Thursday, 30 June 2016

An Interesting Race

Sat opposite me, on the train from Oxenholme to London this week, was a WASPI – a lady travelling to Westminster in order to join the protest for Women Against State Pension Inequality. “Be careful!” warned one of her friends, “Don’t stand too close to Jeremy Corbyn... you might end up in his shadow cabinet.”

A similar thought had already occurred to me. On the day that Stephen Crabb (who?) announced his desire to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister, I wondered: what sort of person would volunteer for a job like that – not Boris Johnson, we found out on Thursday. Not me either. But what would I do if I was accidentally thrust into the position?

Imagine the situation. One moment I might have been responding to the Racehorse Owners Association Chairman’s na├»ve comments on Tuesday, about imposing BHA control on racecourse fixtures, by saying something like: “Competition is the best way to ensure that the industry’s stake-holders obtain the maximum return on their investment.” The next moment, amid speculation that I could have been making a wider point about economics in the age of capitalism, I might have been hailed as the post-Brexit leader of the nation.

The first thing I’d do as Prime Minister is create a statutory levy on revenue from footballers’ wages and transfer deals. About 98% ought to do it. I’d give the money to sports at which the British aren’t completely rubbish, like Rugby Union, horse racing and darts. I’d be sympathetic to arguments that chess qualifies as a sport – and possibly dance, on the basis that my daughter enjoys it and more girls attend ballet lessons than tennis lessons.

I’d declare a four-day public holiday in mid-march, while making it illegal to travel on the road during the Cheltenham Festival unless you are actually heading to the racecourse (including racecourses like Sedgefield, Huntingdon, Hexham and Fakenham, which provide an alternative vantage point for jump racing’s Championship races). Road-works throughout Cheltenham week would also be banned.

Despite leaving the European Union, I’d be keen to maintain strong trade links with our neighbours - particularly the Irish, who breed so many nice horses. There would be regular delegations for cabinet members to places like Bellewstown, where I’m told there exists a racecourse which is not unlike Cartmel – and where this weekend’s selection is Clarcam in the first race on Saturday.

And to satisfy those nice WASPI protestors, I’d get the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to have a go at implementing fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s. What’s the Minister’s name? …Stephen Crabb?

On the other hand, perhaps I’ll just leave the politics to him, Theresa May, Michael Gove and whoever else decides to enter the contest. It’ll be an interesting race.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Dark Horse

The June Meeting gets under starters orders on Friday 24th June and we’re Cock-a-Hoop – or at least we’re planning on indulging in some ‘Cocker Hoop’, because it’s one of the beers featured in our first ever Real Ale Festival, staged as part of Real Ale Champions Race-day.

Apparently (which is a word I use a lot when I’ve just read something on Wikipedia), we are Cock-a-Hoop when we rest the spigot from a barrel (also known as the cock) on the hoop of a beer cask in preparation for a drinking session. Jennings Brewery is located on the River Cocker in the Lake District, hence the adaption to the ale’s name.

Some of the names of the other ales relate more specifically to the races. For example, ‘Hurdler’ was created by the Winster Valley Brewery for consumption at Cartmel; it’s a light ale with floral notes and is perfect for sipping with a picnic, especially in June - while the elder trees are still in full bloom. The brewery, which sponsors the third race on the programme and is based at The Brown Horse Inn at Winster, also produces a more mature ale – with added strength and body. Unsurprisingly they decided to call it ‘Chaser’ and used an image of Soul Magic (the joint record holder for the most steeplechase wins at Cartmel) for the label.

Completing the trio of ales from Winster is ‘Dark Horse’ – a dark ale which has notes of chocolate and caramelised sausages, making it the perfect accompaniment to lunch at the BBQ Meeting in July. Maybe they should have put Jimmy Moffatt’s Altruism on the label; he’s quite a dark coloured horse, although he’s no longer very mysterious – having won in course record time at Cartmel in May. Even so, he’s our selection this week.
Dark Horse

In a bid to restrict food-and-beverage-miles, we’re also delighted to welcome the brewers from Unsworth’s Yard – located in the village, barely 300 yards from the racecourse pedestrian entrance. Their four ales include Crusader Gold, Cartmel Peninsula, Land of Cartmel and Last Wolf – the latter named in honour of the last wolf in England, which was reputed to have been killed at Humphrey Head just ten minutes from the racecourse.

