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, 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: . 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.