Why Royal Ascot will never be Cheltenham

I’ll nail my colours to the mast straight away. I love all racing but if I had to choose it would be Flat racing every time. Maybe I associate the Flat more with warmer weather, a greater diversity of big days out or just more champagne (!) but give me Derby Day, York in August, Paris in October or even Windsor on a Monday night rather than any regular jumps meeting.

That said, the one meeting I’d never trade is the Cheltenham Festival, and as we anticipate Flat racing’s big royal carnival this week I’m left wondering why Royal Ascot will never quite be Cheltenham.

It is not the racing. Look at the gems Royal Ascot has to offer. Continual Group One racing day after day. Tuesday (the best day I always think) starts with a bang with the Queen Anne, King’s Stand and St James’s Palace, which this year looks like including all three Guineas winners, as the first three races. On Wednesday we have the Prince of Wales’s stakes, perhaps the best race of the meeting, which this year features the Japanese A Shin Hikari, possibly the best horse in the world right now. Ladies Day on Thursday includes the Gold Cup; there are two Group Ones on Friday (when I’m going this year) including the second running of the Commonwealth Cup (am I alone in thinking this name doesn’t quite fit) and the Coronation Stakes and then the Diamond Jubilee on Saturday’s big day. That’s just the Group Ones, and when you add races with the spectacle of the Hunt Cup or the Wokingham, great early season two year old races and the increasing number of raiders from around the world then you can see there isn’t a flat carnival like this one.

But it still doesn’t match Cheltenham and there are many reasons why Cheltenham can’t be beaten.

Firstly the whole narrative of the NH season is about Cheltenham. All roads lead to Prestbury Park. As soon as one festival finishes plans are put in place for the following March, whether equine or human. The early part of the Flat season is dominated by the 3 year old classics. This year Royal Ascot starts only 10 days after Harzand impressively won another Derby for the Aga Khan. So we talk about the NH festival all the way through the winter yet Royal Ascot suddenly creeps up on us and therefore can’t come close to matching the expectation of Cheltenham.

This means the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, the World Hurdle and of course the Gold Cup are true championship races. They provide the champion horses for the category. The champion miler might win either the St James’s Palace or the Queen Anne, but equally they might not.

It is not just the racing itself. There is always something mysterious and wonderful about the beauty of Prestbury Park. Don’t get me wrong. I love going to Ascot. It’s a beautiful course and I’ve been there more than any other racecourse. But every time you arrive at Cheltenham, especially on the Tuesday of the Festival, and look out over the natural amphitheatre towards Cleeve Hill you cannot help but feel good about life. (Take that US racing where the view is so typically consistent).

There’s also something about the weather. In March it always feels to me as we are about to breakthrough from the cold winter months into early Spring yet a wet and cool June (again this year) feels so disappointing, especially given the money spent on the fashion.

Clearly Ascot wins at fashion, but only if that’s your thing. For Cheltenham the green tweed of the countryside dominates and for a City boy like me offers more of a wry smile than anything else.

The one other thing Cheltenham has over Ascot is more personal. My first day ever at a racecourse was at Royal Ascot in 1988 and my first day at Cheltenham was Desert Orchid’s most memorable day the following year – so I’ve been going a while. But Ascot is local. An hour’s drive at most (in bad traffic). I’d never dream of staying overnight. For Cheltenham you make the journey, you stay somewhere in the Cotswolds. It is a boys week away. It is the best time. Our ‘day off’, typically the Wednesday when we watch the Champion Chase card in the pub is almost as good as the days we go racing. Ascot will never be able to match that.

Two great racing festivals. Two great weeks. Royal Ascot the best of British flat racing. But Cheltenham the best racing week of all (and no I haven’t been to Galway yet – my first experience there is just weeks away).

Howard

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End of one blog…start of another

This is my 395th and last Electric Chair blog post. Over the past 4-5 years there’s been over 103,000 hits with 358 on the busiest day on November 14 2008 – I think it was something to do with AFC Wimbledon.

I’m finishing this for probably 2 reasons. Firstly after all this time it has become a chore and there just isn’t time to keep it as updated as I would like. Also as many will know I’m a big user of twitter now (@howiejk) – a means to get to the point messages out quickly.

