Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Great Names of Betting

Stakis Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Texas Home Stores, Laskys Electrical Stores and Coral Bookmakers: all acquisitions by Ladbrokes PLC, a company named after a signpost somewhere in Worcestershire. 

The first four purchases were made by Cyril Stein, utilising profligate profits from high-street betting shops in the 1980’s – a golden age for bookmakers, when margins were high and profits more or less guaranteed. A huge commercial empire was built on the back of horseracing, an issue that still rankles when racing enthusiasts get together to discuss the opportunity missed when Government failed to implement a Tote monopoly in the early 1960’s.  

The truth is, though, that every pantomime needs a villain and racing is no different. Pitting your wits against the Tote pool can be rewarding, but it’s not as much fun as taking money from a characterful bookmaker – hence the development of several great bookmaking names: William Hill, Joe Coral and more recently BetFred and Paddy Power. 

Ladbrokes is one of the exceptions - taking its name from a signpost to Ladbroke Hall, the race-horse training establishment of Mr Schwind, one of the company's founders. At Cartmel, our friendly bookmaker was Chas Kendall - who created the small Cumbrian chain purchased by Corals in 2011.  

Joe Coral was born Joseph Kagarlitsky in Warsaw, 1904, and moved to Britain in 1912. He took the name Coral to make it easier to find a job, soon finding himself employed as a clerk at a lamp-making company. This gave him the opportunity to become a runner – working as an intermediary to carry bets from the workforce to the bookmaker. The practise was still illegal at the time and apparently young Joe was sacked for “concentrating on the wrong ledger”. 

Now the company, that Joe Coral built, is to be merged with Ladbrokes - in a deal which most observers believe is evidence of consolidation in the shrinking betting shop market. Rumours that the new company will be named Schwind-Kagarlitsky have no foundation - apparently the name would be too easy to remember.

But, putting the name game aside, should we be feeling sorry for our local bookmaker? Is it time to stop bashing the bookie? 

Of course not: the diverse range of digital gambling platforms now outweighs the negative impact of 4,000 betting shops resting in the same hands. It has never been easier for the fickle punter to find the best value in the market place. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all have a favoured adversary to do battle with. 

I am delighted that Coral Bookmakers have chosen to support our two feature races on Bank Holiday Monday 31st August – the Coral Bookmakers Cavendish Cup Steeplechase and the Handicap Hurdle Race (both Class 2). Their sponsorship has helped us to develop one of the best quality race programmes ever staged at Cartmel.

So please… Go in to one of their shops on the high-street, eyeball the manager and try and take some money off them. If you need inspiration: take a second look at Jack Dexter, who is a good each way price for the Stewards Cup at Goodwood and will appreciate any juice that remains in the ground.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Happy Fools & Horses

They say that a fool and his money are easily parted, but I think fools probably have more fun. That could be the premise behind the latest racehorse syndicate to advertise within the Cartmel racecard, an enterprise which is being promoted by one of our local shop-keepers, Steve Chamberlain.  

I’ve been told that if you don’t like someone you should give them a racehorse. If you really don’t like them, give them two! It’s something to do with the amount of money they cost to keep, but that’s missing the point – owning a racehorse provides lots of entertainment and is the source of magnificent dreams. I know that’s what Steve thinks and, as everyone knows, great minds think alike. Or should I have said, “fools seldom differ”?  

It doesn’t really matter because the working-title for Steve’s new enterprise is Happy Fools & Horses. The intention is to invite anyone interested in owning a leg in a horse to a September Open Day which will be hosted at Pitt Farm Stables in Cartmel. Steve is planning to buy a young horse, that has been running on the flat, and hopes that James Moffatt will be able to teach it how to jump.

If this week’s events are anything to go by, it looks like quite a good plan. On Monday Mr Moffatt took the Betfair Price Rush Maiden Hurdle with Altruism, a five year old gelding (who cost just £4,000), having his first outing over hurdles. 

