggling to understand how the current crop of elected politicians assist them in that role.
I wonder whether the good doctors of East Lothian might consider scanning the brains of the newly elected councillors at the end of this week, not so that we can tell how long they’ll live – just to check that they do in fact have brains and that they’re capable of using them for the benefit of Musselburgh Racecourse and the wider industry.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Jockey Fuel

It’s funny what Her Majesty’s Customs & Revenue officials believe constitutes business entertainment. If I attended a hospitality event and was offered a paper plate with one slice of lean meat, a green salad without dressing and a glass of water, I might wonder whether the host really wanted my business at all. But according to the tax regulators, Cartmel Racecourse is unable to reclaim any of the VAT incurred on the refreshments that we provide to jockeys in the weighing room. They seem to believe that we entertain the jockeys, while of course it is usually the other way around – it wouldn’t be much of a race-meeting without any riders for the horses.
Many people assume that jockeys don’t eat anything, but in fact most of them graze all day. Nutritionists advise that they should consume as little fat as possible – so they don’t usually go for butter on their bread or olive oil on their lettuce. Too much protein can result in the unwelcome addition of weight, too little reduces vital strength – so the jockeys prefer to pick at wafer thin pieces of ham or chicken between races.
Some like sweets too – but sugar doesn’t just boost short-term energy, it also helps to pile on the pounds, so jockeys are advised to opt for carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index such as sweet potato, fruit, pasta or rice. Such foods are filling without being fattening and their bulk helps to reduce hunger – which is good for jockeys like Henry Brooke, who rides Blakemount (this week’s selection) off a weight of 10st 12lb in Saturday’s Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
Whatever the jockeys choose to eat, we’re fortunate that one of the racecourse’s newest sponsors happens to control several links in the local supply chain – enabling us to source the best quality local produce for our riders. You might have seen the fleet of McClures delivery vehicles buzzing busily around the Lake District. Their distinctive logo features a healthy looking green apple, with a bite out of it, in place of the letter ‘C’. Originating from their base in Windermere, where they also operate a cash-and-carry store, the McClures vans service an area which encompasses the whole of Cumbria, North Yorkshire and North Lancashire.
Appropriately, for one of the largest suppliers of food ingredients across the region, McClures will be sponsoring the first race on Barbecue Day, Monday 24th July. If you haven’t brought your own food from home, there’s quite a big chance that you’ll consume some of their produce during your visit to the races – because as well as the healthy fresh stuff, they also supply a huge array of local delicacies, fattening puddings and sauces for normal people who don’t ride horses at 30mph over fences and aren’t counting calories. And if you’re staying away from home, you’ll probably enjoy a McClures breakfast – because they supply most of the hotels and guest houses in the area too.
So next time you pass one of those vans, with the jolly green-apple logo, give the friendly driver a wave – he might be delivering the food which fuels our jockeys.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Beggar's Breeches

Twas in the January snows of 1799, that a beggar came to perish in the parish of Cartmel. Found on the high road between Backbarrow and Cartmel, the beggar was in a poor state and unable to walk. He was therefore conveyed to Cartmel by horse and cart, where he was given tea and refreshments.