But I still want to communicate more regularly and hopefully I’ve found a way to do this. That is by embracing current technology and moving to a video blog. The Electric Chair on TV! Recording and uploading short 1-2 minute video clips, backed up by Twitter will hopefully mean I can keep a regular flow of communications going about what is happening at the Club. 

So I will try and do this regularly and see how it goes. Please let me know whether this works or not. If you don’t like it I’ll stop but hopefully we can get back to regular messages.

See what you think. The introductory video blog is here and a second message recorded after the Non League awards is here.

Newport 2 days after the event

Feeling better after 3 good solid points tonight. A great reaction from the players to beat a decent Met Police team. It was important to get going straight away after Saturday.

Result aside Saturday was a huge day for us. Looking back there are some things that we will look to improve on next time, some things we are delighted with, and other things that went just as expected. We have asked Neil Rands to do a report on how things went and what we need to learn. Nick Dugard did something similar after the Rotherham match and it set a good baseline.

And we do want a next time. 2092 represented the biggest crowd we have had in 25 years or so? Following on 2 seasons after the Rotherham game. This is why we do it and we want more of it.

As for the game I think you have to say well done to Newport. They came with a game plan and executed it well. Remember they are two divisions above us and the task was always going to be a tough one. But once again we didn’t let anyone down. In six games against higher league opposition in the FA Trophy we have won 3, drawn 2 and lost 1. Not a bad record and the players can hold their heads high.

I hope many of the two thousand people there will come back. The crowd tonight, of 428, was encouraging for a Monday night. We are a club going places and we want as many people as possible to be part of it.

I am thrilled by the efforts of so many people who as always gave their time to make sure we could enjoy a great day. If we had 2,000 crowds every week then we could pay people to do these jobs for us. Maybe one day. It’s something to aim at. 

We will take an honest, thoughtful look at where to improve and what to do better next time and we will involve all the right people in that. But for now, let’s be proud of what we have achieved so far this season, and let’s go on and make sure that the last few weeks of the season brings us what we deserve. 

A message for all Wealdstone supporters

What are you doing tomorrow?

You know where you should be! 

Away at Cambridge United is where you should be – a huge game. The last 8 of the FA Trophy. This is our ‘cup final’ after all (according to Cambridge fans). Although from what Barrow and Dartford fans have told us this is our third cup final this season. Phew!

Actually it is our Quarter Final (and theirs too). This means win this and we are in a 2 legged semi final. And look at the other 7 teams still in the competition, ourselves and Northwich Victoria from outside the Conference and after Gateshead from the Blue Square Premier the other 5 clubs are all ‘big’ full time ex football league clubs – Cambridge, Luton Town, Grimsby Town, York City and our friends from last year Newport County. Who said these clubs don’t bother with the Trophy?

Of course we’ve got no chance tomorrow have we. In fact the likelihood is this is one step too far and we will get hammered. Won’t we? Well when the game starts it is 11 v 11 and anything is possible.

Gordon Bartlett rightly says we shouldn’t have got past the last 64 by rights, let alone the last 32 and certainly not the last 16. But we have, and what has made is a great difference is the fantastic support and wonderful atmosphere our fans have created. Barrow at home, Dartford away and then the replay on Tuesday are three occasions that will live long in the memories. 

So we need you there tomorrow, getting behind the players and cheering them on. You do make a difference and you know it. 

It’s 27 years since we were last in the quarter finals of the FA Trophy. We won the competition that year. I can still remember that day – one of the greatest for all of us there. Of course we can’t win it this year but we will give it a good go and we need as many supporters as possible to help us and who knows perhaps the dream will still be alive when we wake up on Sunday morning.

To help you here are directions to the stadium.

See you there tomorrow. Up the Stones.

 

Programme editor required

Adam and Minnie Gloor have done a wonderful job on our matchday program for the past few years but due to family issues they will be stepping back from the role in the coming weeks.

This means we have a vacancy for a new programme editor – anyone interested should let either Adam or me know.

