Friday 14 December 2012

Magnificent Munnings, Scintillating Sandown, Hateful Hereford, Lots of Links

A real racing round-up in this review. An amazing array of alliterations. Must stop this, it’s infectious and irritating.

In London last week for back-to-back meetings, but was able to escape and visit the superb, free exhibition of some paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings at Richard Green’s art gallery, 147 New Bond Street ( - well worth seeing, particularly the paintings of horses at the start at Newmarket. Definitely one of the most gifted artists of modern times. Next time I’m in East Anglia, I’ll make a point of taking a detour to the museum at Dedham (

The Tingle Creek this year was particularly tingling – Sprinter Sacre surging past Sanctuaire. Can’t wait for the Champion Chase.

More seriously, there was quite a controversy at Hereford recently when Oliver Sherwood was fined £3,000 and Leighton Aspell suspended for 14 days after their horse, Furrows, was very tenderly ridden in a 2m Novices Chase. It is the first time that Sherwood has been punished in this way for a non-trier, and not surprisingly, he was furious. It is probably only Furrows who was happy with the outcome: he is enjoying an enforced 40-day holiday from racing.

The race was won by Vulcanite, a 145-rated hurdler, from Salden Licht, who is 155. The 7-y-o Furrows has only won once in three years of training, amassing a total purse of £3,590 and an OR of 107. Back on 31st August, in the blog, “Novices (at the BHA)”, I forecast that the new Novice Chase rules were bound to lead to this type of occurrence, and “there must be a real risk .... that two sets of horses will be competing in the same race – a few top class, but the majority out of their depth”. That was definitely the case at Hereford. There is no way that connections of Furrows would have wanted to pitch him against horses 3st better than him, but the new regulations force trainers to do this. Our Owners for Owners trainer, Charlie Longsdon, responsible for Vulcanite, also feels that the new rules are inappropriate and that “having to run in one novice chase before handicapping are going to bring about more of these cases”. The rules definitely need to be changed. Over to the BHA on this one. Ironically, connections of Furrows are related to the former BHA CEO, Nick Coward.

Finally, you may have missed the best riding performances of the week. Another Owners for Owners trainer, Jamie Snowden, came back out of retirement, donned his riding boots and took part in the charity trainers’ race at Wincanton on Jamesson. A stylish ride, as ever, with the horse staying on late. Definitely a tryer. All the money raised is going to Racing Welfare and donations can be made on Well done to everyone who took part.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Cheltenham: Milking the Members

Really enjoyed the three-day Open meeting, watching Al Ferof win the Mackeson and the notably game performance of Captain Conan. Grands Crus’ defeat (subsequently ascribed to a wind problem) cost me dear, though. Such is racing.

But if I were looking at Cheltenham through the prism of customer service, there are two other memories. Firstly, there’s nothing better than driving to Cheltenham with the anticipation of a fabulous meeting; parking the car, walking into gloriously familiar surroundings; going into a bar full of racegoers avidly discussing the respective merits of their favourite horses; ordering a really flavoursome, imaginative and reasonably-priced lunch (for those who like the detail: smoked applewood cheese ciabatta and leek and mushroom tart), together with a well-kept pint of real Tetley’s ale, served with friendly graciousness; before settling down by a log fire in a cosy corner to contemplate the day ahead. But of course this is not the racecourse, but the Royal Oak in Prestbury, near where Fred Archer was born and once owned by the English batting legend, Tom Graveney. Maybe it was the log fire that gave it away.

Or, much more likely, the contrast with the dismal customer experience that is now Cheltenham Racecourse. Best jumps racing in the world, but a case study in everything that is dire, from a service perspective. Imagine that I had a video camera when I left the Royal Oak. Drive up the Winchcombe road and turn left through the housing estate into the back entrance to the course. No policemen at all or evidence of a traffic management system, so a shambles. Go down the narrow lane into the course, dodging wayward pedestrians and touts. More pointless traffic jams because the racecourse can’t be bothered to widen the road and rebuild a couple of bridges. Despite paying for a Members’ car park badge, find you are routed to a field of mud. Stagger across to the entrance gates. First impression, as always, is of temporary villages, tatty marquees and queues for the loos, which are dirty. Climb the rickety steps to the temporary Members’ stand. Fabulous view of the final fence for those who are athletic enough to get to the top level. Repair to the tented bar with several thousand members, only to find you have to queue so long that you miss the next race by the time you’ve finished your drink. If this tent had been put up for a wedding reception, it would doubtless trigger divorce en masse. Decide to meet friends in the Arkle Bar instead. Bad decision. Abandon refreshments during racing, and reconvene in the Mandarin Bar after the last for a reviving cup of tea (exciting life I lead). I’ve been in more attractive care homes. Despite being packed with customers, staff were trying to close it almost as soon as we sat down. But at least it gave me a good excuse to go back to the Royal Oak, or it would have done, if there hadn’t been a long queue to get off the racecourse back along the same narrow racecourse lane.

During the day, I spotted the new MD, Ian Renton. I really hope that, as well as tightly managing the massive construction project to rebuild the racecourse, he scrutinises everything from the perspective of transforming the customer experience. Coincidentally, my 2013 Grand National badges arrived that same weekend – reserved Members’ car parking and seats high in the Earl of Sefton stand, three days of fabulous racing, with a customer service level that puts Cheltenham to shame.

Where is The Curmudgeon when we need him?