Thursday, 24 November 2016

And the Winner Isn't ...

Apologies for returning to the subject of the Racecourse Association’s Showcase Awards – but it isn’t every year that we win a major award from our national trade association. In fact it’s only every other year, based on the three years since 2014 - but I’m starting to boast again ...
And while the whole team is proud that Cartmel received the accolade of Ground-staff of the Year, we know what it feels like to be runners-up too – having been shortlisted twice previously for the jumps category of the awards. It can feel pretty rubbish to dress up like a penguin for a big ceremony, have all the excitement of making the shortlist, and then remain seated for the duration of the event while others scoop all the awards. In some cases the difference between winning and losing must be so infinitesimally small as to appear quite unfair – so today I’m name-checking a few of the racecourse champions that should have won an award but didn’t.
If there’d been a ‘party animal’ award, for the liveliest racecourse – or the one that got reprimanded the most times on the dance floor – it would surely have belonged to Hamilton Park. It’s no wonder that their entry for the ‘events’ category was based on a festival of music and racing involving eight different bands over an eleven hour period. I just wonder how many of the Hamilton Park staff were moved on by security stewards at their own event.
The ‘putting yourselves about’ award for top-networking goes to Redcar who, despite sending just two delegates to the Showcase event, seem to have spoken to every single one of the 270 people in the hall during the speed-dating phase of the conference, held during the afternoon. Incidentally, the purpose of the speed-dating section was to exchange ideas; no weddings (or divorces) are expected.
Without taking anything away from Ascot Racecourse, who became the first track to reclaim the accolade of overall Showcase Champion, we should perhaps feel slightly sorry for Musselburgh – who surely came closer than any other small racecourse to winning the whole thing. Having been trumped by Ascot in the categories for ‘social media excellence’ and ‘operational excellence’, they scooped the award for ‘best event’. Apparently their advertising strapline for 2017 will be "Ever-so nearly as good as Ascot – but in a nicer part of the British Isles".
It would be sacrilegious to suggest that anyone other than Seamus Buckley, the Clerk of the Course at Goodwood, deserved to lift the Neil Wyatt Lifetime Achievement Award – he was the only winner during the evening to be accorded a standing ovation on his way to the presentation podium. However, I think it might be worth reminding the judges ahead of next year’s event that a common factor links the two most recent winners of the overall Ground-staff Award: York and Cartmel.

A certain terrier called Jack regularly oversees operations at both racecourses – occasionally accompanied by his chauffeur, Anthea Morshead (who apparently also calls herself a Clerk of the Course). For the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award (he can't be more than 10 years old) – vote Jack!
Looking ahead to the weekend, I fully expect Zubayr to be picking up the prize for ‘best hurdler’ in the 2.40 at award winning Newbury Racecourse.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Craving the Rose

I’ve previously described the Racecourse Association’s Showcase Awards, which take place on Thursday evening, as being a bit like the Oscars. It’s probably more accurate to compare them to Chelsea Flower Show – because running a racecourse is a lot like gardening.

Here at Cartmel, we spend the Winter months germinating our ideas and planning our displays. Like young seedlings, some projects develop stronger shoots than others as we nurture them throughout the Spring. And then, as the Summer season approaches, we keep our fingers crossed that all our plans will come together, while praying that the whole blooming show doesn’t get spoilt by the rain.
Most racecourses have their share of hardy perennials - races or events which attract an admiring audience year after year. Some events are bigger than others, but even at the highest level, the perennials need care and attention – the Cheltenham Festival has been lifted and divided to create four days, while the Epsom Derby Meeting has been pruned to create two days of concentrated quality. Some events have been transplanted – Champions Day to Ascot; Saints & Sinners from Hamilton Park to Ayr – and back again.
And then there are the cuttings: snippets taken from one racecourse which are propagated in the hot-house and distributed across multiple sites. Ladies Days, for example, are now as common as petunias – without being any less cheerful.  
For every seed sown by racecourse management teams, there’ll be a thousand more that blow in from outside – parties of racegoers with their own agendas: smart dress, fancy dress, picnics in the car park, dances by the bandstand or singing in the bar. The perfect race-day allows space for all of these wild-flowers to co-exist in a concert of colour and to continue growing organically for years to come. 
One of the best things about British racing is that no two racecourses are the same: different climates, different topography, different outlooks. It’s no wonder that, when submitting our show-gardens to the RCA for judging, there is so much variety. The award categories recognise excellence in various disciplines, from community engagement and catering to marketing and logistics. At Cartmel, we’ve been fortunate enough to be shortlisted in the categories for ground-maintenance and special events. 
There isn’t an award for the top racecourse tipster, which is a shame because we’ve enjoyed an exceedingly fortunate year. There's always a risk that this weekend’s selection, Upsilon Bleu, who is due to make the lengthy journey down from Northumberland to Ascot on Saturday, won’t improve our record further – we can't get it right all the time. 
But as Anne Bronte observed: He that dares not grasp the thorn, should never crave the rose.


