Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Big Betting Freeze

While the mild Autumn in Cumbria is already helping to mend the scars inflicted on the turf by our recent drainage works, there is a distinct chill settling in London. Ladbrokes are offering odds of just 7/1 about a white Christmas – presumably because of the frosty atmosphere hovering over the offices of the British Horseracing Authority in Holborn. 

The BHA announced on Tuesday that all bookmakers, accepting bets on British racing, will be required to pay a levy or similar voluntary payment in order to become an Authorised Betting Partner of British racing. We don’t yet know exactly what the benefits of being an authorised partner will be – but one of the drawbacks of declining the partnership scheme is that it will become more difficult to generate publicity through race sponsorship. 

Jockey Club Racecourses and ARC Racecourses have signalled that they will not agree to any new deals with non-partner bookmakers. I wonder if their sponsorship departments have already tied up all the major sponsorship contracts that would have terminated in the near future. That’s certainly what I would have done if I’d known an announcement of this nature was heading down the line. 

Cartmel benefits from sponsorship agreements with three betting operators and, needless to say, they are all vital to the development of our race programme. Betfair has already been acknowledged as an Authorised Betting Partner and their support for Cartmel is underwritten by a recognised grass-roots funding programme.  

Betfred (incorporating the Tote) and Coral, the other two bookmakers to sponsor here, support our most valuable races - including a number of relatively new Class 2 and 3 events. Both organisations are contributors to the £4.5 million additional voluntary contribution (AVC Fund), which has boosted prize money for races, throughout Britain, down to sixth place and beyond this year. Negotiations to develop this scheme, or similar ones, will hopefully result in their securing partner status too. 

To some observers the latest developments will appear as a provocative action against some of racing’s biggest customers: Pay up – or else we’ll cut off our nose to spite both our faces. But the key lies in the word partner: For bookmakers are racing’s most natural and potentially beneficial partners; it makes sense for us to work together.

And while some bookmakers pay a voluntary contribution based on revenue from their digital platforms, others are getting a free ride altogether – paying nothing for the privilege of using our product while freely promoting their services throughout British racing. 

There are bound to be some sensitive discussions ahead of the 1st January deadline. Nick Rust (the BHA Chief Executive), who has first hand experience of life in the top echelons of the betting industry, will be attempting to convince his old pals at Ladbrokes and Coral that it makes sense to put some distance between themselves and the non-contributors.

I won't be taking 7/1 about a white Christmas (our weekly selection is Karezak at Cheltenham this weekend). I hope there'll be a thaw in relations in time for the Coral sponsored Welsh National at Chepstow on 27th December. 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

My Week - Coneygree

(as imagined by Jonathan Garratt)

I had a nice Summer break thanks. But now it’s all work, work, work. Have you ever noticed how, even when you win a Gold Cup, you’re hardly ever allowed to eat out of it?

Apparently I’m too fat anyway – for every bowl of oats I have to do an extra gallop. I’m supposed to be getting fit for my first outing of the season, which could be at Carlisle on 1st November. It’s one of those graduation races which means that, even though I’m the best horse in the country, most of the other good horses won’t be allowed to run because it’s only for horses in their first or second season over fences.

It’s in the media today... They (the boss and other humans) want to win another Gold Cup, but this time it’s got to be a Hennessy one – like the one Carruthers (my half brother) won a few years ago at Newbury. You can fit a lot more oats in it.

The nice people from Jockey Club Racecourses have been in touch to ask why I’m not trying to scoop their million pound bonus for winning the Betfair Chase, King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup in a single season. It’s very kind of them, but really – oats are all I need.

Apparently you can buy a lot of oats for a million pounds, we might enter that race at Haydock after all.

Don Cossack is running at Punchestown today. The bookies make him 8/1 for the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the same price as me - Neighhhh. I’m more worried about Vautour – he’s just 4/1 for the Gold Cup and he’s only had three runs over fences. I hope he doesn’t turn up at Carlisle. Perhaps he won't know where it is. Come to that, does anyone know where Carlisle is?

I’ve been told that Carlisle is just a bit further north than Cartmel – I’ve always wanted to visit Cartmel; could someone tell the boss?

Never mind the million pound bonus for winning three major races with a combined distance of nearly ten miles, the horses at Ascot today don’t have to jump any obstacles and are competing for more than four million pounds. And get this: some of them don’t even have to run a whole mile!

As the boss says, it’s not all about the money – it’s the romance that counts… and the oats.

