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.