Ding Dong – It’s the Carlisle Bell

It’s rare for a race day at Carlisle to take centre-stage, but today the Cumbrian track holds its most prestigious meeting of the season.

The Carlisle Bell and Cumbrian Plate Day is a truly historic event. Carlisle Races most famous contest (Carlisle Bell) was first run, quite incredibly, in 1599. The race is named after the two miniature bells which were awarded to the winners of the race back in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. They are thought to be the oldest horse racing prizes in the World that continue to be contested for.

The Bells have travelled north from their temporary home at the wonderful National Heritage Centre in Newmarket, where they have been on display in the Under Starters Orders gallery. In 1599 they were presented to the winner of the Carlisle Bell Handicap, having been donated by Lady Dacre of Naworth Castle, just north of Carlisle in Cumberland. The family later had built, and resided in, the better-known Castle Howard.

The prestigious trophies are usually held at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle. Geraldine McKay, Carlisle Racecourse’s General Manager, said of the historic meeting: “It will be great to have the Bells back here for race day. It’s amazing a prize given out in the days of Queen Elizabeth I has survived 458 years. They have been around for 16 monarchs, 76 Prime Ministers, and the thing we are most proud of – for more than 400 runnings of this most treasured race here in Cumbria.

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“We are very excited Bell and Plate Day is here again – it’s our Derby Day – the day that stops Carlisle as thousands take the day off work and head here for a great days racing.”

It’s a racecourse that is well worth a visit. Just north of the glorious Lake District, the track is located at Blackwell village, a short drive from Carlisle. Facilities are good, and viewing is terrific. The atmosphere is friendly, and all aspects of the course are easily accessible.

The Carlisle Bell Handicap is run at just shy of a mile, and is ably supported on an excellent card by the Cumberland Plate and the valuable fillies Eternal Stakes, formerly run at Warwick, but now permanently a fixture at the Cumbrian track.

Though lacking the fame of others on the day, the fillies event for three-year-olds and run over seven furlongs, attracts classy types, with Mick Channon’s Opal Tiara storming to success in last year’s renewal. With a prize fund of £40,000, the race has again drawn talented fillies from far and wide. Ralph Beckett provides the race favourite in the Qatar Racing owned Bletchley. A comfortable winner at Leicester on seasonal debut, she looks a classy sort.

Roger Varian and William Haggas travel north for the event, and take on last year’s winner Mick Channon, along with a regular powerhouse of the northern circuit, Mark Johnston. Regulars at the course, Kevin Ryan, Richard Fahey and David O’Meara, also have runners on the card, supporting what is set to be a great day.

Racecourse general manager Geraldine McKay is clearly thrilled, and added: “For us to get eight-plus quality runners shows we are getting great support for the race. On the very same day, we have the history and tradition of the Carlisle Bell and Cumberland Plate and it all adds up to make for a very special day of racing.”

Gates open at noon, with the Red Rum Bar likely to be heaving by 1pm. Get there early, and sample a great day’s racing in the north. The first race is at 2pm, and let’s hope the great British weather stays fair.

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