Among the other guest ales are: Thwaites’ Wainwright, Jennings Cumberland, Bank’s Bitter, Marston’s Pedigree and Wychwood’s Hobgoblin – which might have been named to scare all the children who are due to come and enjoy the second day of the meeting: Circus Sunday. There’ll be performers and entertainers in both enclosures – including the Acro-chaps, Miss Bubblelicious, the Hoola-girls and Andy Jester.

I can’t wait. Anyone for a Sneck Lifter?

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Vote Cartmexit

The next race-meeting at Cartmel is scheduled for Friday 24th June, the day when most people will wake up wondering whether Britain is still part of the European Union. I don't know which way you're planning to vote, but here on the Cartmel peninsula I'm optimistic that we'll be offered a third option on the ballot paper – Cartmexit.

The independent state of Cartmel, encompassing Cark, Flookburgh and Grange-over-Sands, will be ready to negotiate trade deals with nations throughout the world… although there is likely to be a strong emphasis on self sufficiency too, which means that established producers such as Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, Willow Water, Cartmel Cheeses and the micro-brewery at Unsworth's Yard will become vital staples of our economy. Doubters on the campaign trail have questioned whether man can live on beer and sticky toffee pudding alone, but I see no reason why we shouldn't give it a try.

We'll continue to welcome visitors of course - and I hope that we'll adopt an enlightened position towards immigration. The British culinary repertoire has benefited significantly in recent generations from the influx of recipes from India, Italy and Greece. Despite the anxiety-inducing headlines, I'm looking forward to discovering more about the Turkish palate: their taste for slow roasted mutton could be a sublime match for salt-marsh lamb, reared locally on the shores of Morecambe Bay.

Americans, Russians and Glaswegians will all be made to feel very much at home in Cartmel, where many already come to visit Simon Rogan’s fabled restaurant L’Enclume. We might adopt a points-based-system for Yorkshiremen, linked to their propensity to open their wallets. No offence intended, it's just that we will need visitors to spend money in the Cartmel economy.

In fact, I suspect we might make it a law that every visitor has to dine at least twice a day in one of the excellent local pubs and restaurants - including the recently opened Ilex Restaurant, located in the courtyard at Holker Hall. The laws will be agreed through a democratically elected parliament and forged in the fire of the Cartmel Court. I know it sounds a bit old fashioned, but a similar rule of law once worked quite well in Britain, before the European Union took precedence.

Visitors to Cartmel Racecourse are unlikely to notice much difference – many already comment, on arrival, that they feel as though they’ve entered another world. I guess it’s possible that the newly formed Cartmel Horseracing Authority will grant the racecourse some additional fixtures - supported through the Racing Right, a new piece of legislation which will ensure that off-shore bookmakers in locations like Gibraltar, England and Wales pay a fair price for the off-course betting product.

The Racing Right will help us to raise prize funds so that previous Cartmel winners, like Commissioned (this week’s selection), won’t have to go scrapping around on the Flat for minor trophies like the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday. 

Whichever way the vote goes next week, I hope that you’ll join us at the racecourse to celebrate the result – because, even if Cartmel votes ‘leave’, we like it better when we’re all together. Does that make things clearer? Happy voting.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Too Much Fun?

Is it possible to have too much racing in one region? When the racing season at Cartmel commenced on Saturday 28th May, much comment was made by columnists of The Racing Post regarding the concentration of fixtures in the North which included Haydock, Chester, Beverley and Catterick in addition to ourselves.  

Richard Hoiles, one of the most personable and knowledgeable commentators on the circuit said that the day’s programme “limits the opportunity for a whole swathe of Britain to attend a meeting this afternoon”. I hate to disagree with Richard, but I’m going to anyway… because people travel.

About 30% of the crowd at Cartmel stays overnight locally as part of their excursion, some in hotels and B&Bs, others with friends. This year more than a thousand racegoers stayed in the temporary camp site that we created for the duration of the May meeting. Having reviewed the bookings for the first day, it was easy to identify visitors from all corners of the kingdom – from Kent and Cornwall to Bute and Argyll. Which means that quite a high proportion of our crowd drove past Haydock to reach us. And yet do you suppose that Haydock were disappointed with their crowd of 9,881?