We all won loads of money when Clever Cookie won the stayers race at Ascot yesterday, so I’m going to buy some more oats. Clever Cookie is trained by Peter Niven who is probably more familiar with Carlisle than Ascot, but he was tipped in the Cartmel blog-spot – so we dived in. Nice place Cartmel. Hope to visit one day…

Friday, 9 October 2015

Superheroes of Turf Supervision

Congratulations to the team at Huntingdon Racecourse, who have won the Jumps Racecourse Ground Staff of the Year Award for the second time in three years, narrowly pushing Cartmel and Worcester into the joint runners-up position.

Well done! And no hard feelings at all. Honestly. I have almost, nearly, completely forgotten the day (back in 1988) when the gate-staff at Huntingdon charged me twice for admission on the same day – once on arrival and a second time after mistakenly visiting the centre of the course, without a pass-out ticket, to watch the first race. If anyone from Huntingdon reads this, I reckon I’m owed about £33.25 including compound interest at 5% per annum over 27 years – but really, it’s nothing. Forgotten already! Congratulations with the award and all that… 

Gary Sharp (the Head Groundsman at Cartmel) and his team are justifiably proud to have been commended by the judges – who included representatives from the BHA’s racecourse inspectorate, the National Trainers’ Federation and the sponsors Pitchcare. Gary runs a small team, consisting of just one other full time groundsman, Martyn Fogg, and several dedicated seasonal workers and local contractors. Together they have worked hard to prepare the track to ever-improving standards. 

The fruits of their labour have been evident this Summer: a season in which we staged more days racing than ever before; introduced a new 2-day June meeting; hosted a record number of runners on the track and welcomed the highest rated horses ever to grace the Cartmel turf. The obstacles were so beautifully presented that, from 467 starters, we witnessed just five fallers and nine unseated riders during the entire season. The track really did look as good in advance of the final meeting, in August, as it did prior to the first race-day in May.

While Cartmel might not be the shortest circuit in the country, the nature of the track means that each horse traverses the south bend between two and four times in each race. That means that the equivalent of 1,193 horses went around the bend within the 99 day duration of our short season. That’s a lot of divots to repair and there’ll be even more next year when we have nine race-days - which makes me think that Gary could soon acquire superhero status... Which probably means that the team at Huntingdon are already superheroes; perhaps they’ve recruited the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, or the X-Men, in disguise? 

Either way, it sheds new light on the true identity of our own hard-working Clerk of the Course who also supervises activities at Kelso and York (where this weekend’s selection is Gracious John in the Rockingham Stakes).  

As well as being associated with our runner-up award for the best Jumps grounds-team, she can also claim a jewel in her tiara for her efforts at York Racecourse, the much deserved winners of this year’s Flat Racecourse Ground Staff of the Year Award. Step forward, that mysterious mistress of award winning turf management: Anthea “Wonder Woman” Morshead.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A Tip of Patriotic Prejudice

And all the world over, each nation's the same
They've simply no notion of playing the game

They argue with umpires, they cheer when they've won
Flanders and Swann
And they practice beforehand which ruins the fun!

So sang Flanders and Swann in their Song of Patriotic Prejudice, the chorus to which modestly opines: The English, the English, the English are best; I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest. I sang it loud and proud for the first 75 minutes of last Saturday’s match against Wales, before conveniently remembering that I actually have a great-grandfather who is buried at Llandaff Cathedral.

If it turns out that the England rugby team should scrape through to the quarter finals of the World Cup, there is a reasonable chance that they will face Scotland at Twickenham and I have a fall back position there too: No Scottish ancestors, but a great love of whisky... And if that isn’t enough, I have several younger relatives with Scottish passports, which practically ensures that I qualify for my own tartan.

Yes, it might hurt, but I am prepared for just about any result - except losing to Australia. There’s no Australian blood in my family; in fact I don’t think there are any convicts at all, unless you include a few counts of shoplifting pick-n-mix sweets in the early seventies – the evidence of which disappeared pretty quickly. 

Then there’s the French. Now I love France; I love the wine, the cafĂ© culture, the food (especially the foie gras), the wine, the women (but obviously not since meeting my wife), the countryside, the mountains, the beaches and the wine. They even have some lovely racecourses. But that doesn’t mean that I have to support the admirable French trained, dual Arc-winning, Treve – especially when the flower of the English, the Derby winner Golden Horn, has been supplemented in opposition.  

I almost wrote the English Derby, but that would have been pointless. Because, while there are other Derbys (French ones, Irish ones, Kentucky ones), there really is only one that matters. It is a measure of how great we English are, that our Derby winners require no prefix. So come on Golden Horn (the selection for Sunday’s Arc De Triomphe); come on the England rugby team:  

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

(Shakespeare - Henry V)