Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Golden Village

Sweeny Bob’s Barber Shop, in Cartmel, is moving premises after eight years in the village. Phillipa, who usually cuts my hair, will be spending more time at her shop in Ambleside instead. I’ve no idea where I’ll go for a trim from September onwards, but the good news for racegoers is that she’ll still be around for the forthcoming August Bank Holiday weekend.
We’ve received many a call from visitors to the racecourse camp site, who have woken on race-day morning to discover that they’re experiencing a bad-hair-day. Fortunately, Phillipa is there to help - whether it’s a shave, a blow-dry, or a short-back-and-sides. If you’ve booked into one of the restaurants, and require a bit of post-camping styling, I’d recommend making an appointment - because the queue can extend past the Mallard Tea Room on busy days, which is useful if you’re in need of a bacon sandwich.
The same goes for anyone who’d like their nails done - or needs a body-wrap, a facial, a massage or waxing: The beauticians at Park Lane, just 30 yards from the Course Enclosure, have a small number of appointments available this Sunday – the day between the races. I’m not actually sure what a body-wrap is, but it just goes to prove that everything you could possibly want (and probably anything you forgot to pack for the races) is here in the village.
Left the cork-screw at home? Go to the Red Pepper cook shop. A stick to prod the track with? Look no further than the Larch Tree gift shop. Enhance your picnic with a trip to Cartmel Cheeses, the Unsworth’s Yard micro-brewery or the Cartmel Village Shop – which also happens to bake the famously delicious Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding.
From Friday evening, until the Tuesday after Bank Holiday Monday’s races, there’s really no need to go any further afield. There are four pubs to choose from (a different one for every evening), in addition to L’Enclume (recently named the Good Food Guide’s ‘Best Restaurant’ for the fourth consecutive year), Rogan’s Bistro and The Priory Hotel. The Ilex Bistro and Bar is little more than a mile walk through the woods to Holker Hall.
And to feed the soul, at 11.00am on Sunday morning, there is the Steeplechase Service at the Priory – after which one of Jimmy Moffatt’s horses will be blessed, by the Racecourse Chaplain Nick Devenish, by the porch of the church.
It’s all so idyllic that, if Cartmel was any bigger, I’d be tempted to call it the Golden Town (which just happens to be the name of this week’s selection – in the first race on Saturday). Perhaps we should re-name the horse: Golden Village in Need of a Barber.   

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Sputnik Sports Services

Long suffering readers of this blog will appreciate the truth of the adage: You can't believe everything that you read on the internet.
So I hope that you won't be too concerned to learn that I am currently working on a plan to broker a new sponsorship arrangement with Sputnik International, the Kremlin backed multi-media news agency recently accused of infiltrating British institutions for propaganda purposes. Having donated more than two hundred thousand pounds to Edinburgh University and eighty five thousand pounds to St Anthony's college, Oxford, I'm sure they could make a meaningful contribution to the Cartmel economy - where Russian visitors to L'Enclume are already commonplace.
Sputnik International has close links with the Russkiy Mir Foundation, a government funded organisation established by Vladimir Putin to promote the Russian language, headed up by former KGB chief Vyacheslav Nikonov. The launch of Sputnik Radio, in Scotland, appears to be the latest blow in a propaganda battle which started when Winston Churchill sent emergency aid packages to Russia, during the Second World War, containing condoms packaged with the words "Extra Small" - to make the point that British soldiers were made differently from their Russian counterparts. 
Sputnik International don't appear to have a racing correspondent, so I'm hoping to fill that gap as part of our proposed partnership: this week's selection is Ivan Grosny (otherwise known as Ivan the Terrible) in the Betfred Ebor at York. 
Ivan The Terrible - Tip for the Ebor
To gain some insight into the world of Russian racing, I turned instead to TripAdvisor - where the Central Moscow Hippodrome has accumulated four and a half stars from 29 reviews. I can't read the 28 reviews in Russian but, according to CraigWorldWide, the hippodrome is a good place for people-watching and, although it can be quite cold, it's much better with a cup of coffee and a sandwich - which reminds me a bit of Brighton.
Cartmel Racecourse also has four and a half TripAdvisor stars, based upon 170 reviews - of which 149 rate us either 'excellent' or 'very good'. NatwichFlatley goes as far as nominating Cartmel "The best racecourse in the World!?!".
There are some honest niggles within the reviews too: the viewing isn't great if you like to see the whole race - although we do usually have four or five giant screens showing the racing and there can be few (if any) racecourses with more furlongs of accessible running-rail to see the action close up. One or two reviewers commented on the price of the food concessions, although many also mentioned the voluminous picnics which racegoers are encouraged to bring with them - there are plenty of alternatives to purchasing a burger in a bun.
To help our own propaganda efforts, if you have a good time at the races - please tell all your friends and family (or TripAdvisor if you prefer). And if you don't have a good time, please tell us why - and we'll do our best to improve the services we offer.
Until next time... or as they say in Russia: Do Svidaniya!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Home of Steeplechasing

For almost as long as I can remember, I have wanted to scale the heights of the steeplechasing world; only now am I beginning to realise that I was born in entirely the wrong country.

