The Yates anthology: Watch out for the Fabulous Faugheen
The real world has to be put on hold next week, from the moment the tapes go up for the first race at Cheltenham. This festival makes racing history - dreams turn to dust or delight. Regular racegoers yearn for a superstar and this year it is the unbeaten Faugheen.
His story began in Tuam, Co Galway with a small breeder, Dr John Waldron. His unraced mare Miss Pickering mates the best stallion west of the Shannon, called Germany. She's bred no other winner. The breeder barely covers his costs selling the foal for meagre four grand in late 2008. The gelding is re-sold in 2011 and sent to Andrew Slattery. At the end of April 2012, he appears in a lowly point-to-point at Ballysteen, winning by eight lengths. The word emerges that he's "special".
He's quickly snapped up by Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins, first appearing in his colours in May in an ordinary Punchestown bumper. The 'wow factor' explodes, slamming subsequent Grade One horse Josses Hill by 22 lengths. The hype continued throughout last season, culminating in stunning victories at Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals. Distances of two or three miles make no difference. Neither heavy nor good ground. Seven runs, seven wins.
Aiming for Champion Hurdle instead of novice chasing initially comes as a surprise. A comfortable win in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton was preceded by an Ascot romp in November. While interviewing Willie Mullins at Horse Racing Ireland Awards 2014, I asked him to nominate one horse for Cheltenham. Without hesitation or equivocation, he tipped Faugheen, with that knowing glint and smile. Threats are obvious: heroic and historic Hurricane Fly; reigning champion, Jessica and JP's Jezki; locally-trained, multiple winner The New One, carrying the British hopes.
Barring accidents, there are key moments in every race. Top of the hill (three hurdles from home), expect Ruby Walsh to kick on - check how easy his hands grip the reins; swinging on the bridle rounding the final bend; leaping the final flight to victory. Odds of 6/4 on the day are value - but this isn't about money, it's about pure passion. This drama is simply unmissable at 3.20pm next Tuesday.
Sinn Féin sums?
The winner is… Sinn Féin.
Four years of this Dáil have elapsed. Poll ratings reveal the only party with forward momentum is Sinn Féin. Their 10pc in the March 2011 general election result has mushroomed to 21-23pc. With three unknowns they garnered three MEP seats and also won 159 council seats (an increase of 54). Their ard fheis this weekend in Derry provides the launch pad towards them gaining more than 30 seats in the next Dáil.
Gerry Adams is a magnet for controversy. His arrest in the investigation of Jean McConville's murder; his brother Liam Adams' 16-year jail sentence for sexual assault of his daughter Áine; Mairia Cahill's rape by an IRA man in 1997 and the failure to obtain justice from a republican kangaroo court. Despite all the baggage, Sinn Féin are the best organised, tightest disciplined movement of the left, dwarfing the Socialist Party and People Before Profit. Fine Gael's stated election narrative of FG versus SF is a double-edged sword. Intended to make FF irrelevant, it humiliates Labour and risks bigging-up Sinn Féin into an even more potent force.
The Shinners' Achilles heel? Economic numeracy. They promise to abolish all water charges and Local Property Tax. This'll cost €1.5bn annually. They also undertake to reduce USC for the lower paid. This yields €4bn. How this can all be paid for beggars belief. Stats from 2012 reveal 104,553 taxpayers with incomes of more than €100k. The growth fairy can't explain away €2bn of tax cuts.
Labour perished on the rock of false election promises. Sinn Féin repeat the same folly. The Independent Fiscal Advisory Council, not the Department of Finance, must vet party pledges next time so voters can decipher fact from fiction.
Ministers and mandarins in Merrion Street are mystified and miffed at our lack of joy in their endless good news pronouncements. The fastest-growing GDP growth rates in Europe only affect 170,000 employed in manufacturing industry, whereas 1.8 million workers depend on the domestic economy for prosperity. Rising house prices of 30pc may be a bonanza for banks and Nama, but only mean high rents or unattainable mortgages for most folk.
This week's hyped hoopla related to February Exchequer returns - up 16pc, plus €925m on last year. So, we are all paying more taxes… Yippee. The reason why majority of us are not yet ready for high fives is because take home pay depends on pay rises and tax cuts. Only when these appear, can you expect fist pumps from Joe and Josephine.
The wally of the week
Public sympathy and empathy may run on empty for the O'Donnell family, trying to retain their Killiney mansion. However, methinks Vincent Browne's antics on Vico Road were unnecessary. Media people, especially broadcasters, suffer from 'Attention Seeking Disorder' but Vincent's requirement to place himself as central to the story was distasteful. Calling media colleagues, showing momentary respect and reserve, "wimps" amounted to bullying. Guests on his TV3 show should know better than to interrupt the host.