Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The 2015 Punting Predictions

Happy New Year! Traditionally a time for committing to new resolutions, I’ve asked all my readers whether there is anything that I could try harder to achieve in 2015. Interestingly, you both said the same thing: Could I tip a few more winners?

So now seems as good a time as any to make a few predictions (or speculations) for 2015.

It’s Rugby World Cup year and it would be nice to think that England could win at home – but at 7/2 they don’t represent much value. You could have 300/1 about Scotland, but that’s totally unrealistic; there’s more chance that the Scots will provide the next Prime Minister, given that Ladbrokes quote Gordon Brown at only 100/1 for the job.  

But Gordon’s not even expected to line up for the race when the General Election takes place in May – which doesn’t say much for Scotland’s World Cup aspirations. In fact, on reflection, the odds quoted for the next Prime Minister are a little like those for the 2015 Gold Cup – in that I really don’t fancy any of the runners (fancy seems an inappropriate word here - but I guess it is accurate in any sense). Taking David Cameron out of the equation (as the incumbent), Ladbrokes offer 7/1 about Boris Johnson and 16/1 about Yvette Cooper. 

Alex Salmond isn’t quoted, which probably means he is 1,000-1 or more – about the same price as Elvis being discovered by the Rosetta space probe. It may seem far fetched, but some commentators believe that the SNP could form part of a new coalition Government. Elvis Presley or Alex Salmond as Prime Minister… 1000/1… hmmm. No, best to look elsewhere for our tip of the year. 

Prior to the election, I’m hoping that the politicians will have speeded through some legislation for a Racing Right – replacing the current Horseracing Betting Levy. It will have a major beneficial impact on the sport, but it will also cause a shake up in the betting industry. We should expect to see off-shore betting operators engage on more fronts with British customers – even on the highstreet, where betting shops have been under pressure from increased tax on gaming machines. Following this to its logical conclusion, doesn’t Ladbrokes look ripe for a city takeover? I think it's worth a small punt.  

Priced close to their 5-year low, at 114 pence per share, Ladbrokes’ value is about half what it was on 13th March 2013… Which, coincidentally, is when Sprinter Sacre won his first Champion Chase. Having been off the course for much of the time since, Sprinter Sacre is now 2/1 for the 2015 edition - having demonstrated his wellbeing in a recent schooling session at Newbury. There will be nothing to touch him at Cheltenham and 2/1 could look like exceedingly good value come March. 

In May, I expect Soul Magic to extend his record at Cartmel to eight wins – something no other horse has achieved. If not May, then the introduction of the new meeting in June affords Soul Magic an additional opportunity – with another coming in July, and another in August. Come on Soul Magic – you can do it! 

But to get the year started in the appropriate fashion, I’m going to suggest Aurore D’Estruval (in the listed mares’ race) at Sandown on Saturday. Good luck!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Five Tips for a Merry Christmas

I love Christmas but, as a heavenly host of TV chefs are fond of telling us, a little bit of preparation can make the holiday so much more enjoyable. So here are my top five tips for Christmas 2014:

1) While the devil makes his Christmas pie from lawyers tongues and clerk’s fingers (according to my book on ye olde business lore), I prefer pork. A reduced stock made from boiled pigs’ trotters makes a tasty jelly which will help to preserve the pie for a good week – although there’s not usually much left after breakfast on Christmas morning.

2) If you’ve made your pie and ordered your turkey, you might just have a little bit of space left in the fridge for some sweet Morcambe Bay Potted Shrimps – order them now from furnessfish.co.uk, the last day for dispatch is Monday 22nd December. While you’re about it you can order your Christmas pudding from The Cartmel Village Shop website – I couldn’t choose, so we’ve got Sticky Toffee Pudding, Sticky Figgy Pudding and the Cartmel Christmas Pudding. No danger of losing weight this month. 

3) If you’re spending yuletide with one or more girls aged under ten, then you need to know about the Disney Frozen Princesses: Elsa & Anna. If you haven’t bought the dolls yet then you’re probably too late and you’d better start praying that someone else has. Asda are selling a cardboard model of the Frozen Ice Palace (on offer at £16.97 – yes it really is made of cardboard) with a fiendishly awkward set of instructions. Requiring at least one cup of coffee and no more than two units of alcohol, the optimum time to tackle construction will be between 5.55am and 6.35am on Christmas morning. 

4) Look up the times of Church services well in advance, it’s always embarrassing to walk in half way through communion – especially if you’ve rushed your breakfast and dribbled pork jelly down your new Christmas jumper. At Cartmel Priory there is a service of nine lessons and carols at 6.30pm on Tuesday 23rd December, Christmas Eve services at 5.30pm and 11.30pm and Christmas Day services at 8.00am and 10.15am. 

5) Make sure that all your guests have gone by noon on Boxing Day so that you can settle down and enjoy the coverage of the racing from Kempton – unless of course you’re planning on attending one of the race-meetings at Wetherby, Huntingdon, Market Rasen, Towcester, Fontwell Park, Kempton, Wincanton, Sedgefield or Wolverhampton. I’ll be rooting for Wishfull Thinking in the King George VI Chase, unless he’s a non-runner in which case the race will be won by Champagne Fever.

...But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because this week’s selection is Activial – running at Ascot on Saturday.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Dear Mr Hobbs...

I am one of the horses in your yard – we know each other quite well, although you might be quite surprised that I’ve learnt how to write. While the newspapers call me Wishfull Thinking, my name is actually neighhphbraorrr (at least that’s a fair approximation - it’s easier to spell in Arabic than English). Did you know that I could write in Arabic too? 
The newspapers can be a bit mean – in the past they have used adjectives such as inconsistent and unreliable to describe my form, which implies that my heart isn’t always in the game. Nothing could be further from the truth – I appreciate that you already know this and you’ve kindly told them about my small wind problem (breathing, not digestion) and they now use terms such as “If he puts his best foot forward…” 
Anyway, there can be no doubt about my jumping. Okay, I did flatten that photographer at Cheltenham a while ago, but I’ve always been a tad vain and I just wanted to make sure that he had me in the frame – I was temporarily distracted; I won’t let it happen again. At Huntingdon last week I endeavoured to show the young whippersnappers how to leap with speed and accuracy. Although I say it myself, I don’t think there has been a better round of jumping since Desert Orchid won his first King George VI Chase. 
I’ll get to the point… You see I really want an opportunity to prove myself over 3 miles. Since the age of five I’ve been running over distances of 2 – 2½ miles. I bet you couldn’t run that far when you were 5 years old. Anyway, now that I’m nearly 12, I really think I should have another go over further – on a nice flat track, Kempton, preferably on Boxing Day, in the King George VI Chase.  
I know… I know – you’ve got Menorah and possibly Captain Chris to consider too. But Menorah told me he’d prefer to wait for faster ground and Chris has been enjoying his holidays – he’d be happy to wait a month longer. Honest. 
You might have a doubt in your mind about that day Unioniste passed me on the run-in at Aintree – when I had my one and only previous attempt over 3 miles. Forget it – I was a sitting target, I had streaked ahead in the straight and my wind just got the better of me again (breathing, not digestion – although those oats are quite gassy). 
You’ve got a lot to think about, especially with Cheltenham this weekend (where Jonathan has given Alan King’s Karezak as his selection on Saturday – doesn’t he know anything?); but please – let me have a spin in the King George. I might surprise a few people. I usually do. What’s so good about being predictable anyway? 
Wishfull Thinking*
* as imagined by Jonathan Garratt

