Thursday, 24 December 2015

Twas The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Course,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a horse;
The stockings were hung in the grandstand with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there;
As the Cumbrian rain made the track even wetter,
I hoped that Santa had found my short letter...

Dear Father Christmas (it began),

We have left plenty of bedding and some hay in the stables for your reindeer; I'm sure that they'll need a bit of a break on your way around the World. Please note that this goes against all of the BHA's general instructions, so I hope that Dasher, Prancer, Blitzen & Co have got their vaccination certificates up to date.

I've been really well behaved this year and, although the racing tips haven't been especially good, I hope that you might consider granting a gift or two to the team here at the racecourse.

Ideally I'd like to order some really fine weather for next Summer. I don't know if this is within your powers, but I remain optimistic. In anticipation, could we also have another couple of furlongs of irrigation pipe, some sunglasses and plenty of sun screen?

Jimmy Moffatt would like a filly to run in all our mares' races next Summer. There will be some reasonable prize money on offer, so please could you make her quite decent? He's going to have a lot more horses when Highland Lodge wins the Grand National, so could he have a few extra muck forks and wheelbarrows too?

Instead of the usual pound coin in the toe of my stocking, I wondered whether you'd consider giving me a betting slip instead? Please could it have the name Vautour written at the top and King George VI Chase, Boxing Day, underneath? If it was possible to make it for several times more than one pound, I don't think I'll need much else.

Many thanks and good luck,

Jonathan & the racecourse ticket pixies.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Simply Red at Simply Cartmel

Simply Red are coming to play Cartmel races in May. I know, who’d have thought!

I received the phone call confirming the gig this morning. Mindful of the recent prank played on Elton John, by someone pretending to be Vladimir Putin, I was suspicious at first; but this person didn’t sound much like the Russian President and Elton never calls me before midday. 
The line was a bit fuzzy. “Hay… pfff, Gold… pfff” went the voice. “Haydock?” I asked, “Jim Goldie?” Now that was a coincidence - I was just planning to make Jim Goldie’s Plus Jamais my selection for Haydock’s meeting on Saturday. The problem was: The voice at the other end didn’t sound much like Jim Goldie. And it can’t have been my bookmaker… I’ve asked him to stop calling me at work.
The voice cut in again, “Hey – I’ve got a golden opportunity for you…” It was Jason from Cuffe and Taylor; my heart sank: The guys at Cuffe and Taylor are very pleasant and all that; what they don’t know about staging live music events isn’t worth knowing. It’s just that I don’t think any of them know much about Jim Goldie’s horses.
“We’ve got Simply… pfff…” We were cut off. Simply what-did-he-say? Simply The Best? I turned to the girls in the office, “I think Tina Turner is coming to Cartmel” I said. They looked quite pleased, although I wasn’t sure about Naomi. She might not be a Tina Turner fan.

The phone rang again. “Simply Red want to play at your new race-day; the one on Saturday 28th May” said Jason. “Great,” I said. “You mean the real Simply Red, not a tribute band - like Simply Pink or anything?”

“No, the real Simply Red – not Simply Pink, Simply Purple, Deep Purple, Deacon Blue or even Barry White. Simply Red are coming to Cartmel, tickets are going on sale through Ticketline on Friday, although your annual members can come in for free – as the band will take to the stage straight after racing. It’ll be a fantastic way to start the season.”
“Wow!” I said. “I know,” replied Jason “you’re so pfff…  jammy.” 
Jamais? I thought; Did he just say Plus Jamais? Turns out those Cuffe and Taylor guys know more about horses than I thought. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Let the Business Flood In

In the fields adjacent to Lake Windermere the water shifts in wide unseen courses beneath the turf - like a large sub-cutaneous injection or an abscess on a horse’s knee. If the analogy sounds revolting, it is meant to: the instability of the ground is unnaturally creepy and disconcerting. 

Elsewhere, people have had to move out of flooded homes, while unfortunate businesses have been forced to close temporarily. The Swan Hotel & Spa, situated in a beautiful location close to the south end of Lake Windermere, was just one of several properties that found the water too close for comfort last weekend. It is one of the most popular local hotels, produces excellent food and also happens to sponsor generously at Cartmel Racecourse each season; for many good reasons, we wish the managers the best of fortune and hope they’ll be able to reopen very soon. 

