January has been a funny old month with all the stopping and starting but that has had its benefits too.
My daughter Emma, who has now got to the stage of organising my life for me from the office, returned from a holiday on Monday, which allowed me to tie up various loose ends that I've been working on while things were quiet in recent weeks.
Things have been tough lately, and encouraging people to have the confidence to get back into having a horse again is a real challenge. We've come up with various incentives here to try and keep people -- especially syndicates -- involved, such as an 'all-in' monthly fee so that they know exactly where they stand each month.
And for those that have had a horse here before, we are now offering leases on certain horses with the option of purchasing at a pre-arranged price. So, no matter how well the horse does while leased, it can be bought at that price. Alternatively, if it doesn't work out, you just hand it back once the lease is up.
It means people can continue going racing without having to put up a capital outlay, and it keeps them involved.
The problem is, if people stop going racing, they get out of the habit and they might not start again, so we are trying to make it affordable for them to stay involved.
Everybody has to tighten things up in the current environment. From racecourses looking at dropping admission prices further to the amount we get charged for use of the Curragh gallops, people have to look at themselves. We haven't sat still here, reducing our costs by haggling more with vets and cutting out bonuses, and so on.
People who think they can carry on the way they were two years ago might just meet themselves coming the other way. Anyway, that's my political bitch out of the way!
We have taken a lot of horses to the Curragh gallops this week, as I was anxious to do a bit more with them now that the freeze has relented. On Tuesday morning, Roberto Goldback and Coole River were among the travelling contingent, and they went really well.
Both have Graded targets at Leopardstown over the weekend. Roberto beat Cousin Vinny at Navan last time and, with a clear round tomorrow, he should be hard to beat again. Cousin Vinny's jumping let him down at Fairyhouse the other day, but the horse that finished third to them, Jagoes Mills, won easily at Thurles on Monday, so that was encouraging.
We have very few older handicappers or top-rate horses in the yard right now, but the likes of Roberto and Coole are part of a decent team of youngsters. It can go in waves a bit, and there is only so much running in the younger horses. At the moment, we are building, though progress can be slow.
At Punchestown on Wednesday, for example, Chasing Cars, another of our better novices, fell when he looked as though he might win. He got a proper fall and it is frustrating, as we had been working back from Cheltenham in the hope that we'd get him there in March, but we'll have to see how he is now. Like I say, we're in transition, and a bit of luck wouldn't go astray!
I also expect to run Taravada and Gallant Light in the MCR Hurdle tomorrow. Taravada hasn't run since the Punchestown festival but he'll have a chance. He's a two-and-half-miler really, so the faster they go the better, while Gallant Light will be having his first run in a handicap. He has some very good form and, although he hasn't run since early December, he gets in off a lovely weight.
Sadly, I won't be there to watch, as I always go skiing during the last week in January. I only took up skiing late in life and I thought I had better try and see as much of the Alps as I could, so we're heading for a new destination, Megeve in France. The horses are ready to run though, and me looking at them wouldn't make them go any quicker!
I will be back, however, in time to play my part in a charity recording of a reworked version of Petula Clark's hit, 'Downtown'. The great and the good of Irish racing are set to collaborate on a Cheltenham-themed adaptation of the song that will be released in advance of the festival in March. I haven't a note in my head, but am reliably informed that I won't be alone on that score.
Fo more information about racing go to www.goracing.ie