Thursday, 4 December 2014

What George Osborne Didn't Say

Twice Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once said that "a canter is a cure for every evil." Winston Churchill said "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." This week George Osborne said… Um… Well, he didn’t say anything about horses actually.
But, hidden deep in the small print of the typed manuscript of his autumn statement was the following vital line, "The Government will consult on the introduction of a racing right in early 2015 and will announce a decision after consultation." The (non-verbal) comment made the headlines in just one newspaper: The Racing Post. The other national dailies curiously decided to ignore the story and instead focused their attention on other trivial matters such as the budget deficit and stamp duty cuts.
The introduction of a racing right, if successful, will allow horseracing to authorise all betting activity on the sport in return for a financial contribution from the betting operators. The system will replace the existing Horserace Betting Levy - which was instituted in 1961 for a betting industry which consisted of bricks and mortar in British high-streets. Having reached the digital era, the levy now contains more holes than an old fishing net, allowing betting companies to trade from various jurisdictions and in a variety of ways without contributing to the sport. The racing right should create a level playing field for betting operators and a more constructive relationship between the racing and betting industries.
By fixing the leakage, the sport will be better placed to fund prize money – the oil in the engine of racing, without which the constituent parts seize up and cease working together. Those readers familiar with the politics of horseracing will know the truth of this analogy – the sport consists of factions who, for good self-interested reasons, all have a view on prize funds. The racing right will help to reward racehorse owners and will therefore benefit trainers, Thoroughbred breeders, vets, farriers, feed suppliers and everyone who works in the equestrian supply chain. It will help to create jobs, particularly in rural areas.
Much of the money will flow through the racecourses. While it is unlikely to directly benefit the profitability of tracks, the racing right should improve the health of our industry – making the action more competitive and the spectacle exciting. It will help to develop and nurture young-stock. It will help Britain to compete on the world-stage, hang on to the best horses and attract competition from foreign shores. It will help us to spin better yarns - to add to the rich heritage of racing folklore that already exists.
Talking of folklore (in the sense that George Osborne was ‘talking’ about horseracing on Wednesday), Wishfull Thinking has three entries this weekend but seems most likely to run in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday. His stable-mate, Menorah, is preferred in the ante-post betting for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day but requires good ground. If Wishfull Thinking can win the Peterborough Chase on soft ground, his chances of finally getting to run in the race (which I have ‘wishfully thought’ to be his destiny to win) will improve dramatically. He can be backed at 100/1 or more for the King George on the exchanges.
This week’s selection is Third Intention, an under-rated challenger for the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday. From 14 starts over fences he’s been placed 12 times as well as registering a fifth and a sixth at the last two Cheltenham Festivals. At odds of around 20/1, he makes solid each way appeal.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Lighting Up A Dark Day

Visa customers are expected to spend £1 million every three minutes in Britain on Black Friday this week. The day between Thanksgiving Day and the weekend, Black Friday is an unofficial holiday in America where retailers have propagated a consumer frenzy through the promotion of heavy discounts.
The day should not be confused with Black Monday (when the World stock market crashed in October 1987), Black Wednesday (when dramatic currency trading caused the British Government to withdraw Sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992), Black Thursday (when bush fires swept across Victoria, Australia, killing twelve people and more than a million sheep in 1851) – or even Black Eye Friday (when most of the men and some of the women, working in the trades in Cartmel, take the afternoon off and head to the pub during the week before Christmas).
This relatively new tradition (Black Friday – not the drink-fuelled festive celebrations in Cartmel) has been exported to the UK by cynical traders who have pedalled the myth that envious domestic customers must have noticed the online discounts available across the Atlantic and demanded a slice of the action. The whole thing is clearly a ruse to get us to spend our money early, before forgetting the pain and then going out with our credit cards again later in December. 
It won’t work. According to a survey published by MoneySupermarket.com, we’ve already decided how much money we’re going to spend on Christmas – that’s an average of £445 per person nationally and £490 per person in the North West. I always knew that the good people of Cumbria were unusually generous.
By the way, in case you were wondering, I’m especially fond of fine wine, dark chocolate and nice biscuits. I’m not really a gadget person – I can’t see the point of those special cork-screws that make it easier to put the cork back in the bottle. I like DVDs but I’m not interested in Les Miserables – it doesn’t sound very jolly (the clue is in the title).
At this point I should like to remind everyone that tickets for Cartmel races make a splendid gift: vouchers can be purchased from the racecourse office, redeemable against any fixture next year. Simply call the racecourse office before 15th December to avoid disappointment. 