We have prided ourselves on having an excellent programme for several years. Adam and Minnie, together with an army of regular helpers, especially Tim Parks, have helped to improve the offering and everyone familiar with reading the programme knows what a great job they’ve done.

Adam is offering to help his successor learn the ropes and so this is a great opportunity for someone to get involved and make their mark on an important facet of the Wealdstone matchday experience.

There will be time to thank Adam and Minnie in due course and let’s enjoy their programmes for the rest of this season but if you’re interested and want to find out more then please step forward.

Feel the pin striking the balloon

I think that’s how it feels today.

In recent years we’ve had the Aylesbury, Rotherham and Barrow games but it’s hard to remember the amount of excitement generated ahead of today’s postponed match at Dartford.

We saw coach bookings reach higher levels than any game of recent years, people booked in for one of Pauline’s excellent breakfasts and expectations of anything between 300-500 fans travelling round the M25. And then the weather intervened. My twitter timeline this morning before 10.00 was more like a constant prayer for a hot micro climate to settle over Princes Park – but mother nature had the last laugh.

I imagine that only a tiny handful of games below the Premier League will survive today so it can hardly be a surprise but nevertheless the sense of disappointment is palpable and in the end today goes down as one of the big disappointments.

Will the game be on this Tuesday with the snow forecast? Maybe.

Whether it is or not, it won’t be the same occasion as it would have been today. But we are still in the competition, we have as much chance of getting something whenever the game is played, we will have players back and we will keep believing.

PEPF latest developments

Over the past 24 hours we have learnt through the media of Barnet FC’s potential move into the Prince Edward Playing Field for next season.

Obviously this news raises many questions that we need to have answered, either by the London Borough of Harrow, or from Barnet Holdings / FC.

To be clear the only thing that has passed planning – that we are aware – with regard to the building of a stadium on the site is that one would be built to house Wealdstone FC to match the standard we are playing at that time. To this point the conditions have not been right for either Wealdstone FC or Barnet Holdings to build that stadium. Our understanding is that it is not permitted to build a football league standard stadium on the site.

We are unaware whether this has changed and if any new planning permission has superseded this, although Mr Kleanthous / Barnet FC appear to be saying this is now in place.

We have never given up our right to have a stadium built on site and although there have not been any recent conversations with Barnet, given previous planning regulations we would have expected to have been advised if things had changed. 

So we will be contacting the Council in particular to understand what has changed and where this leaves Wealdstone FC. When we have more information we will report back.

Behind the scenes at the Non League Show

I got a text from Caroline Barker on Sunday asking me if I wanted to go up to the studio for Monday’s Non League Show. I’ve done this twice before and it is always quite fun so as I was free and it seemed a quiet news day Non League-wise I thought it could be a good opportunity to get some good Wealdstone messages in, so I said yes.

The first disappointment was finding out that regular studio guest, Dave Anderson, newly appointed manager at Harrow was not going to be in (babysitting as his wife was at Take That apparently) as I was looking forward to some good natured banter. Dave is a good solid non league guy. I think he is excellent on the show as he is the one to ask the difficult questions and his regular jousts with Conference spokesman Colin Peake can be good listening. The job at Harrow will be tough mind.

Then as Monday unfurled the story of Rushden & Diamonds withdrawing its appeal to the Conference broke meaning the apparent demise of this Club was likely to dominate the show – possibly meaning less time to talk Wealdstone. So I drove up to Regent St a bit unsure of how things might pan out.

You get to the Radio London part of Broadcasting House by 8.30. The other guests were Willie Wordsworth, a frequent visitor to Grosvenor Vale, and Dave Watters, a non league journalist. Sitting outside the studio Caroline runs through what’s being covered, who is due to be on the phone and any time left is a chance to catch up on any non league gossip.

Into the studio at 9.00 as the news is being read. Even though the mood is relaxed joviality as soon as the theme tune plays its time to snap into professional mode, Caroline runs an excellent ship. There is a good atmosphere throughout the team, and with the benefit of knowing the guys in the studio I found it easy to fall into the prevailing relaxed and upbeat mood.