Britain stages more steeplechases than any other nation. We even stage the Grand National, the most famous steeplechase of them all. So it is galling to discover that, having been blessed enough to be born British, it should turn out that the best practitioners of the sport are bred and nurtured in a far-off land.

I know what you’re thinking: Ireland isn’t all that far away. But I’m not talking about the Irish, despite the genius of Arkle and Paul Carberry (the most skilful jockey on the planet, who retired this week through injury).

Nor am I talking about France (the source of recent chasing greats such as Kauto Star, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre), Germany, America, New Zealand, Australia or any of the other countries which we regularly see represented by horse-flesh at racecourses up and down the country.

Because while I was leaping about my childhood garden, pretending to be Red Rum (and occasionally Zongalero - second in the 1979 Grand National), there were children of my age in Kenya who were already training at high altitude and covering distances in excess of 70 miles per week.

My garden antics led to an enthusiasm for athletics – and a sporting career which peaked in 1987, when I won a race at Dover, setting a new school record for the 2000m Steeplechase (due, in no small part, to the fact that no other students had a desire to run over a long distance whilst jumping obstacles and pretending to be a horse).

Since then, there have been eight runnings of the men’s Olympic 3000m Steeplechase; all eight have been won by a Kenyan. On two occasions (Barcelona in 1992 and Athens in 2004), Kenyan athletes took gold, silver and bronze. Since 1998, Kenyans have occupied at least two of the three positions on the podium following every Olympic steeplechase final.

It would be easy to predict a further gold for either Ezekiel Kemboi or Brimin Kipruto, who have shared the last three Olympic titles between them – but my selection for this week (breaking all my rules about not putting money on any creature with fewer than four legs) is their compatriot: Conseslus Kipruto, in the final of the 3000m Steeplechase, in Rio, on Wednesday 17th August.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The 2017 Cartmel Fixture List - So Many Reasons to Celebrate

There’s no Jump racing in Britain at the moment, because the jump jockeys have all gone on holiday. In desperation, I've scoured the entries for this weekend and I’ve spotted a jump-trainer, Alan King, with a runner on the Flat at either Windsor or Leicester on Sunday. So this week’s selection in Sir Nigel Gresley, wherever he runs.

Fortunately, to ease the boredom between obscenely short Flat races (some of them less than 60 seconds in duration), the BHA chose this week to announce details of the 2017 fixture list. Now, we don’t require many excuses to stage a party at Cartmel - but just in case you're in need of a few ideas – here are some reasons for you to celebrate at the races:
Saturday 27th May is Mothers’ Day in Bolivia. Everyone has a mother – so even if you’re not Bolivian, we recommend that you bring yours to Cartmel.
Bank Holiday Monday, 29th May, is Oak Apple Day – celebrating the restoration of the English Monarchy following King Charles II’s triumphant return to London on 29th May, 1660. Despite the day being abolished in 1859, it’s still celebrated in some parts of the country – notably in Worcestershire where the locals fix oak leaves to the lapels of their jackets. Anyone not wearing an oak leaf can legitimately be pelted with bird’s eggs or thrashed with nettles; we don't encourage the pelting or thrashing part of the celebration here.
The final day of the May meeting, Wednesday 31st May, coincides with the 30th year of World No Tobacco Day – so if you’ve given up smoking, or never even started, come and enjoy your tobacco-free day with us.
June 30th is Independence Day in Congo, Teachers Day in the Dominican Republic and Asteroid Day across the rest of the world – commemorating the day in 1908 when a massive asteroid disintegrated about six miles above Siberia, knocking down 80 million trees across an area of 830 square miles. We have lots of lovely trees at Cartmel, which we prefer asteroid-free.
The middle day of our nine-day season takes place on Sunday 2nd July, which also happens to be the exact middle of the year – with 182 days of 2017 falling both before and after. The precise middle of the year is about an hour before the first race, at 1.00pm, due to the clocks going forward for British Summer time. It’s also World UFO Day.
Saturday 22nd July is the date to bring any friends who happen to be rat catchers – as this is one of two dates in the year when we celebrate the Pied Piper of Hamlin, although I’m not certain whether that’s because he got rid of all the rats or because he took all the children… Either way, it might be best to bring the kids on Monday 24th July, which is the start of the school summer holiday and Children’s Day in Vanuatu.
The August Bank Holiday Meeting is a good time to bring the family together – Saturday 26th August being Women’s Equality Day in America and Monday 28th August being National Grand Parents Day… in Mexico.
So many reasons to celebrate – just nine dates to put in your diary.