According to my calculations, a £55 bet on Fingal Bay in Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury could be enough to fund the average Christmas spend. Being particularly stingy, my demands are less exuberant and my typical stake of £2.50 each-way should be sufficient to generate the required funds. If you fancy attempting a big win from a small stake, you could try a Newbury treble including Fingal Bay, Jumps Road and this week’s selection: Tony Star.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Mr Greedy Socks It To Them

"Dress for success" they said. There was plenty at stake at the Racecourse Association’s prestigious Showcase Awards Dinner on Thursday last week, so I made sure that I was wearing my smartest pair of Mr Perfect socks (£17.50 for seven pairs, featuring assorted Mr Men characters, from M&S).
It was a black-tie affair. I’m sorry that I didn’t pass on that specific piece of information to our race-day presenter John Sexton – otherwise he too could have been dressed like a penguin. But it didn’t really matter, the socks were the most important thing.
I usually don a pair of Mr Fussy socks in preparation for the races on the day before each event, while Mr Happy appears on the day of the fixture itself – especially if it happens to be a Bank Holiday Monday. I’m not saying that I’m superstitious, but I’m a bit uneasy about wearing Mr Bump socks at any time and Mr Tickle is for home-wear only: no one wants to end up in court over a misunderstanding about sartorial sock messages… 
The team here have been working their socks off all year and it was really exciting to have been nominated for three separate awards: Operational Excellence, Corporate Social Responsibility and Food & Beverages. The judges handed us the award for Corporate Social Responsibility and I’m pretty sure that they said we’d knocked their socks off! In any case, they were impressed by the high level of interaction between the racecourse and our community – including a variety of local sports clubs, the Priory, in-bloom committee, agricultural society, cubs, scouts, the primary school (bless their little cotton socks) and many others. 
Ascot Racecourse were also nominated in three award categories and picked up two, before being crowned the Showcase Champions. You could say that we tried to sock it to them – but we didn’t quite have the legs to carry it off. Well done to everyone at Ascot (obviously no one with Muppet socks there): it was a great feat. Having dipped our toe in the water, we’ll try hard to follow in their shoes next time.
There is racing at Ascot this weekend and, having pulled my socks up in the tipping department in recent weeks, I’m going to nominate Wishfull Thinking in the Amlin Chase as my weekly selection. However, you’ll be pleased to know that I'm fairly certain that I’ve also identified the winners of all seven races at Haydock on Saturday: Plus Jamais, Lie Forrit, Tap Night, The New One, Katkeau, Cue Card and Green Flag. Needless to say, beneath my betting boots, I’ll be wearing Mr Greedy socks.
Four of those Haydock winners are trained in Scotland, three by Lucinda Russell who will probably be wearing tartan tights - if she doesn’t have her own Little Miss Perfect socks. On second thoughts, I expect she has better dress sense – it’s time for me to put a sock in it.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Ten Horses To Avoid

At last. Here is the list that bookmakers have been waiting for – my ten horses to follow for the Winter. Once published, the bookmakers can virtually guarantee that none of these horses will win again and lay them with confidence between now and April.
For the first time in many years, probably two decades or more, there is no Racing Post Ten-To-Follow competition. If, like many other racing enthusiasts, you are missing the opportunity to flaunt your optimism, please send your lists to me at the racecourse’s general e-mail address: info@cartmel-racecourse.co.uk . The best list at the end of the Winter season will win a prize – a good one, can’t think what yet… perhaps a bottle of Champagne or a trip to Cartmel races next Summer.
To give you some more time to formulate your list, we’ll start on Saturday 29th November – Hennessy Gold Cup Day. And to keep it simple we’ll award ten points for every win, five extra points if the winning SP is 5/1 or greater, 10 bonus points if the winning SP is 10/1 or greater and 20 bonus points if the SP is 20/1 or greater. Every Cheltenham Festival winner will also attract an additional 10 bonus points. We’ll end on Grand National Day and we’ll offer another 20 bonus points for the winner of the Grand National - just to ensure that the excitement goes down to the wire.
The Willie Mullins quartet, Un De Sceaux, Vautour, Annie Power and Faugheen, are all prominent in the betting for the Champion Hurdle. However, nice though it will be to see them at Cheltenham, most of them will run in entirely different races – which I find a bit boring. So none of them have made it into my top ten. Instead, the first horse for your list is The New One. If there is any justice in the Universe (which the Rosetta space probe may confirm soon) Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge has to win the Champion Hurdle next March and lots of other good races on the way.

Easter Meteor could keep up the good record of the Pipe stable in the big race at Cheltenham on Saturday. In the meantime, I expect Garde La Victoire (also this week’s selection) to keep up Philip Hobbs’ excellent record in the Greatwood Hurdle on Sunday.

In the juvenile division it usually pays to keep one of Alan King’s horses on your side. We had a bit of luck selecting Karezak recently and he looks as though he could go on to better things. I’d also suggest that you make a note of Vosne Romanee, who won the same race at Cartmel as Countrywide Flame – before that one went on to claim the Triumph Hurdle. Trained by Dr Richard Newland (last season’s Grand National winning trainer) Vosne Romanee has won again since, before narrowly failing to give weight to two other highly rated juveniles: useful form.

I was too embarrassed to tip Wishfull Thinking when he won at Aintree three weeks ago. I thought everyone would think I was crazy. But this horse is now rated 169 by the BHA and I still believe he would be better over 3 miles – I hope he finally gets an opportunity to prove himself in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. If he doesn’t, have a saver on Eduard. Like most northern challengers, he will be underrated and over-priced – but make no mistake, this is a nice horse.

Also flying the flag for the north this Winter is Blakemount, trained by Sue Smith, who is a genuine challenger for the top staying novice chases. Last year’s top novice was O’Faolains Boy and I’d be disappointed if he didn’t progress into a live contender for the Gold Cup in March.
The final name for the list is Sprinter Sacre. He has handsome looks, a flashy racing style and top class form – everything it takes to claim legendary status except longevity. After missing the majority of last season, we will finally find out if Sprinter Sacre is the legend that I and thousands of others would like to believe he is - except of course the bookmakers, who will now be laying him with confidence for as much money as you’d like to have on.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A Dwarf On Giant's Shoulders

Award nominations are a bit like London buses. You don’t receive any for a while and then three come along all at once. 