But Cumbria is not closed. In fact the weather on Monday, as I strolled around Cartmel in my shirtsleeves, was almost balmy. The shops were open, the pubs were open and the Christmas lights were on, despite messages from North West Electric to use their power sparingly.

Sadly, as Cartmel’s shopkeepers optimistically tended their tills, customers there were few. The reason was obvious: According to the e-mails in my inbox and the texts on my phone, we must be drowned, depressed and drummed into submission: everyone has seen it on the news. 

Except the camera lies. Secretly, all Cumbrians have been quietly counting their winnings from Jimmy Moffatt’s famous win in the Becher Chase at a rain-sodden Aintree last Saturday (except for me of course, because I’m not really a Cumbrian and I tipped Pineau De Re). Don’t tell anyone, but we’re all wondering how to get enough money on Highland Lodge for the Grand National next April, without wrecking the odds. Did you hear about the £50 million pledged by the Government to help Cumbrian flood victims? It’s all going on Highland Lodge.

And just to prove that the racing industry is thriving in Cumbria, the team at Carlisle Racecourse has decided to open the gates for free for racing this Sunday. Which is especially nice if you want to go and watch Jimmy’s next winner: Quel Elite in the Pertemps Hurdle Qualifier.  

So, if you’ve been thinking about coming to Cartmel for a spot of Christmas shopping, backing a winner at Carlisle or simply enjoying a lunch in one of those incomparable Cumbrian pubs, forget the news: Cumbria is open for business.   

Friday, 4 December 2015

May the Force be with You

I saw the Star Wars movie this week. No, not The Force Awakens, the latest in the franchise, I mean the first one made in 1977. Heavens! What drivel. 

After 38 years of successfully avoiding the inevitable, I was finally forced by a seven-year old to sit down for two hours (which I’ll never be able to live again) and watch as Luke Skywalker battled the heavy-breathing bloke in black, who (according to wikipedia) subsequently turns out to be his Dad, while saving the girl of his dreams, who is actually his twin sister. It sounds like a case for Jeremy Kyle. 

How on Earth (or Alderaan, Tatooine or even the planet Naboo) did anyone imagine that it would be worth making another six or possibly even eight films? It made me feel sorry for the underrated Flash Gordon, produced just 35 years ago with a similarly flimsy plot line – but with immeasurably more fun and better music, despite the best efforts of the London Symphony Orchestra who played for the Star Wars team.

But Flash Gordon isn’t the only star to suffer from a lack of recognition. In an ironic twist of fate, it turns out (according to a poll published in the Sunday Times last week) that Luke Skywalker is only the fifth most popular character in his own film, accumulating less than half of the votes accorded to Han Solo and only three quarters of the votes attributed to the baddy Darth Vader - or the Daft Waiter, as my daughter likes to call him. 

Fame is a fickle friend and there is no accounting for where she (or he) will settle. So it was interesting to read the comments attributed to Sara Bradstock, assistant trainer of Coneygree, in the Racing Post Online on Monday. “I want him to be considered great,” she said of last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. “I don’t mind if he’s compared to Denman but prefer it to be Arkle.”  

Such comments could be considered blasphemous by some fans of the sport – as Arkle set a standard that few believe will ever be equalled (even by the Grand National winning Pineau De Re, our selection in the Becher Chase this Saturday). And yet, in a recent poll of 5,000 members of the public, conducted on behalf of the racing industry, just 5% recognised Arkle’s name as belonging to a racehorse.  

Clearly racing (by which I mean racecourse management teams, racehorse trainers, the governing bodies, bookmakers and racing enthusiasts) has a huge job to do to educate our friends and family (and anyone else who will listen) with regard to the history of racing and those that deserve legendary status. Fortunately, a knowledge of racing is no barrier to enjoying a great day out at the races - and bringing your friends racing is a great way to get them interested in a passion that can last for life.  .  

So: Good luck to the Bradstocks (and thank you for trying): I hope Coneygree fares better than Skywalker in his quest for fame. May the force be with you.