Thursday, 24 September 2015

Feeling Better than Jeffrey Bernard

I am sitting at home feeling unwell. Not the Jeffrey Bernard sort of unwell, the result of nights of excess in Soho - but a boring, coughing, sort of unwell, whereby the doctor has told me to stay in bed.

Jeffrey Bernard wrote for The Sporting Life (before and after being sacked in 1971) and famously enjoyed the company of many women while over-indulging in strong spirits. A play was written about his life: Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, written by Keith Waterhouse and set in a pub, where Bernard (played by various great actors including Peter O Toole, Tom Conti and more recently by John Hurt for radio), has mistakenly been locked in the bar overnight. The title refers to the line that would appear in The Spectator magazine when his regular column did not. 

It happened that Jeffrey Bernard, who was alive and well when the play was first performed, died during the same week as Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. The scene at the pearly gates could have been the basis for a great joke, although I have no idea what the punch line would have been – something about pure spirits for sure. 

In any case, you’ll understand now why I couldn’t just ignore the blog this week and post the note “Jonathan Garratt is unwell”. It would have created quite the wrong impression and, honestly, my life is not nearly so exciting. While sitting at home, I am working on next year’s race programme and waiting for the Levy Board’s auction, where racecourses are expected to bid for the right to receive prize money grants for selected race-days.

There are some days in the racing calendar when the BHA permits more race-meetings to take place than the Levy Board feels is optimal for the off-course betting industry. Bank Holidays are a good example – they are a great day to attract visitors to the races all over the country, but there are only so many races that are required on the screens of the betting shops. So the Levy Board sets a funding criteria, stating how many fixtures they will award prize money grants to.

Confusingly, to determine which fixtures receive the grants, racecourses have to bid using prize money. If there are three prize grants on offer, the three courses to pledge the highest total prize funds will secure the grants. It is a competitive process with some racecourses upping their bid several times.

Since the process was introduced, it is noticeable that the programme of racing on Bank Holidays has improved too – which is good news for horses like Alderbrook Lad (last seen just failing to get the distance over an extended 3 miles at Cartmel’s August Bank Holiday Meeting) who is our selection for a valuable chase at Market Rasen on Saturday.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Angry Bishop

The Magna Carta doesn’t specifically mention Cartmel races, but without one of the charter’s key instigators, our seasonal festival of picnics, funfair and horseracing probably wouldn’t exist. 

William the Marshal, described by one thirteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury as “the best Knight that ever lived”, was a supporter of the embattled King John before becoming Regent (administering the state on behalf of Henry II, who was too young to do so himself) in 1216. In addition to reissuing several copies of Magna Carta, to which he was a signatory, he founded a Priory in Cartmel. 

It was the monks from the Priory who first started racing on the peninsula. There is a document, somewhere in the vaults of York Minster, which records a visit paid to Cartmel by the Bishop of York. Having crossed the sands of Morecambe Bay on foot, the Bishop was mightily displeased to discover that there was no reception committee – the monks having bunked off to enjoy a day of sports, including races, on the nearby park. 

Today the link between Cartmel Racecourse and Cartmel Priory remains as strong as ever and the vicar, the Reverend Nick Devenish, holds an additional responsibility as Chaplain to the Races. Each year, on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday weekend, the Priory hosts a special service to celebrate the races – after which Nick Devenish blesses a racehorse outside the main porch. The congregation has been swelled in recent years by racegoers who have journeyed from afar to visit the races – a different type of pilgrim from those that accompanied the Bishop across the bay, but pilgrims none the less. 

And next weekend, Saturday 26th September and Sunday 27th September, the village will be celebrating its connection with William the Marshal – hosting a series of events including a “living history” medieval encampment, tournée and fayre. There will be archers, sword fights and a “grand melee”, which sounds a bit like the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, but with weapons. 

The Magna Carta 800 event also features a flower festival inside the Priory and a son et lumiére (projected light show and music) at dusk within the Priory grounds. Tickets for the Tournée Field can be bought on the day or booked in advance. Up to two children will be admitted free with each adult.  The son et lumiére can be viewed by everyone free of charge from Friday evening until Monday evening. 

We’ll be joining in with the Magna Carta celebration on the basis that it has helped to inform this week’s tip. After all: The Magna Carta strengthened the authority of  William the Marshal. William the Marshal founded the Priory. The Priory gave a home to the monks. The monks gave us the romantic heritage of the races. And it is the romantic heritage of the race that suggests to me that Jack Dexter is finally going to get his head in front in the Ayr Gold Cup on Saturday.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Winning Barefoot

There is a saying amongst farriers and paddock watchers: an ounce on the foot is worth a pound on the back.  