Next week we shall be attending the Showcase Awards – the Racecourse Association’s version of the Oscars – and Cartmel is one of only two tracks which have been nominated in three separate categories. It’s a bit like holding a fantastic ante-post bet: you’ve got 33/1 about a horse which is now only 5/1 for the big race – but you’re pretty sure that it won’t win anyway. I’m a bit of a pessimist that way, which is why I’m telling everyone about the nominations now while I’ve still got the chance.
The first nomination is for corporate & social responsibility. The races at Cartmel have a dramatic impact on the local community, some very positive and others less so. If you’re not one of the local residents attending the races, you could be forgiven for finding them a bit inconvenient – which is why we strive to do whatever we can to reduce any negative impacts such as increased traffic and litter. When we’re not racing, which is almost 360 days of the year, the racecourse is central to the community – and not just geographically – providing a base for the local sports clubs, the cubs and the scouts. Many local events, school activities and fundraising activities take place on the racecourse and we’re proud of our local connections.
The second nomination is for operational excellence, particularly in relation to the introduction of the race-day camping area. The camping facilities were an immediate success and sold out on five out of the seven race-days. We’ve enjoyed great feedback from racegoers, but also from local traders: particularly the shop keepers and publicans, who witnessed an uplift in turnover as a result of the additional visitors to the village.
Our final nomination is in the food and beverage category, where our new tented village has attracted the attention of the judges. The area, which has been made more accessible through improved drainage, incorporates a big outdoor screen, the Conservatory Restaurant (run by Rowleys Catering), a number of private party tents and a range of food stands, largely promoting local produce.
A Quality Assessment Inspector from Visit England commented "Village businesses were strongly represented with Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, local breweries, cheese and ice cream manufacturers all enjoying a busy day. The opportunity for local producers to complement the race-day experience and capitalise from the large crowd was grabbed with both hands and a win-win situation was apparent from seeing the excited and satisfied customers sampling the high quality fare."
Several members of our small team will be attending the awards ceremony. When it comes to organising events, there are few successes that can be claimed by one person alone. As George Herbert said "A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees the further of the two." Quite who are the giants and who are the dwarves among our team I’m not sure, but I’m finishing this piece now before I dig any further...
The weekend selection is Lily Waugh in the Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at Wincanton.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Rich Ingredients of Life

The other day I noticed a slogan on a T-shirt which read "If we are what we eat, I’m fast, cheap and easy." It obviously doesn’t apply to me: my favourite dish is lobster with garlic mayonnaise – which probably means that I’m just shellfish.
Following the announcement of the 2015 fixture list last week, we are now in the process of pulling together all the ingredients for our race programmes and, fairly soon, I hope that we’ll be able to announce a menu of rich and competitive jump racing with opportunities to suit a wide variety of horses.
Last year we programmed our classiest race ever: the William Hill 80th Anniversary Hurdle Race – it was Cartmel’s first ever Class 2 event. This week we learnt that we have been given approval, by the British Horseracing Authority, for a further three Class 2 events, two of which will be staged on our new Sunday fixture on 28th June, 2015. We shall also be upgrading the Cavendish Cup Steeplechase, on the final day of the season, to a Class 2 event with at least £22,500 of prize money.
On Wednesday the Horserace Betting Levy Board’s funding allocation process started in earnest. There are several days in the calendar, mainly Sundays and Bank Holidays when there are more fixtures being staged than are desired by the betting industry. These fixtures are usually very popular with racegoers and so it would be detrimental to cull them from the fixture list, but the HBLB has come up with a new method of prioritising where their prize money grants are spent: racecourses are required to state the total value of prize money that they intend to put up on each of these days, using an auction-style bidding process. The grants go to those that bid the highest.
Initial indications are that Cartmel will benefit from full prize money grants for all of our eligible fixtures, but there are Manyriverstocross (which happens to be the name of our selection this week – entered at Ascot on Saturday). At this stage, no one knows exactly what the grants will be worth.
In percentage terms, the grants are likely to account for roughly 40% of the total prize fund with 10% coming from race entry fees (paid by racehorse owners) and the other half from the racecourse executive. The executive contribution includes all the monies paid as race sponsorship, which is why race sponsors such Unsworth’s Yard Brewery, Furness Fish & Game, Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding and Louis Roederer Champagne are so important to us – they provide essential ingredients for our race programme – adding zest, body, sweetness and bubbles.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The 2015 Cartmel Fixture List - A Great Spread

Everyone knows that chocolate is a good thing. Included within a long list of health benefits are claims that chocolate may help to lower cholesterol, prevent memory decline, reduce heart disease and reduce the risk of strokes – if taken in the appropriate amounts. Happy obesity (and possible disqualification from races if you happen to be a horse) is the penalty for inappropriately large doses.
Chocolate contains Theobromine, a natural stimulant which can induce happiness. If there’s no racing at Cartmel, you could always try the next best thing – a bar of chocolate or perhaps racing at Cheltenham (or even Aintree – where this weekend’s selection is Lucinda Russell’s Lie Forrit).
During the Napoleonic wars, when the British blockaded the Mediterranean, there was a great shortage of cocoa beans in Turin. A chocolatier by the name of Michele Prochet came up with a fabulous idea: he blended the beans with hazelnuts from the Langhe Hills. The result was Gianduja, a delicious blend of nuttiness and happiness – not unlike a day at Cartmel races.
Following the Second World War, rationing restricted the availability of chocolate once again and Pietro Ferrero (an ancestor of the ambassador’s favourite chocolatier, made famous by TV advertising in the 1990’s) returned to the mixing bowl to make the happiness stretch that little bit further. He refined and adapted the recipe until, in 1951, he produced a confection which was not only chocolaty and nutty, but also sweet and smooth – not unlike many of the staff and racegoers at Cartmel races.
In 1964 the product was adapted again, packaged smartly and given a new name. Nutella hit the shop shelves of Europe to great acclaim and sales grew to the point where the manufacture of Nutella accounted for nearly 25% of the global hazelnut harvest. The public just can’t get enough Nutella – not unlike the demand for tickets at Cartmel races.
Advertising for Nutella was challenged in the Californian Courts when the manufacturers claimed that Nutella could form part of a nutritious breakfast – possibly including wholemeal bread and orange juice. In 2012 they finally settled out of court for the reported sum of 3 million dollars. Nutella may not be a life-sustaining essential of modern Californian diets, but it is definitely life-enhancing – not unlike Cartmel races.
So – apart from the qualities of this life enhancing, sweetly-smooth, popular, happiness-inducing and slightly nutty product, what else has Nutella got to do with Cartmel races? Well here’s the thing…
In recent years, Cartmel’s customers have been suffering similar withdrawal symptoms to those experienced by the inhabitants of Turin in the late 18th Century. Just like Michele Prochet and Pietro Ferrero before us, we had a dream to spread the happiness a little bit further. And this week the BHA finally announced that, in 2015, we’ll be allowed to stage an extra day’s racing.
Our new eight-day season will be equally split into four 2-day meetings, taking place in May, June, July and August. By adding a little bit of nuttiness along the way, we intend to put on a great spread for all our racegoers - to be consumed as part of a balanced diet of horseracing, of course.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Starting at a Jig Jog

