WITH prospects of Irish racing before the weekend still unlikely, there was a slight boost to the industry as one of its firm supporters stepped forward again to offer some vital sponsorship in the current hard times.
Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary announced yesterday that his company would be upping the value of the 2m5f Grade One Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival from £220,000 to £250,000, making it one of the most valuable races at the four-day festival in March.
Closer to home, O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud will take over the sponsorship of the 2m1f novice chase at the Punchestown Festival in April ,which was formerly the Cathal Ryan Memorial Swordelstown Chase.
O'Leary's maroon and white Gigginstown Stud colours have been made very famous over recent years and the Punchestown contest will be run under the Ryanair banner with the race being called the Ryanair Novice Chase.
Ryanair pride themselves on being the official carrier for Irish punters heading across to the Cheltenham Festival and similarly for British punters who make the trip over to our National Hunt festival.
While trainers at the moment are struggling to get horses out for exercising, this will come as a big boost for the powers that be at Punchestown Racecourse and HRI who recently had to announce cuts to racing's prize money after the recent budget.
Dick O'Sullivan of Punchestown Racecouse said: "Our mission this year is to offer racegoers better value for money and no better partner to promote that message than Ryanair, who have been doing it for many years. Ryanair have been instrumental in making the Festival accessible to the UK market and no doubt the mixture of cheap fares, inexpensive admission prices and top class National Hunt racing will continue the growth in this market.
"Many UK racecourse members currently enjoy free admission on the opening day of the Festival and we look forward to strengthening our relationship with Ryanair to grow the UK attendance further."
Meanwhile, Colm Murphy continues to play his cards close to his chest and watch how the situation develops regarding his classy mare Voler La Vedette, who will line up in the Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown later this month en route to the Cheltenham Festival.
Having defeated Supreme Novice Hurdle and subsequent dual Grade 1 winner Go Native early this season, many believe that the six-year-old has every right to bypass the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in favour of what looks one of the most competitive Champion Hurdles in recent years.
"She will be entered in both, but the next day will probably tell us a lot more about her as she will run in the Irish Champion Hurdle -- weather permitting," said the Wexford trainer who previously won the race with Brave Inca.
"We are lucky we have the option there with the mares' race as well.
"I think it's probably the obvious one for her at the moment but the Irish Champion will be a good sighter for us."