Straight away I was given some airtime to talk about our pre-season preparations and hopes for the months ahead. Trouble is, Richard Jolly signing apart things have been quite quiet for us so for me the opportunity to paint a positive picture of how we run the Club amidst all the mess of the Rushden story was what I wanted to do. Fortunately I got a few opportunities to do that.

The Rushden story dominated the first half hour. Colin Peake was on the phone and as I’m afraid he usually does he had to comment on yet another difficult story for the Conference. Glorious amateurs is the best way I can describe it. They mean well, the Conference, but seem to lurch from one disaster to another, many I’m sure not of their own making. Fair play to Colin at least he comes on the radio to try to explain things.

Even though he wasn’t there in person Dave Anderson was on the phone throughout the show. I managed to suggest that the babysitting was actually his first Harrow fans forum – with a similar number of people turning up. We can look forward to seeing him later in the season.

All the time texts and tweets are coming in so Caroline in particular has to think on her feet to make sure nothing important is missed. The funniest moment was when Willie Wordsworth gave Fingers a mention and we spent a minute discussing Fingers’ role at the Club. Fame at last.

But before you know it the hour soon flashes by. Brief respites come when the mad groundhopper from the north comes on to talk about some pre-season tournament. What made me laugh were the texts from Wealdstone fans during that bit asking who was this buff?

Of the three times I’ve done this show, I enjoyed this one the most. I felt I had the opportunity to get a few decent messages out about our club, to go on about one of my ‘hobby horses’ badly run football clubs and have a little fun at Dave Anderson’s expense. I’ll look forward to the next time.

And if you want to listen to the show you can find the podcast here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001d76f/episodes/player

Rumours

I thought I would respond to the rumours that are around at present that Gordon offered his resignation after the game last Monday night, given the people either asking me or discussing this on the Forum.

Let’s get this clear. Gordon did not offer his resignation last Monday. What was said to me and one other Director, in the emotion that flows immediately after such a game, was “is it time for me to go?” which is quite different from actually offering to go. My response was that we were not going to make any snap decisions there and then. We agreed that Gordon and I would meet and two nights later (last Wednesday) we had a full, frank and honest discussion covering all aspects of the Club.

Part of our discussion was about how we to involve others. So tomorrow evening (Monday 18th) Gordon will meet with the Board and the Supporters Club Committee to discuss where we are. Also tomorrow, when we are at the Club we will pick a date to hold a ‘Meet the Manager’ / ‘Meet the Chairman’ evening for the following week (w/c 25 Oct).

Football is all about opinions. We know that. Some people will feel Gordon should go now and others that he should stay. I have no doubts that he is fully aware of our strengths and our shortcomings and also what needs to be done. My view remains what I posted recently that he remains our best chance of turning things around.

One thing that Gordon and I agree on is that any decisions we make are based on what we think is right for Wealdstone FC, not for any other reason.  To that end and to those who think that we as a Board are not capable of making tough decisions Gordon knows that the Board will not blindly follow him for ever. However, as I’ve written before, not only has he earned the right to be given our trust he remains our best hope of turning things around.

The financial situation hasn’t changed because of the FA Cup exit. We don’t budget for much prize money so anything we receive is a bonus. There will need to be some decisions made with the budget in mind, though this was always going to be the case when we reached this part of the season.

As ever when we go through a difficult spell, difficult questions are asked, of all of us. Gordon is having to answer his fair share of questions now and both he and I will be happy to do so next week for those who want to pose them.

Rumours can be close to the truth or they can be a long way off. In this case the rumour of a resignation offered is simply incorrect.

Can you help this Saturday?

So much to say, so much going on (as always) but just no time (as always). Twitter seems much easier than writing long hand now (follow me at @howiejk). But I will try and post some stuff up soon.

In the meantime this is a plea for help. We really need people to come down and help the few hardy souls who have been regulars at the site over the past few weekends. There are always loads of jobs to do to suit any talents or skills.

This weekend in particular we need some help to lay some hard standing by the Fire Exits. If you can make it, especially on Saturday, and even if only for an hour or two then please let Roger Slater or Nick Symmons know (or just leave a comment on this blog). Any help you can give will be most appreciated.

More on here soon