To Cartmel, to Cartmel, to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

To Cartmel, to Cartmel, to buy a fat hog.
Home again, home again, jiggety jog.
This week the British Horseracing Authority announced an update to their instructions for starting procedures: Races will not be started if the field approaches the start at faster than a jig jog...
If the Starter notices the horses approaching at a pace faster than a jig jog (which I think might be jigging, but perhaps it could be jogging) they have the power to wave their flags – at which point all the horses must stop. It sounds like a great game for a children’s tea party.
Sometimes the start of a race can be more interesting than the finish. Some of you might have come across a horse called Mad Moose – he has 3,915 followers on Twittter – who is most famous for digging his toes in and allowing the opposition to reach the first obstacle before deigning to start. He’d then attempt, most enthusiastically, to chase them down in the final furlong. Some times he wouldn’t start at all, creating a "will he / won’t he" tension that gripped all spectators.
Before Mad Moose, there was Vodkatini. The Josh Gifford trained gelding was my second favourite horse in 1988, my favourite horse being most people’s favourite: Desert Orchid, to whom Vodkatini finished third in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. Vodkatini was therefore a top class animal - and another who frequently liked to give his opposition a twenty length start, before trouncing them at the finish.
But in 1988 I had my first sight of another fascinating starter. At Detling point-to-point a horse called Sakr got loose in the horsebox park and galloped around the perimeter a few times. A short while later he got loose again and galloped a full lap of the track. At the start Sakr’s connections gave jockey Andrew Hickman a leg-up, just as the Starter let the field go. Sakr (who, it must be pointed out, was by the sire Hotfoot) shot into the lead and wasn’t seen for dust. He won with his head in his chest.
The following year Sakr transferred his talents, under the tutelage of Joan Wonnacott, to racing under rules – firstly over hurdles and then over fences. On several occasions he planted himself at the start before quickly changing his mind, galloped past the stationery opposition and stole an unassailable lead. Several jockeys got quite annoyed and eventually registered an official protest against the horse – but that didn’t prevent him from winning six races and being placed in a further five from just fifteen runs.
There’s lots of interesting racing at Cheltenham this weekend, but my eye is taken by Kelso’s Saturday card, where Lie Forrit looks attractively handicapped in the 3m2f chase. Come on everyone – down to the betting shop… chop chop… jiggety jog.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

I Know Nothing

An interesting parcel dropped through the letter box the other morning. Or it might have done if our postman (called Richard) didn’t bring everything into the office personally – and if his round wasn’t delayed until the afternoon, which it usually is these days.
Anyway, an interesting parcel arrived, care of Richard, who is always very polite and helps us to spread the good word about horseracing at Cartmel. The parcel contained a book entitled Jumping Prospects by one of our regular racegoers, John Morris. John has been writing Jumping Prospects for 23 years: not this particular edition you understand, but a new version for each season. Think of it as Film 2013, Film 2014 (or Film ’84 as I still remember it, being presented by Barry Norman – "and why not?"), but for horseracing enthusiasts.
The big difference is that, as far as I am aware, no one ever got rich from listening to Barry Norman - whereas John Morris offers us write-ups on nearly 500 horses which could be profitable to follow over jumps during the next few months. There are interviews with 21 top racehorse trainers and a short-list of John’s own eye-catchers. Apparently last year’s edition clocked up 100 winners from 340 runners before the end of November.
There is a flash on the back which reads "10p per minute", but I think that relates to an advertisement for a telephone commentary service, not the amount of money that you’ll make by reading the text. The book costs £15 and can be purchased online if you google the title. A few of the many candidates that could be running at Chepstow this weekend include: Emerging Talent, Shelford, Wizards Bridge and my selection – Alan King’s Karezak.
I’ve kept Jumping Prospects next to my bed for the past few nights, together with a book about Etymology by Mark Forsyth. Such is the detail contained in both that I have felt as Voltaire once commented: "The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing"...  Which means that it is a good job that South Lakeland District Council are staging a business networking event at the racecourse on 30th October featuring speakers from all the local universities and colleges.
The event is nattily entitled "Business Skills For Growth – A Higher Education Special" and promises to help local businesses obtain training for existing staff, source the best graduates and generally harness the support of the higher education system. Admission, from 9.15am onwards, is free and refreshments will be provided.
Among the advertised attractions is a live demonstration of three-dimensional printing. Apparently the machine can print all sorts of useful items including replicas of our annual membership badges – which means we’ll be introducing new security measures next year. You have been warned!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Beware of the Spider

There is an enormous spider in the Jockeys’ Changing Room. If we can’t get rid of it before next May, I’m a bit concerned that it might devour one or two of the lighter riders like Joe Cornwall or John Kington.
Perhaps you've seen some large spiders too? According to an online article this month, there are more spiders about at the moment because of the mild winter last year. They've also been growing bigger because the even milder Autumn has created an abundance of flies and small prey for them to feed on.
Apparently now is the time that male spiders leave their webs and start hunting for a female, which suddenly makes me feel quite anxious for Lucy Alexander – although I should stress to all the lady-jockeys out there that this particular spider was definitely in the male jockeys’ sink.
According to Professor Hart, from the University of Gloucester, there is a maximum size to which the spiders will grow – and I suspect that if this one eats anything more, it will pop, so perhaps we’ll all be safe.
Either way, the changing areas have all received an Autumnal clean and the kit that we need for the racing season has been tidied away. We’ll get it all out again in the Spring and make sure that it is cobweb-free.
We won’t be the only racecourse dusting off the cobwebs next year, although in the case of Great Leighs, they’ll have five years worth of spiders to contend with. Re-christened Chelmsford City Racecourse, the track is being prepared for a second grand opening in January 2015. The course, located closer to Braintree than Chelmsford, staged their inaugural fixture on 20th April, 2008 and then closed again within a year.
Phil Siers, the Managing Director of Chelmsford City Racecourse has announced this week that they are assured of at least 56 fixtures in their (second) launch season, although they aspire to staging more. At Cartmel, we aspire to staging more fixtures too, although 56 seems rather a lot – eight might be nice. The British Horseracing Authority has announced that it plans to publish the 2015 fixture list on 20th October – so keep an eye on this spot for more news.
For the selection this week we are travelling south to Fontwell Park, where The Nephew looks to have a winning chance in the MTS Cleaning Services Supporting the Royal Navy Handicap Chase. I don’t know who MTS Cleaning Services are, but they sound like the sort of people who know how to deal with large spiders.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Devil Wipes His Tail

Change is in the air and, according to an old proverb, the Devil is about to come and wipe his tail over all the blackberries on the racecourse. Of course it won’t just be Cartmel’s blackberries – he’ll be visiting bramble bushes at Plumpton, Fontwell Park, Chepstow, Towcester, Kelso and Perth, in fact bramble bushes all over the World.