I have no doubt that the crowd at Chester will have included some of our local residents from Kendal and Barrow-in-Furness: the reasons why people attend race-meetings are many and varied – but being close to the racecourse is quite a long way down the list. We know - because it was one of the questions asked in a piece of research conducted on behalf of the Racecourse Association last year.

The most significant motivators were about the social aspect of a day at the races. Statements such as ‘it’s a great day out with friends and family’ are common. As a society we tend to live further apart from our loved ones than ever before, so perhaps it's no wonder we're happy to travel for our social gatherings and celebrations. 46% of the individuals that book tickets for Cartmel races live more than 50 miles away.

Comments such as ‘I love racing’ are sadly rare. But those of us who do love racing, and who are familiar with the individual charms of Britain’s tracks, get very wrapped up in the idea that racecourses compete with each other for custom. We don’t – we might feel mightily competitive, we might jealously guard our fixture slots, but our real competitors are outside the sport: they include shopping centres, pubs, cinemas and other events, whether they be flower shows or swimming galas.

I believe that there’s plenty of opportunity for five racecourses to race in the North in one afternoon; even without all the travellers, there are 2.9 million people living within 50 miles of Cartmel - and 40% of that area is in the sea. We wouldn't have room for them all. 

Perhaps the more pertinent question should be: Why don’t we stage five meetings in the South too? Which opens several other cans of worms...

How many meetings offer the optimal commercial return to the off-course betting industry; how far does the industry want to go in facilitating the off-course betting industry in comparison to other customer groups; how many meetings can be easily serviced by trainers and their stable staff; how much form can one punter be expected to study? (Answer: just one race required: our choice is Lord Wishes in the 3.50pm at Hexham this Saturday). 

The racing industry has a complicated matrix of customers and suppliers and I don’t envy the BHA in their quest to lead the development of the annual fixture process. But can you have too many opportunities to come racing in the North? I don’t think so.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Blooming Great

Following three days of racing and two concerts, attracting in the region of 45,000 people to Cartmel, I know the question that’ll be on your mind: How did the tulips get on? Were they still blooming when the crowds came in?

Well, I’m happy to relate that they’ve done pretty well. The bulbs planted in the shade of the north facing wall adjacent to the paddock pedestrian entrance are still in full flower. Those exposed to the unusually persistent sunshine, in containers surrounding the Grandstand, just about made it through to Wednesday; although the cream and pink variety (named Camargue) fared much better than the blue-purple ones (Violet Beauty) which shed their petals in Wednesday's wind. It’s the sort of tip that you might want to pass on to other gardeners – as opposed to my opinion on the Epsom Derby, which is the sort of tip that you might prefer me to keep to myself.

And if you’re in search of further advice, you could do worse than to head down to Holker Hall this weekend for the Holker Garden Festival – although I don’t think anyone there will be able to tell you much about Wings Of Desire, who sprang a bit of a surprise in the Dante Stakes at York. Frankie Dettori’s Derby mount is my selection for the weekend. 

Will the Alliums make it
to the June Meeting?
Just two miles down the road from the racecourse, Holker Hall is the home of the Cavendish family and the annual Garden Festival takes place within the deer park, adjacent to the magnificent gardens which are open to the public this weekend and every week from Wednesday until Sunday throughout the Summer. In addition to trade-stands packed full of unusual and beautiful flowers, you’ll find displays of rural crafts, fine food from regional producers and a Victorian funfair for the children (and fun-loving adults).

The Holker Garden Festival has recently been named, in a poll by TripAdvisor, as one of the top ten flower shows to rival Chelsea. So it’s fitting that the show will be hosting Charlie Dimmock, a long-time presenter of the Chelsea Flower Show, in the Festival Theatre on Saturday. She’ll be available to answer questions about common garden pests, propagation and garden design. She’s presented many gardening programmes including Ground Force, The Joy Of Gardening and Charlie’s Garden Army, although I’ve yet to see her name linked to next year’s much anticipated ITV coverage of horseracing.  

Instead, Charlie is filming a new series for the BBC, called Garden Rescue, in which she’ll be joining forces with Chelsea gold medal winners David and Harry Rich. They’ll be visiting gardens that are badly in need of a makeover. I wonder if they’ll come and tell me what to put in the beds to replace the tulips?