A Logistical Challenge
In terms of racing I like to set myself some challenges each year and a regular one is to try and visit every UK racecourse at least once every calendar year.
After all, as I write reviews of courses it is only fair to visit them all as often as possible.
It sounds easy on paper, just over sixty courses works out at just over one and a bit a week.
If only it were that easy.
I have just spent the best part of a week sorting out my racing for the remainder of the year and to fit in the 22 outstanding courses I still have to visit in 2009.
The first priority planning is to put in the “must do’s” i.e. Cheltenham Festival, Derby meeting, Royal Ascot etc.
The second consideration is that Mother Nature will do her utmost to thwart your plans.
In 2008 I failed to reach my goal by one – York, whose August meeting was rained off and, due to drainage work, the latter meetings in 2008 had been transferred elsewhere, so I had no fallback.
So when planning the trips I make sure the first planned trip to a course is not their last scheduled meeting of the year, because if it is called off your plans are stuffed.
What I then try and do is fit in the courses with very few meetings.
Cartmel, for example, has only six meetings a year and it would be a travesty to miss out on a visit there, having said that it has now become a tradition that we go to Cartmel’s opening evening meeting.
The next big problem is the travel logistics – obviously it is a bit silly planning Newcastle one day then Newton Abbot the next.
What I attempt to do with the more “far flung” courses is find dates when nearby courses are racing on consecutive days.
For example in May, Newton Abbot had a Tuesday evening meeting and Exeter, a few miles down the road was racing the following afternoon.
This weekend there is racing at Ripon on Saturday and Redcar on Sunday, so another handy double header.
I really thought I had hit the jackpot when I saw there was one day where Hexham had an afternoon meeting and Newcastle had a meeting the very same evening, only to be deflated when I realised it was the same day as the Epsom Derby.
The Scottish tracks throw up their own unique challenges in that not only do I have to slot them into the calendar, I also have to try and find cheap flights which fit in with the race times. Very tricky in the summer when the later race times leave little time to get back to the airport for the last flight of the day.
Indeed it was a Scottish course, Hamilton, that has caused me the most angst in my latter 2009 planning.
Despite my earlier comment about avoiding the final meeting of the season my visits to Hamilton, the last few years, have tended to be to their finale meeting at the end of September.
This year I cannot attend the finale meeting due to a previous commitment, so it was a case of going to one of the others.
Was it simple?
Was it heck!!! Indeed had I any remaining hair I would have pulled it out. On paper it looked easy – there were eight alternate meetings.
Of those, five were evening meetings, not really practical when you live 340 miles away. Of the three remaining meetings one was only two weeks away and therefore impossible to get any cheap flights or trains and both the others clashed with pre-arranged family events.
Eventually I decided one of the pre-arranged family events would have to be missed – not a popular decision but c’est le vie and at least I managed to book a cheap flight.
Other unforeseen factors can screw the planning as well.
It was just my luck to pick up a dose of ‘flu after Ascot and that resulted in having to miss three visits to courses for the first time in 2009. All of which had to be slotted in on other dates.
Just moving those three days resulted in twelve other race meeting visits having to be switched.
Of course there are occasions when cancellations can work to your advantage. With the decimation of turf racing in January it meant I managed to get all the all-weather courses done and dusted by the end of January. With the added bonus that I actually, unintentionally, attended what looks like being Great Leighs final meeting.