Unfortunately he died the following day at Garrat House - which is funny. Not, admittedly, if you are a hypothermic beggar in the eighteenth century. But quite peculiar if your name happens to be Jonathan Garratt and you manage Cartmel Racecourse more than two-hundred years later. Because there is a direct link between the beggar and the racecourse.
Soon after the beggar died, a dispute broke out between the Overseers of the Poor and the coffin maker; the Overseers suggesting that it would be a shame to put the parish to unnecessary cost… and that perhaps ash or sycamore would be the least costly material for the beggar’s burial. However, on examining the deceased’s clothing, it became apparent that his pockets weighed heavy – and 185 golden Guinneas were found in his breeches.
Now it is important, in a Christian county like Cumbria (although this part of the world was called Lancashire at the time), that a wealthy man is buried properly - so the beggar was afforded an oak coffin and warm ale was provided for all the mourners. To this day, the people of Cartmel continue to enjoy a good funeral and so I’m sure that there were plenty in attendance.
There being no credible claims on the remaining Guineas, the money was used to purchase some land, the rent from which has been used for charitable purposes in Cartmel ever since. It so happens that one of the fields purchased with funds from the beggar’s breeches is the very field that the racecourse rents in order to park horseboxes on racedays. And our rent helps to contribute towards the cost of books for local school children.
But long before horseboxes, some of the rental revenue was used to set up a Grammar School. And being too small, in recent decades, to suit the purposes of Theresa May, the school house has been re-purposed. If you’ve been to the races you might have noticed it - overlooking the north bend of the racecourse as the horses turn away from the roadside-straight.
The historic building has recently been lovingly and painstakingly renovated to bring it back to its former glory – and the good news is that you will be able to stay there, as the new owners will be running the Cartmel Old Grammar Country House as a hotel. The bedrooms have beautiful sweeping views across the fells and the racecourse, there is a private lounge and terrace for guests – and at least five of the rooms will be ready in time for the races in May. Available rooms in Cartmel, at race weekends or at any time throughout the Summer, are like hens’ teeth – so book now by calling 01539 535809.
The beggar of Cartmel has long since departed on his Celestial Path (this weekend’s selection could run at either Newton Abbot on Saturday or Ffos Las on Sunday) – but if you have any spare change in your breeches, you know which horse to put it on.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Journey to the Highlands

I’m not going to Aintree this weekend, preferring instead to settle down in front of the telly in a highland lodge. That’s right, while Highland Lodge – the horse trained in Cartmel by Jimmy Moffatt – is leading the field over the Grand National obstacles, I shall be hundreds of miles away sitting in a holiday cottage in the Scottish Highlands. And of course, because the law of coincidences dictates that the Grand National winner always has to have a suitable name, I’m certain that Highland Lodge will win. I hope Jimmy is grateful for the lengths I’ve gone to, to secure his winner.
Of course I should be at Aintree. But when it comes to the Grand National I just wonder: Is it almost as much fun to travel, as it is to arrive?
For the last eighteen months, ever since Highland Lodge won over the National fences in the Becher Chase, we have believed that Pit Farm Stables housed the winner of the World’s greatest race. Unfortunately the horse narrowly failed to make the cut in last year’s Grand National, being balloted out of the top 40 at the final declaration stage. So, in a funny way, we were still able to claim that he was a moral winner.
Highland Lodge
Having been beaten by the narrowest of margins in this season’s Becher Chase, Highland Lodge proved once again that he was a natural over the big fences. For eighteen months his owner, Simon Wilson of Bowes Lodge Stables, has lived the dream of a Grand National winner. And now, within the shadow of the post, the horse has been sold to Mr and Mrs David Thompson – the same couple that bought Party Politics on the eve of his Grand National success in 1992.
Now I don’t have any privileged access to the affairs of Bowes Lodge Stables, but it occurs to me that Grand National runners are unlikely to change hands for small sums – and I am sure that if Highland Lodge goes and does the business on Saturday, Simon Wilson will feel just as much a winner as he did eighteen months ago when he lifted the Becher Chase trophy. And the Thompsons? Well they will be over the moon – because to own a horse with a great chance of winning the National, as it canters down to the start: that’s great too. And if he wins – the purchase price will look like a grand investment. Everyone’s a winner!
And what about Jimmy? I haven’t spoken to him recently, but if I know Jimmy, he’ll just be hoping that the horse does himself credit and comes home safely. Because above all, Jimmy exists for his horses. He cares for them, nurtures them and loves training them. It’s his life – and to have one that could win the most famous race in the World… That’s a dream come true.
I could tell you that Blaklion has the best form, or that Doctor Harper could be an exciting outsider. But there’s only one result for the 2017 Grand National: for the last eighteen months everyone in Cartmel has enjoyed a fantastic journey and on Saturday we’ll all arrive - at Highland Lodge.