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.

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