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.