Cartmel, Goodwood, Hereford and Channel Four

Well after the excitement of the Olympic Games and what in this house is called the State Visit (it’s the annual visit of my Mother who always does a Queen and has a summer break at a country retreat – in her case not Balmoral but Milton Keynes) and before the Paralympics I have actually managed to get some racing in, although it looks as though August is going to be my quietest racing month for a long time with only six days racing in the entire month.

The highlight of the return to racing was my annual visit to Cartmel, one of the highlights of my racing year. This is the first time I’ve been to their August meeting, I normally go to the Saturday of their May Bank Holiday meeting but with the changed Bank Holidays this year it clashed with Derby Day and, much as I love Cartmel, The Derby will always win that battle.

It was strange going to the Thursday evening meeting at Cartmel, it was so much quieter, only around 4,000 as opposed to the 12 – 15,000 on the Bank Holiday meetings.

I’m also glad it wasn’t my first visit to the course as it seems the jobsworth  team were manning the gates last Thursday. Instead of the usual warm friendly welcome, this jobsworth security guard was seemingly unable to recognise or identify either the parking badge on my car or my RCA Press badge or PASS card. When he finally, grudgingly let me in he made me go into the public car park. Although on this occasion it was no bad thing as arriving five hours before the first race I was able to grab a prime parking spot against the rails next to a hurdle and the open ditch.

Cartmel may be in the most beautiful natural setting but it is also a technological backwater,  a place lost in time, in a time that pre-dates mobile phone signals. Although as somebody who considers mobile phones a real pain actually having no signal was quite nice.

Whatever phone signal or not Cartmel shares top billing with Hexham for being the national hunt course in the most beautiful setting – although Ludlow, Perth and Kelso are not that far behind.

By strange coincidence, three days later I was at the most beautifully located flat course, as I spent Sunday afternoon on the Sussex Downs at Goodwood a delightful course but I wish their dress rules were no so strict.

Many people complain about the rigidity of the Ascot dress code but, in it’s own way, Goodwoods is even stricter. In the members enclosure it is obligatory for gentlemen to keep their jackets on when outside, without exception. I say without exception, that’s not quite true, on the race days when the mercury is approaching record levels they sometimes relent and make the announcement “Gentlemen in the Richmond Enclosure may remove their jackets if they wish.” Although it was hot at Goodwood on Sunday the temperatures didn’t quite reach the level to trigger the welcome announcement.

As a result us gentlemen had to walk around with our own personal saunas – you would think, in the 21st century, people should be able and allowed, to decide when they can remove their jackets.

I write this as final preparations are being made for the Paralympic opening ceremony in London and I am fortunate to have tickets for several days of the event, so there will be another racing hiatus before full service resumes in September.

However I have one last racing trip and I use the word last in more sense than one as, tomorrow evening I’m off to Hereford. Unless you’ve been travelling to Mars with Curiosity you will know that Hereford, along with Folkestone, is scheduled to close at the end of this year. So tomorrows visit really could be my finallast visit to the course.  OK I will not pretend it’s the prettiest or best course in the country and last time I was there I had to be towed out of the bog, sorry car park, by a tractor but it will be a shame to see it close.

Taking the sentiment away however and racecourses should not be exempt from the economic realities and both Hereford and Folkestone need significant investment after too many years of under investment.

It would be tempting to attend the final meeting at both courses but, perversely, both final meetings will attract significantly larger attendance than normal not only from punters but from the media. The irony will be, for most of the media attending the swansong or gnashing their teeth at the closure it will probably be their only visit to the course. Indeed how many of them will actually realise Folkestone racecourse isn’t actually in Folkestone?

The other significant racing news in the past few weeks is the news that Channel 4 Racing will be produced by IMG and Clare Balding will be the lead presenter.

There has been some speculation that Balding will only be fronting the major meetings but my sources close to Channel Four have told me Clare will be presenting between 30-40 days racing in 2013.

The existing presenters have yet to be told if they will be retained.

One hopes it will lead to a complete makeover for Channel Four Racing as it has become stale in recent years.

This is how I would change things.

Only a single presenter is required, unless two big meetings are being covered in which case there is an argument for having a presenter at each course but two presenters at the same course is pointless.

John Francome and Jim McGrath are both past their "use by" date and there are plenty of other, better, paddock commentators out there. Somebody, presumably very tongue in cheek, suggested I should be a paddock commentator. To which my response included the words body, dead, my and over – although if IMG are looking for somebody to work in the production team they know where I am.

I would have Sean Boyce as the betting guru.

Apart from being eye candy (although I don't find her particularly attractive myself) Emma Spencer is very lightweight and contributes very little and being eye candy is no justification for a role.

I would retain Nick Luck, Alastair Down , Alice Plunket and Mike Cattamole from the presentation team. I would also use Tommo at the big meetings for adding the "colour".

I don't see the need for C4 to have their own commentators, just use the on-course commentary - (almost) all the commentators on the rosta are of good enough quality for C4. If C4 were to use their own commentators then Simon Holt and Richard Hoiles (the best commentator we have by a country mile) would be the obvious main callers, with Stewart Machin, David Fitzgerald, Mark Johnson and Ian Bartlett as the others.

There you go Channel Four racing taken care of.

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