It means that when you’re eyeing up a horse before a race, you should always look at its feet: shiny aluminium shoes indicate that the trainer is taking the race seriously; massive hulks of steel may suggest that today isn’t expected to be the day. 

But now it seems that we should also check out the jockeys’ feet too. Having arrived late at Goodwood two weeks ago, Seb Sanders was short of time to shed weight, and so resorted to running Zola Budd like (without boots), into the Parade Ring. Of course Zola didn’t have to worry about having her toes squashed by a horse and was therefore not breaking the Pony Club code of conduct. 

Many other jockeys have faced the Seb Sanders dilemma. On a nostalgic visit to Cartmel last week, the ex-jockey JP McNamara recalled sprinting on the spot, inside the sauna, having been delayed by the Bank Holiday traffic. And a point-to-point jockey of my acquaintance (who shall remain nameless, but might even be related to me) once went blood-doning in order to avoid putting up overweight. 

There are other jockeys that have ridden sans shoes: Apparently when Pierre-Charles Boudot was reprimanded by the stewards for doing so in Japan, he replied “We often ride barefoot in France”. Perhaps they do, but to have ridden Barefoot in Britain, you needed to have been born before 1823, which is when the horse of that name won the Great St Leger... 

The race was notable for the number of false starts. After the first two failed efforts to get the horses away, the jockeys were successfully recalled; but on the third attempt, twenty-three of the twenty-seven runners ran the full course. Barefoot, ridden by Tom Goodisson at 13/1, was beaten into second place, by a head, in the void race.

Barefoot, winner of the St Leger 1823 
He was then installed as the 4/1 second favourite for the re-run, staged only a short while later, that very same afternoon. With fifteen of the original runners withdrawn, Barefoot won easily by two lengths. 

The World’s oldest classic has a rich history and has thrown up plenty of shock results in its time, but this weekend I’m going to stick with a fancied runner: Storm The Stars and jockey Pat Cosgrave will show a clean pair of heels to the field.

It’s 192 years since Tom Goodison won riding Barefoot, but I’d recommend that you take a good look at Pat Cosgrave’s feet just in case.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Fun, Safe & Sexy - Now Available in Cartmel

“We’ve enjoyed ourselves so much, we just don’t want to go home.” It’s a common refrain at the end of a race-day and it’s one of the reasons why we always have a day-off in the middle of each two-day meeting. The extra time allows racegoers to conclude their festivities without being hassled to move, while affording our litter-pickers the opportunity to clear up the following day. 

Since we launched the race-day camp site, some racegoers don’t go home at all. At least not until the Tuesday morning, following a Bank Holiday weekend. The shops, restaurants and pubs have been heaving in Cartmel all weekend. But even now, I am beginning to hear the age-old question:  “Can we stay a while longer?”  

Fortunately I have a solution… And it is one which has become highly fashionable this year. According to an article in The Times, British holiday makers are increasingly investing in static caravans and holiday lodges because we’re “looking for fun, safety and sex.” A psychologist, Corinne Sweet, is quoted explaining why we all need a “sanity break” and how we’ve become a nation of “staycationers”. 

Nearly a quarter of those asked said that they bought holiday properties in Britain to avoid driving in another country. Two thirds said that they felt less stressed since they had made their purchase and a whopping three quarters thought that it had brought the family closer together.

Half of the respondents said the relationship with their partner had improved because “buying the static caravan or lodge had meant they had more sex.” 

It just so happens that one of our race sponsors, Cartmel Lodge Park, have a selection of two bedroom luxury lodges within the village of Cartmel. And just down the road, with views over Morecambe Bay, Old Park Wood offers static caravans and lodges on the Holker Estate. The 5 star park, which is a sister-enterprise to Cartmel Racecourse, offers an indoor pool, children’s play area, football pitch, sauna and a shop that stocks lots of local produce.  

Bargains both – and easy to investigate further, if you google the names online. A modest bet on Carrigmorna King (Stratford on Saturday) might just help towards the purchase price.  

I’m all for holidays that offer a beautiful environment, low stress, safety and lots of fun – and if the next generation of Cartmel racegoers happens to be propagated along the way, so much the better!