Things We Learned » Gillette Budget

Gillette Budget

It was a Gillette budget this year: Brendan Howlin’s presentation on Monday shaved you close; then on Tuesday Michael Noonan shaved you closer still.

Racing got the double up. A 1.7% reduction in Government funding on Monday followed by a(nother) commitment on Tuesday that the new betting tax legislation would be introduced early in 2012, with an estimated extra revenue from betting tax of €12 million.

Well, it was a place double at worst. It is difficult to think that another reduction in Government contribution to racing – the fifth in four years – is a winner, but in the current climate, with hatchets and machetes the order of the day (unless you are a government advisor, obviously), a 1.7% reduction is a serious result.

The new betting legislation is not quite so clear-cut. It’s a little like backing a horse that has run on well up the hill to finish fourth in a handicap, but you’re not sure that one horse wasn’t withdrawn before the off, you’re not certain if there were 15 or 16 runners in the race. €12 million extra they reckon the new legislation will capture, and that is if all off-shore operators pay it (the general feeling among those who have seen the legislation seems to be that they will). However, it may be that there will be no link between betting tax revenue and government contribution to racing, bar a notional one.

The one thing that is clear from this budget is that the re-instatement of racing into the remit of the Minister for Agriculture (and Food and the Marine as well, as if he wasn’t busy enough) is a good thing. If it had remained under the care of the Minister for Sport (with Transport and Tourism thrown in for good measure), nothing against Leo Varadkar or anything, but the argument for funding would have been a sports argument. Under the Agriculture banner, the argument is an industry argument, from an industry that employs around 15,000 people, the majority in rural Ireland, and that is a solid argument.

Bostons faith

It was disappointing on the face of it that Bostons Angel couldn’t beat Golan Way and Benbane Head in the Future Stars Chase at Sandown last Friday, horses that were officially rated 6lb and 16lb inferior respectively, but I wouldn’t go losing faith in Jessica Harrington’s horse yet.

There were two main mitigating circumstances. Firstly and most importantly, three miles and half a furlong on goodish ground around a flat park course is not what Bostons Angel is all about. The tougher things are, the better Bostons likes it, nothing flashy, just tough as teak and always giving. Soft ground at Leopardstown, or up and down hills at Cheltenham, battling it out, and he is a different proposition.

Secondly, he was effectively making his seasonal debut in the race, having unseated his rider at the fifth last in the Champion Chase at Down Royal. As a result, it all happened a little quickly for him. He is not generally a fast jumper anyway, but he was ponderous over the first couple of fences behind the fast pace that Golan Way set, and it just took him longer than ideal to get into a rhythm.

Also, Golan Way is not without talent, and he had his optimum conditions, good ground, flat track, small field, easy lead. Of course, Bostons Angel is going to have to step up an awful lot on this if he is to develop into a serious Gold Cup contender, but, with talk from his trainer about fitting some headgear, talk that makes a lot of sense, that is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Sousper Sous

Sous Les Cieux could be very good indeed. He looked good in winning the Royal Bond Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday in the fastest time of the day, a triple-Grade-1 day. He beat a Group 3 winner on the flat, who is also a potentially high class hurdler, and the pair of them were clear. He was in front from a long way out, he was probably competing over a trip that was some way shy of his optimum, and Willie Mullins says that he probably doesn’t have a better novice hurdler. Rich Ricci’s horse has both the two-mile and two-and-a-half-mile options at Cheltenham at present but, as things stand, it would be mildly surprising if he didn’t go for the longer race, and, if he did, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him going off at about ¼ of his current price of 12/1.

Rubi right

If you were to have ear-marked one race for Rubi Light at the start of the season, it would have been tomorrow’s John Durkan Chase at Punchestown. It may be a blessing in disguise that Robbie Hennessy’s gelding missed the Champion Chase with a viral infection, and the trainer exercised admirable restraint to resist the lure of the Betfair Chase at Haydock when he felt his horse was just a smidgen short of spot on. He is only six, he is probably still progressing, and two and a half-miles on heavy ground at Punchestown, a track at which he is one for one over fences, looks just about perfect.

Voila La Vitesse

While there is little doubt that Voler La Vedette would have won the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle even with an extra 2lb on her back, the fact that mares now get a 7lb allowance instead of a 5lb allowance in Ireland as well as in the UK could help her to be very competitive against the top class geldings this season. The Colm Murphy-trained mare, now a Grade 1 winner, could be an improved performer this season anyway – she certainly seems to be settling better, and that could be the key. Perhaps it is the tongue-tie, or perhaps it was her encounter with Presenting which has had a positive impact.

© The Irish Field, 10th December 2011