According to the book of Revelation, there was a war in heaven and Saint Michael the Archangel led an army of angels who banished Lucifer, whereupon he fell down to earth and landed in a blackberry bush. Alternate versions suggest that, as a result, Satan returns each year on Michaelmas Day and either spits on the fruit, pees on it or wipes his tail across it. Either way, I wouldn’t eat any blackberries after 29th September (or possibly 11th October, which used to be the old date for Michaelmas). They won’t taste very good.
Michaelmas marks the onset of Autumn and this is the time that the Devil also interferes with all Flat racing form books. While there are still some valuable races to be run, the questions being asked are now less about which are the best horses and more about which horses have "gone over the top". Some of the top horses have had a long season, some have enjoyed a break; some won’t act on the softer ground, some have been waiting for a bit of cut beneath their toes. If there is a time to withhold your bets and simply enjoy the spectacle of racing, this is it.
In about a month’s time the Winter jumps season will be getting in the swing. But even over the sticks, there is an uncomfortable churning of the formbook as horses return to the track and face horses which have been in action over the Summer months. This weekend there could be an interesting clash between Champion Court, a prominent runner in the last two King George VI Chases and Drumlang, who has won twice and been placed twice from four runs in August. If forced to name a selection, I’d venture a small wager on Astracad in the same race at Market Rasen – he’s run well in September before and has the assistance of Sam Twiston-Davies.
The freakily fine September weather has enabled us to carry out lots of work on the racing surface and the track will be going to bed in the very best condition possible. We’ve top-dressed large parts of the track with an even layer of soil, seeded worn areas and improved drainage to the beck. The grass looks super and we’re ready for a cold Winter.
The weather has already started to turn and it wouldn’t be a surprise if there was a storm with heavy winds in the next few weeks. It'll turn the leaves and blow fruit from the trees. So, not only is it time to stop picking the blackberries, it is time to gather in all the sloe berries that you can lay your hands on. Steep them in sugar and gin between now and Christmas to make a bottle or two of sloe gin - the perfect snifter for racing in the New Year.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The "Nice" Bucket Challenge

Good things come in ice-buckets: Louis Roederer Champagne, a nice Chablis or even a bottle of Pineau De Re (in honour of this year’s Grand National winner). So when the staff at Kelso Racecourse invited me to take part in the "Ice Bucket Challenge" I was delighted. Kelso is famed for its friendly hospitality - so (fool that I am) expectations were high. 

Now, you’d probably have to have been abroad for several months not to have seen pictures in the media of people getting very wet – but if (like me) you haven’t been taking much notice, you may not know what it is all about. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a cascading awareness campaign where charitable volunteers are encouraged, in escalating numbers, to donate money to the Motor Neurone Disease Association in return for getting soaked. And it works – it is estimated that approximately one in six people have undertaken the challenge and more than 2.5 million videos relating to the challenge have been posted on Facebook.
Motor Neurone Disease affects about 5,000 people in the UK, causing the degeneration of nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This means that messages from the brain don’t reach the muscles, restricting voluntary movement and eventually causing the wastage of muscles, extreme weakness and sometimes full paralysis. Not everyone suffers from the same set of symptoms and onset of the disease can take varying amounts of time. To find out more, go to www.mndassociation.org .

In August the Motor Neurone Disease Association received a valuable boost to their fund-raising efforts when the Ice Bucket Challenge stimulated donations worth £2.7 million - roughly thirteen and half times their usual monthly receipts. Other charities have benefited too, including Macmillan Cancer Support who (according to a BBC report) generated Ice Bucket donations of £3 million and Water Aid, who generated £47,000 in just one day.

You might have gathered by now: I know a lot more about the Ice Bucket Challenge than I did a few weeks ago. It didn’t involve drinking any wine at all, although if you visit the Cartmel Racecourse Facebook page, you’ll notice that the first schlop of ice-cold water was delivered from a very nice Louis Roederer ice bucket. For this reason alone, the first person that I have challenged to take part is our contact at the Louis Roederer Champagne House, Guy Cliffe. The next two people are both involved in the production of our favourite local newspaper: Frank Stretton and Paul Turner of The North West Evening Mail.

This week’s selection is Minalisa, who should be backed each-way, at a price of 25/1 or more, for the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup this Saturday.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

All Power to the Scottish Racing Authority

I can’t help it, I am totally enthralled by the coverage of Scotland’s independence referendum. It is exciting, fascinating and just a little bit bonkers – not unlike race-meetings at Cartmel but with more clowns and fewer picnics.
From a purely personal point of view, I am very supportive of Scottish independence. Many people, including many friends, relations and colleagues will disagree with me. They may even question whether I live in the real world. But of course I don’t… I live in the racing world, where the most important topic at breakfast is whether Compton Park (this week’s selection) has eaten up his oats ahead of the Portland Handicap at Doncaster on Saturday.
Scotland is a land where betting shops have traditionally prospered. The Scots account for around 8.4% of the UK population and are believed to account for at least as much of the UK’s annual betting turnover. The Levy generated by Scottish punters is paid to the Horserace Betting Levy Board in London where, together with monies generated by English and Welsh punters, it is distributed across the racing industry in the form of prize money grants and payments for the industry’s integrity services.
Scottish racecourses receive approximately 6.2% of the annual HBLB spend – which means that more than a quarter of the money generated by Scottish punters is used to fund racing in England and Wales. Now the obvious thing to point out (and many of my colleagues in the industry will be quick to do so), is that much of the money wagered by Scots is bet on races that are staged in England – not Scotland. Some people will argue that it is only fair that these courses should receive a proportionate share of the Levy revenue.
However, in a world where financial transactions are whispered across the ether from one continent to another, we have reached a new conclusion – that betting transactions should be taxed at the point of consumption. This means that bets accepted, from UK customers, by bookmakers in Gibraltar will be taxed in the UK. If Scotland achieves independence, it is not unreasonable for bets accepted from Scottish customers to be taxed and levied in Scotland.
The additional revenue could be used by the Scottish racing industry to stage more fixtures and more prestigious races, which in turn would stimulate more betting turnover and – even more importantly – a larger population of horses trained in Scotland and the North of England. Ultimately, a rebalancing of finances could be beneficial to racing on both sides of the border.
While such arguments are simple to make in a 500 word blog, there would of course be some complex issues to resolve. Scottish race-days form part of a matrix of fixtures across Britain which are currently regulated by a governing body. Even if the Scottish racing industry were to break free of these ties, the commercial realities of our media rights contracts bind the five Scottish racecourses to many of their English counterparts.
Scottish independence would not necessarily be good for racing at Cartmel, but it wouldn’t necessarily be bad either. A "no" vote would probably provide more security to Scottish racecourses and a whole lot less hassle. However, in my humble opinion, a "yes" vote would grant the Scottish racing industry a whole world of opportunity.