It’s doubtful that they’ll be able to afford Golden Horn, who’s worth a few million more than the budget (and there might be objections from breeders if he were gelded in any case), but a small investment on our weekend selection (Ascot, Saturday) should secure you some funds to contribute towards a share in something else.  
Eight syndicate members are being sought and each member will be guaranteed an admission badge to the racecourse every time the horse runs. They will also be welcome to come and watch their charge on the gallops, before enjoying brunch at one of the four fantastic pubs in Cartmel. There will be dreams aplenty to be discussed – because all horses look beautiful on the gallops, whether they’ve learnt how to jump yet or not. Steve tells me that he hopes they’ll win some prize money and possibly even sell the horse for a profit after a win or two. But whatever happens, he’s not counting any chickens – he’s just hoping everyone has a lot of fun. 
There are additional plans for a further horse with 100 owners paying as little as £200 each for a year’s involvement. There would be a draw for race tickets each time it ran and any prize money won would be kept in a kitty to extend the duration of the partnership. Once again, the emphasis would be on providing fun for all at a price which won’t break the bank. 
Since their introduction in the early 1970’s syndicates and Racing Clubs have become mainstream. The British Horseracing Authority is working on ways of making them easier to register, as they aim to grow the horse population once more following a dip during the recession.
A short period of research will yield plenty of options for the aspiring racehorse owner – other Clubs and syndicates to have recently visited Cartmel include Premier Racing Partnerships and the Racegoers Club Owners Group (who scored with Chilly Miss here on Saturday).
If you want to contact Steve, e-mail him at

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Racing with a Twist

Question: What’s a Laburnum?  Answer: A French barbecue. 

It’s that time of year again when I attempt to give you a fail-safe recipe for the races, one that will impress your friends and family without taking days to prepare. Like the trout à la car engine which is cooked in foil, with a slice of lemon and a sprig of fennel, strapped to the exhaust manifold of your vehicle on your way to the races.  

The stakes are high because on both days of the Barbecue Meeting (this Saturday 18th July and Monday 20th July), we shall be presenting prizes for the most stylish picnics or barbecues. As this is Cartmel Racecourse, we won’t be handing out awards for anything that is boring and uniform – we’ll be expecting a twist of added zest, like deckchairs in the colours of your favourite jockeys’ silks or sandwiches cut in the shape of galloping horses. 

At Cartmel we like to think that we run races with a bit of a twist – hence the run-in on the steeplechase course, which is almost as long as some flat races. There are very few racecourses where the jockeys get cheered every inch of the way by a crowd which lines the inside of the track, which makes riding at Cartmel a novel experience. That will be one of the attractions for the top female riders attending Saturday’s fixture – that and the £5,000 diamond necklace that the sponsors are giving for the Banks Lyon Jewellers Lady Riders Handicap Hurdle.   

The atmosphere here in advance of the races is deceptively quiet. I sometimes liken Cartmel to a piece of popcorn – small and perfectly formed until… POP, the place explodes into life, becoming a multi-textured, tasty, treat for all of the family. Which gives me an idea…

Have you ever tried garlic and parmesan popcorn? Simply cook a few cloves of gently crushed garlic in a couple of spoonfuls of oil, in the bottom of a deep pan, on top of the barbecue; remove the garlic once the oil is well flavoured and add the popcorn. Once the corn has popped, sprinkle liberally with finely grated parmesan cheese. Delicious!

For pudding, take a fresh pan (don’t use the garlic flavoured one) cook some more popcorn in butter and sprinkle with caster sugar mixed with cinnamon. Or you could just cook off a Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding (which come in handy metal trays for heating on top of the fire) and add the popcorn to the top of that. Mind your fingers because the metal trays get quite hot – I speak from experience. 

And talking of experience - it always helps at a zesty track like Cartmel. Which is why I’m siding with Goldan Jess in Saturday’s big race for this weekend’s selection. Winner of the Totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup last year, Goldan Jess has had the benefit of a recent outing on the flat in preparation for this year’s renewal and connections will be keen to retain the beautiful glass trophy as well as take a share of the £26,000 prize fund.

Friday, 10 July 2015

A Diamond Encrusted Showpiece

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Apparently.

I don’t think there is anything quite so stressful as looking for a lost item of diamond jewellery – although someone, who knows about these things, has pointed out to me that the larger they are, the easier it is to find them. Silly me…

Not that the jockey who wins the Banks Lyon Jewellers Lady Jockeys Handicap Hurdle Race, on Saturday 18th July, is going to have much to worry about. The diamond pendant necklace that has been provided by the sponsors is beautiful, big and very sparkly. It also has a retail value of £5,000.

The jockey’s prize, which will be theirs to keep, comes on top of the £10,000 prize money for the race – making this race the most valuable opportunity over obstacles to be restricted to female riders in Britain. Curiously, although this will be the fourth year that we have staged the event, there have been comparatively small fields for the previous editions and I’m hoping that the addition of a bit of sparkle will make all the difference. We have 27 coat hooks in the lady-jockeys’ changing room and they are possibly the most under-utilised facilities on the entire racecourse.

Many people have asked why it is that there are so few female jockeys in the sport – and in trying to answer the question, several commentators have been accused of sexism. I don’t know if appealing to lady riders by offering diamonds is sexist - so, I’m walking a fine line here. All I can say is that most of the male jockeys wear tights and that their changing area includes access to a kitchen and a laundry room, whereas the lady jockeys’ area has neither – so perhaps we should put the gender stereotypes aside for a moment.

