Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Racing Network

Speak to anyone involved in the racing industry and, more likely than not, you’ll find that they navigate their way around the country via racecourses. So Brighton, Worcester and York are all pretty easy cities to find; Cambridge is somewhere on the way to Newmarket and London (which is apparently quite a big place) is relatively close to Epsom, Sandown and Kempton. 

Naturally, one needs to be careful: Folkestone isn’t very near to Folkestone Racecourse (especially now that it's closed) and Bangor Racecourse is miles away from Bangor, although it is just a stone’s throw from Bangor-on-Dee, a quaint village, significantly lacking in airports, cathedrals and universities. 

North of Perth, navigation becomes tricky. Racecourses are thin on the ground (okay, they’re non-existent), but the territory is rich in landmarks named after famous horses: There’s a mountain called Ben Nevis, another called Arkle; they even named Scottish towns after the dual winner of the Schweppes Gold Trophy (Rosyth), the 1977 Oaks and St Leger winner (Dunfermline) and a port in the Orkney Islands after the winner of the 2002 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (Stromness).  

But don’t just think about racecourses as a series of points on a map, racecourses are linking people together in more meaningful ways too. Yes, there are networking events to be attended, but I’m not thinking about race-day corporate hospitality, nor even the dear old Chamber of Commerce, valuable though these occasions are. I’m talking about superfast broadband. 

Once BT have finished connecting fibre optic cable across the country, I’m told that a significant number of rural properties in Cumbria will still be unable to access superfast broadband. That’s why we’ve just signed an agreement with a company called Kencomp, who are installing wireless equipment to the top of our grandstand, which will bounce high frequency broadband signals to residents and businesses in the less accessible areas around the Cartmel Peninsula. The equipment will form part of a network which will ensure reliable coverage across to Coniston and beyond. 

It means that more people will be able to live and work in the area. The days of the big commute will be over: No longer will the young people of Cumbria be forced to leave home to seek work in the giant conurbations. You know: the ones near Haydock and Aintree...

It’ll open opportunities for entrepreneurs to launch businesses from home, to spend their money in the local shops and place their bets* on Saphir Du Rheu, our selection for Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup, online.

* Subject to the bookmaker being a Cartmel Racecourse sponsor and having BHA Authorised Betting Partner Status. Entrepreneurs must be aged 18 or over to place bets. Players are reminded that your investment may go down as well as up - especially if past performance is any guide (which it isn't).

Friday, 20 November 2015

Ask Yourself Three Questions

I was up before dawn this morning, which sounds virtuous but is getting quite easy to do at this time of year. A thought hit me… Assuming that I live to be 80, which might be a bit optimistic depending on how many sticky toffee puddings I eat, I should have another 306 race-days to enjoy at Cartmel.  

I hope that someone else will be in charge by then, because I doubt I’ll be able to keep up with our Clerk of the Course (Anthea Morshead) when she walks the track. The only thing is: 306 doesn’t seem very many does it? 

We’re busy planning now for next season and experience tells me that we’ll get to March and then it’ll all be over like a flash: I’ll only have 297 left. Now I don’t want to get gloomy about this, Cartmel race-days are a joy and I won't benefit from counting them down as if they’re the last biscuits in the tin. It’s just that knowing there are so few makes it all the more important that we appreciate them to the full.   

With this in mind, I need you to ask yourself these three questions: Have I bought myself an annual members badge yet? Have I blocked off all the race dates in my diary?  Have I invited all my friends and family to come along too?

And when it comes to race-day, it’s important to enjoy every live-enhancing moment as it happens: Give your parents / children / grandchildren a hug when you arrive; savour the English Lakes Ice Cream before it slips off the end of the cone and, as you pass your money to the bookmaker, don’t forget to kiss it goodbye – because you might see it again, but that would just be a bonus.

The same goes for all the big events in the calendar, like Christmas Day, Birthdays and Cheltenham Gold Cup Day. Enjoy them all, knowing that they are a finite resource – and amplify the enjoyment by getting excited in advance: Buy yourself an advent calendar, write a letter to Santa and get a tenner on Saphir Du Rheu now, before he wins the Hennessy next week.

While you’re at it, have a modest punt on this week’s selection: the outstandingly handicapped Bold Sir Brian who has been off the track a while, but should start at a big price in the Betfair sponsored Fixed Brush Hurdle, at Haydock, on Saturday.

I’m hoping that I’ll see at least another 34 Grand Nationals and I’m delighted to be able to give you the winner for the 2021 race now. His name is Sky Lino and, trained by Nick Williams, he appeared in a Juvenile Hurdle at Bangor last week.

Having lost his jockey and galloped an extra mile before the race, the massively framed gelding pulled like a train – all the way to the second last hurdle, where he eventually tired and finished second. At some point during the next six years, I’m sure he’ll learn to chill, enjoy the moment and stay four and a half miles.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

No Product Placement Here

Is there anything more satisfying, after a chill Winter’s day at the races, than a Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding? A spoonful of comfort and warmth, mingled with the distant memory of a Summer afternoon spent on a picnic blanket in the centre of Cartmel Racecourse.