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Coming Up Trumps

To use a word invented by George W Bush, we "misunderestimated" him. How else do you explain the election of Donald Trump as the leader of the Free World?
When I woke up on Wednesday morning I was pretty much lost for words, so I turned to the dictionary for inspiration. The word ‘trump’ has a variety of definitions. As a verb, it can be used to describe the act of audibly breaking wind – in the sense intended by the Monty Python team when they wrote: "I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction." Which, I think, is what Angela Merkel was trying to say when asked for her response to the election result.
I’m not sure whether Donald Trump’s mother was a hamster or whether his father smelt of elderberries – but the President Elect did ‘outrank and defeat someone in a highly public way’, which is one of the more traditional definitions given by my dictionary.
In decades past, the phrase "He’s a trump!" was used to describe a helpful or admirable person. Only time will tell whether that meaning will return to common parlance, or whether the phrase will evolve to mean something else entirely. If I’m honest, my mood this morning was on the negative side: the Americans have voted for a looney, the Russians are delighted, ISIS are plotting wildly and global warming is going to kill us all. Mrs Garratt says I’ll be feeling much better after I’ve returned from the dentist this afternoon.
That’s one of the good things about being married – there’s always someone there to give you a bit of perspective. If you’re not already married and fancy organising a wedding for yourself, you could do worse than head down to Holker Hall where they’re staging a wedding fair in the Ilex Restaurant on Sunday between 11am and 3pm. There’ll be trade-stands to help you find the perfect flowers, food and favours – although I’m pretty sure that you have to bring your own bride or groom.
I don’t know how I’ll feel after visiting the dentist, but I bet I’ll feel much better if I can back the winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday. If the world is going to pot, I might just as well take all the money in my betting account (all £14.26) and stash it on something at a decent price so that can we can have a big party. As De Mee, part owned by Dame Judi Dench, is the one to come up trumps.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Swallows, Amazons and the Pirates of Cartmel

Having been happily occupied by racing at Cartmel in August this year, I missed the release of the new Swallows and Amazons movie, set just a few miles up the road on Coniston Water.

Arthur Ransome’s book, published in 1930, was a childhood favourite of mine, so it was slightly disconcerting to find that the plot had been sexed-up for modern viewers. The children’s uncle, a curmudgeonly author in the novel, has become a member of the secret service – protecting a sheaf of top secret documents from a pair of dastardly Russian spies. Where once there were mock battles between child-pirates, now there are all-action chase scenes involving grown-ups and seaplanes.

And while introducing a whole swath of new action, the producers have also acknowledged the lost innocence of our time by changing the name of one of the central characters, from Able Seaman ‘Titty’, to Able Seaman ‘Tatty’. Personally, I can’t see a problem with the original name. But then I’d also have advised the publishers of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree stories to retain the names Dick and Fannie instead of re-christening them Rick and Frannie – I guess it depends on your frames of reference.

Despite the changes, Swallows and Amazons is still a good film – like many aspects of modern life, it’s different, it’s faster paced, it’s not necessarily better - but it’s not necessarily worse either. Being set in the Lake District, it’s also proved demonstrably beneficial to the tourism industry, which is why I’ve started work on writing a sequel that I hope might commence filming next year. The title given to Ransome’s own sequel, Coot Club, could prove contentious, so I’m playing it safe and I’ve given it the working title Pirates of the Cartmel Peninsula.

In the opening scene, the children will receive a telegram from their absent father reading: "Better drowned than duffers. If old enough to drown, they’re old enough to gamble." At which point the children will sell their sailing boats in order to fund a massive betting coup, at the traditional Whit Bank Holiday race-meeting, at Cartmel. The plot bears some resemblance to the real life gamble involving a gelding called Gay Future, although the horse will obviously be renamed to avoid further innuendo.
We might pick the name of another real life racehorse – like the promising young novice chaser Rolling Thunder, who happens to be our selection this weekend – in the 1.10pm at Kelso on Saturday (also at Carlisle on Monday).
The film will conclude with a dramatic court room scene - although I’ve yet to decide whether it’ll be the children in the dock for perpetrating a gambling fraud, whilst being underage for betting purposes, or the parents for wilful neglect of their children.