As our Prime Minister keeps saying "It’s for the Scot’s to decide". I don’t have a vote, but I still believe that this is the most exciting race of the year.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Gone to the Dogs?

No sooner does the 2014 racing season finish at Cartmel, than we find ourselves deep in the midst of planning for 2015. Sadly we can’t just schedule fixtures when we feel like it; we have to work with the rest of the racing industry to identify appropriate slots in a process which is administered by the British Horseracing Authority.

The process is usually subject to a large degree of confidentiality, so it is interesting that this year’s negotiations have already generated several furlongs of media coverage. First Warwick Racecourse announced their abandonment of Flat racing, then Towcester Racecourse released the news that they were going to stage less horseracing and more dog-racing – prompting the headline that racing has "Gone To The Dogs".

Now, I love greyhounds and dog racing can be a lot of fun, but the term dog-racing is often used in a derogatory sense to describe horseracing on all-weather surfaces. So it is ironic, as far as that headline is concerned, that the biggest fixture related story is the BHA’s decision to effectively turn down an application from Newcastle Racecourse to stage all-weather racing next year.

Most horses that race on all-weather tracks also race on turf tracks - the spectacle is much the same. But, for a variety of reasons, all-weather racing just isn’t as popular. The fixtures attract much smaller crowds and lack atmosphere. If you have an aversion to crowds and have been missing the horses, an afternoon at Lingfield Park or Southwell is the trip for you. At Wolverhampton and Kempton, they stage evening racing under floodlights – and it was this factor that accounted for Newcastle’s recent reverse with the BHA.

The plans for the Newcastle development included floodlights on just one mile of the track. Crucially, rule 26.1 of the Rules of Racing requires that each fixture must include at least two races with an aggregate distance of at least 2½ miles – so the racecourse would have been unable to comply. The BHA considered granting an exemption to the rule but decided against – stimulating an outburst from the racecourse’s owners who felt frustrated by the timing of the decision.

The fact is that most racing professionals are in favour of developing an all-weather track in the North. The main concerns revolve, not around the distance of the races, but the location of the track, it’s suitability and the facilities that will be lost as a result. The existing turf track at Newcastle is very highly regarded and modern trainers are now appropriately fussy about such things. It is more than 25 years since Jean Campbell, successful with Certain Light in the Cheltenham Foxhunters Steeplechase, told reporters that she had the most fantastic all-weather gallop – a muddy field at the back of her dairy farm in Kent, where Certain Light went out whatever the weather.

While Newcastle’s owners have pledged to press ahead with their plans for 2016, they are likely to face a rival (favoured by some) in the shape of a proposed development at Catterick. It seems likely that one or both will provide additional action for owners and trainers in the North within the next two years. This will help to stimulate more ownership in the North and more equestrian enterprises – so despite being somewhat removed from our own product, the all-weather development could well generate benefits for Cartmel in the future. In the meantime, we continue to negotiate for improvements to our own fixture list and anticipate publication by the BHA in mid-October. 

This week’s selection: Hawkeyethenoo, who has run well on the all-weather at Lingfield, but goes this Saturday to compete on turf at Ascot.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Cartmel - It's Sunnier Than You Think

And so we reach the end of another racing season… one in which the weather forecasters were often overly pessimistic. Despite predictions of hurricanes in July and stormy wet weather on Bank Holiday Monday, Cartmel stayed predominately dry. Our slogan next year will be Cartmel – it’s sunnier than you think.
Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans extolled the virtues of Cartmel on Wednesday morning. "It’s a tiny village," he said "which doesn’t need to be any bigger because everything in it is so perfect: shops which are so good they’re off the scale, L’Enclume – the restaurant which has just been voted the best in Britain, a massive priory - bigger than the rest of the village - and Cartmel races around the next corner." Perhaps we’ll make that slogan: Cartmel – it’s perfect, small and drier than you'd expect.
As if staging the classiest race ever programmed at Cartmel Racecourse wasn’t enough, we simply had to make the Bank Holiday races even more exciting for those working behind the scenes: so we blew the power supply just before the big race. It isn’t a test I’d like to implement very often, but the staff and contractors took everything in their stride.
Electricians set to work to identify and fix the problem, soon relaying the bad news that the main stand-by generator had also developed a fault. Houston… we have a problem…
David Groom, the racecourse’s P.A. technician, retrieved a mobile generator and powered up the PA system and the jockeys’ scales. Every jockey has to weigh out correctly before each race and the first four home have to weigh in afterwards – so we can’t continue racing unless the scales work. Electronic scales are one of the many wonders of the modern age - they are no more effective than the old mechanical scales, they are less beautiful than old mechanical scales and they don’t work in a power cut. But David Groom saved the day.
Unfortunately for our cleaners and plumbers, many of the toilets on the site are supplied with water by an electric pump. A pump too large and too complicated to be easily rigged up to a portable generator. Never has a team plunged and scrubbed and cleaned toilets with such energy. I am very grateful to all of them, as well as to our customers who demonstrated a generous degree of patience throughout.
From raceday stewards to the Clerk of the Course, from cleaners to PA technicians, everyone played their part in keeping the show on the road. When the electricians finally recovered full power, about one hour after the initial power-cut, there was still one race to run and everything was running to time: the races never missed a beat.
I am very appreciative of all the support we’ve enjoyed from racegoers this season, so as a special favour this week, I’ll not burden you with a tip for this weekend’s races. Instead, I'll leave you with next year's slogan: Cartmel Racecourse - it's small, dry, perfect and the team tries very hard.   

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Celebrating a Famous Coup

It will be forty years on Bank Holiday Monday since a group of conspirators executed one of the most famous betting coups in horseracing history – at Cartmel Racecourse. As you might expect, we shall be celebrating the event whilst we are racing this weekend.
The subject of the gamble was a horse called Gay Future, entered for the Ulverston Novices Hurdle by the Scottish permit holder Tony Collins. Cartmel was chosen very specifically – because the communication links between the track and the outside world were poor at best. The odds of horses running at Cartmel were not reported in real-time to the off-course betting shops. This meant that, in an age before mobile phones, the betting market on the racecourse could be manipulated to ensure that Gay Future’s starting price was as long as possible. The syndicate then went about placing their bets in high-street shops throughout the country, in anticipation of an inflated starting price.