Being a jockey is not all about riding, if it were there would probably be far more female jockeys than male ones – closer to the ratio of riders in other equestrian sports. Each jockey is a mini-business: they have to keep expenses, pay expensive insurance policies and promote themselves. Many jockeys (of both sexes) struggle to win rides, never mind races. When fashion dictates that male jockeys are more popular than female ones, it can be a tough career path for the most ambitious of girls. 
And then there is also the risk factor. Talk to any mother – life changes when you have kids. It changes for fathers too, but something tells me that men with children are less risk averse than women in the same situation. If most of the top lady jockeys retire early (especially over jumps), the number of mature female role-models in the weighing room is bound to be limited.

For this week’s selection, I’m going to suggest that you keep an eye on a 3lb claimer, Samantha Bell, at Hamilton Park where she has five rides. Samantha has ridden 21 winners from 111 rides this season (a strike rate of 19%) and her best chance on Saturday may come with Mfiftythreedotcom.
On the following Saturday, 18th July, we stage Cartmel's most valuable race of the season - the £26,000 Totepool Cumbria Crystal Cup. There'll be prizes for racegoers too: the top BBQ chef (in a Ready Steady Cook style of competition) and an award for the most stylish picnic or barbecue. But the event I'm most looking forward to is the Banks Lyon Jewellers Lady Riders Handicap Hurdle - it's a diamond encrusted showpiece for our sport.
A kiss on the hand
May be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl's best friend.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Not Another Coconut...

Our first ever Sunday fixture attracted lots of novice racegoers with questions about betting. For the benefit of all those who wanted to know, but were too embarrassed to ask, here’s a brief explanation…   

Imagine that you have a jar containing 38 different flavours of jelly beans. We might assume that there are roughly equal numbers of each flavour in the jar – so the chances of pulling out a delicious cinnamon flavoured bean is 37/1. The bookmaker has to make a profit, so instead of offering you the true price, he’ll keep a little bit for himself – perhaps offering you fixed odds of 33/1 about each flavour. 

Unfortunately, as we all know, there are other forces at work – and for some reason there are always a lot more of the disgusting coconut flavoured beans than cinnamon ones. That explains why our 33/1 shots very rarely come in. I think... 

If at first I don’t get a cinnamon flavoured bean, I’ll try again and again – eating all of the beans removed except the coconut ones which I toss back into the jar. If I have four attempts, the chances of striking lucky are much improved, which is why bookmakers often pay only 1/5 of the quoted odds for placed horses (sometimes 1/4 of the odds in more competitive events).  

Eventually I’ll get to the stage where half of the beans left in the jar are coconut. It is now even-money that I’ll be able to pick out something edible (most of them are fruit flavoured which is fine - it's just mixing them with mint or liquorice which is a bit odd). On the face of it, even-money doesn’t seem too bad an offer – it’s a 50:50 chance. But that’s where most punters go wrong; even-money is a very skinny price indeed - just one bean away from being odds-on, which is when there are more coconuts than anything else. At this point it’s usually better to give the jar to someone else, because you’ve probably had enough. 

Some professional punters prefer to bet-in-running. They’ll watch very closely to see which bean is tumbling towards the mouth of the jar as it is tipped on its side. In some cases they might even watch from here at the racecourse – exploiting the fractional advantage that can be gained by avoiding the tiny delay during the transmission of pictures into people’s homes and betting shops.   

Betting-in-running requires quick reactions and it can all be a bit stressful. But betting is supposed to be a bit of fun, which is why pool-betting was invented. Pool betting (administered by Totepool, sponsors of the £26,000 Cumbria Crystal Cup on Saturday 18th July) is where we put everyone’s beans into one enormous pot and then wait to see who selected the winner. After the bean-counters have removed the management charges, the remaining beans are divided equally between all of the people who made the correct choice – that might be only a few if the selection was very popular, or loads and loads of beans if the winner was relatively unconsidered. 

Exotic pool bets have names like the Jackpot, Placepot and Trifecta. They involve selecting several horses and specifying how they will finish (all winners, all placed or to fill the first three places in one race). They are therefore very difficult to predict, but the benefit is that, by risking just one bean, you could scoop an enormous pot-full. 

This week’s selection runs at Sandown on Saturday, where the entire card is supported by Coral bookmakers (who also sponsor our feature races on Bank Holiday Monday, 31st August). Corals offer customers the opportunity to bet at fixed odds as well as through Totepool in their shops - although I'm not sure whether they pay out in cinnamon or coconut.

Either way, Salt Island runs over the minimum distance in the Coral Charge – and we feel sure that he'll be full of beans.