That’s one of the many things that I love about Winter – like settling down to watch Ski-Sunday with a glass of Louis Roederer Champagne and a small dish of Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimps from Furness Fish & Game. 

Fortunately, here at Cartmel Racecourse, these things are fairly close to hand. But fear not… if you don't have a fully stocked cupboard at home, you can now order a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne or a Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding to be delivered, together with your annual membership badges, in time for Christmas.

The Cartmel Annual Membership badge admits the holder to all nine Cartmel race-days (including free parking on those days) as well as 44 other specified events at other racecourses throughout Britain and Ireland. It makes a great Christmas gift and is a bargain at just £130.

If you have nothing to drink Champagne out of, you could always purchase one of our Cartmel branded “Handsome Beast” or “Fine Filly” mugs – also suitable for tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Simply call the racecourse office, before 14th December, to order yours now for Christmas

Need more gift ideas for your racing obsessed friends? A couple of recently published books have just dropped through the blog's letterbox for review, both of them captivating and lengthy enough to keep a spouse quiet until the end of Boxing Day (or longer, assuming they stop to watch the racing from Kempton).

Beckhampton – the men and horses of a great racing stable  - is by Paul Mathieu, probably the most eloquent racing historian in the business. If you’ve ever wondered whether Frankel was really the best racehorse in history (and if he wasn't which horse might have been), or how it happened that King George VI came to own the winners of four Classic races during the middle of the Second World War, this is the book for you. It’s available now from Racing Post books.  

Alternatively (or perhaps additionally), if you want to know what goes on inside a horse's head, then you need a copy of Marten Julian’s Strictly Classified. Marten has spoken to many, perhaps most, of the World’s top horsemen to find out what makes their minds tick in synchronicity with their equine companions. The result is a fascinating insight into the world of racehorse training; sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always enlightening. 
If you’ve never come across Marten Julian before, you should know that he also produces an annual publication entitled Dark Horses, detailing dozens of little known horses which are soon to become big race winners. He doesn't mention Sausalito Sunrise in this year's edition - which is a shame because he's my selection at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Please note, the above items have been tried, rigorously tested and approved by the Cartmel office staff. Unfortunately we can't promise to mention every product that is sent for the blog-spot's attention...
Next week : Fine whiskies & super-cars.  Anyone?

Friday, 6 November 2015

All Change

I only went away for ten days. Even so, I feel lucky to have found my way safely back to the racecourse after the continental plates of racing shifted while I was on holiday. 

The first clue that something odd was happening was when I read that Frankie Dettori (the Italian born flat-racing jockey, who lives in England) had been penalised for his riding on Max Dynamite (trained by the Irish Jumps Champion Willie Mullins) in the Melbourne Cup, Australia. Weird, I know. They finished second. 

But in even more ground-breaking events, the Racecourse Association voted in favour of signing a document called the Members’ Agreement alongside the British Horseracing Authority and the Horsemen’s Group (who represent owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys and stable staff). The agreement sets out for the first time, in black and white, how decisions affecting the industry should be made between the three parties. 
It may all sound terrifically dull to the casual racegoer, but the agreement creates a framework for the key stakeholders to make the industry better… A bit like taking a bunch of random musicians and giving them all a copy of the same musical score. At Cartmel we might be compared to the guy holding the triangle at the far back corner of the stage, but even so, we look forward to receiving our sheet music.
It’s just as well that the sport is pulling together because, in less earth-shattering news, the Levy Board failed to agree a structure for the betting industry’s financial contribution to horse racing as part of the next levy scheme. While the proportion of profits paid by bookmakers with high-street betting shops is reasonably well established, the amount paid by online operators based overseas is not: some are willing to contribute, others only want a free ride. 
Part of the BHA’s plan to create Authorised Betting Partners is to encourage punters to play only with bookmakers that play fair with racing - and avoid those that avoid paying the levy. The plans are already being questioned by Paddy Power, which suggests that they are one of those bookmakers that resent paying a fair price for the product. If you’re not sure what to back this Saturday, I’m going to suggest that you keep an eye on Creepy at Kelso.
Closer to home, events have conspired to change the Cartmel landscape forever - following the death of two members of our race-day team. Both Bruce Lodge and Robin Webster were aware that they had terminal illnesses, but both insisted on reporting for duties at Cartmel throughout the racing season. A large contingent of Bruce’s friends and colleagues will be gathering at the Grandstand this afternoon (Friday) to drink to his memory and tell stories – of which there will be many.
Apparently Bruce’s only regret was that he’d have preferred to have died beneath the hooves of one of the loose horses he caught occasionally at Cartmel. While there are many wonderful things that I would have wished for Bruce, I’m altogether quite relieved that he didn’t get his way.