In an effort to discourage racegoers at Cartmel from betting on Gay Future, the horse was covered in soap suds, making it appear as though he had sweated up on his way from the stables. Collins had another runner in the same race (Racionzer) and stable staff were instructed to back this horse in preference to Gay Future – so that it appeared he was the better fancied of the pair. Consequently, Gay Future started at the generous odds of 10/1 - before winning easily by two lengths.

Away from the racecourse, the conspirators placed their bets in a series of doubles and trebles (accumulator bets which require two or three horses to succeed) with unsuspecting bookmakers such as William Hill, Mecca and Ladbrokes. Poor old William Hill had only been in business for forty years at the time. This weekend they are celebrating their 80th anniversary; they are much older and wiser now – which is why they have chosen to sponsor the highest quality race ever to have been programmed at Cartmel – the £20,000 William Hill 80th Anniversary Handicap Hurdle on Bank Holiday Monday.
Unbeknown to the off-course bookmakers, the two horses coupled in bets with Gay Future (also trained by Collins) were always intended to be non-runners. This meant that all of the bets rolled on to Gay Future only. The downfall of the entire operation occurred when it transpired that Opera Cloak and Ankerwyke, who were supposed to be running at Southwell and Plumpton respectively, had never even left Scotland. On the advice of the Betting Office Licensees Association (BOLA) many bookmakers declined to pay out.

It was subsequently revealed that the real Gay Future had been prepared for the race in Ireland, while a less useful horse masqueraded as Gay Future at the Collins yard in Scotland - raising further questions from the sports governing body.

The plot was regarded by many as a superbly planned, but ultimately flawed coup. However, in a somewhat surprising turn of events, the conspirators were apprehended by the Police and charged with fraud. The judge, Justice Caulfield, who tried the case commented that he regarded the syndicate’s misdemeanour to be "very much at the bottom end of the scale" and handed out the lowest fine possible.

On Monday we shall be uniting Tony Collins with the two sons of Justice Caulfield - and interviewing them in the Parade Ring before racing commences. I don’t anticipate any massive coups, but I hope think Ballybough Gorta has an interesting handicap mark in the big race sponsored by William Hill.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Grade A in Racing Studies

Britain’s teenagers have been receiving their A-level results this week, proving once more what a brainy bunch they are. Apparently 26% of them have achieved an A or A* in their exams, whereas less than 10% received an A grade in my day - so the bookmakers had better watch out.

Having just turned 18, today’s school leavers are the newest recruits to the punting ranks and I’d expect them to be fully clued up. Unfortunately, having performed a quick poll of youngsters, it appears that Gambling Studies did not appear on the syllabus in most schools. What on earth do they teach them these days?

Even basic fractions such as 6/4, 11/2 and 33/1 seem to stump most students – so it is little wonder that Richard Glynn, the Chief Executive of Ladbrokes raised concerns about the future of betting on horseracing when he announced his own set of results to the stock exchange on Tuesday. Glynn, who has been allocated a D grade (must do better - walloped by William Hill) from city analysts, warned that horseracing is becoming a mystery to young people.  

So, in the interests of education, here are a few betting facts for those planning to attend Cartmel races on Saturday 23rd August and Bank Holiday Monday 25th August: 

The feature race on Saturday is sponsored by the Tote. They offer "pool betting" at the racecourse – similar to a sweepstake. All the money staked by punters (except a share retained by the Tote) is divided between the winning punters. The resultant "dividend" is declared after each race. Racegoers can place different types of bet – for the horses to win, to be placed, win or place (called each-way), or to specify the first and second horses in the correct order (an exacta) and so on. 

The feature race on Monday will be sponsored by William Hill – the biggest bookmaker in Britain, who will be celebrating 80 years of business by supporting the classiest race ever to be run at Cartmel – a Class 2 handicap hurdle, open only to horses which achieved an A grade in their most recent exams. Betting shops have only been legal since 1961, demonstrating how William Hill have achieved an "A" for adaptability during their four-score years. 

According to the betting industry, 37.5% of favourites have won their races during the current financial year - an unusually high proportion. Statistics being what they are, that probably means that we should expect more outsiders to win in the second half of the year. I still believe that Jimmy Moffatt’s Dumbarton looks like a winner waiting to happen - and he should fit the "outsider" criteria – so he is this weekend’s selection in the 5.15 at Perth on Saturday. 
If you hurry, there is just enough time to secure a discount of £2 per ticket by booking your tickets for Cartmel online, in advance, at www.cartmel-racecourse.co.uk. While the advance booking system closes at midnight on Sunday, full price tickets will be available at the entrance on each raceday.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Roger Bannister, My Dad and Me

My father once ran in a race against Roger Bannister and Roger Bannister finished second. 
There were other people in the race too and history doesn’t record the exact finishing position of my father. I know it wasn't first, but that never mattered much to me as a child. The class of the race was obviously so high that even the legendary Roger Bannister, breaker of the 4 minute mile, didn’t prevail. But, the source of my pride - my dad – he was there. 
My father died this week, unlocking a hoard of childhood memories and a dawning recognition of the debt that I owe – who I am, what I do, the person that I aspire to be.
He taught me to gamble whilst at Charing point-to-point and he read me the novels of Dick Francis, igniting a passion for horseracing that seems destined never to fade. His own passion for breeding and showing cattle taught me to dream. And if gambling and dreaming are considered faults, they are faults that I am glad to live with. 
In 1988, when I fancied Cavvies Clown, he impressed me by tipping Charter Party for the Gold Cup two weeks before the event. Charter Party won at 10/1. Although he didn’t gamble much himself, he liked to back the outsider of three when visiting the racecourse. In the racing industry we tend not to like three runner fields, believing that they are bad for betting turnover. Privately, I have always enjoyed three runner events; riding tactics take on added importance and there is a sharpened definition between the underdog and the favourite. I can’t watch one without thinking of my father. 
An unwaveringly fair man, he never failed to examine both sides of a coin. If Kipling had dedicated a poem to my father, it would be “If” – once voted the nation’s favourite poem by BBC listeners. If ever there was a man who knew how to treat the twin imposters of triumph and disaster, that was my dad. Yes, he could keep his head; yes, he could dream; yes, he would risk his winnings (although more usually by buying cattle - not horses) and yes, he could talk with crowds. 
He filled the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run – his was the earth and everything that’s in it – he was my father – and I am very proud to be his son.