Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - Post Mortem

Apart from a freakish piece of good luck on the betting front it is hard to work up any enthusiasm for the final day.  In the first race Sir Erek, the hot favourite and a hugely promising horse, broke a leg in mid-race. The camera mercifully moved away quickly from the frightful image of the poor creature floundering - but it surely ruined my appetite for the rest of the day’s racing. The Gold Cup was of poor quality. The winner Al Boum Photo had won recently at Tramore - hardly the place you’d normally find Gold Cup horses running. It is owned by Joe Donnelly, a classmate of mine in CBC Cork. I commenced my betting career across the road from CBC in his father’s betting shop on MacCurtain Street. Native River ran disappointingly, maybe needing it softer and himself and Might Bite rather cut each other’s throats vying for the lead. Elsewhere I thought Minella Indo was way overpriced for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle so I had a modest each way bet on him and he won comfortably at 50-1. He once again demonstrated that trainer Henry de Bromhead is always a man to consider at Cheltenham. We Have a Dream came second for me in the County Hurdle at 20-1 - undone by his top weight.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - Day 4 Thoghts

Day 3 was very disappointing from a betting point of view though I made a small profit thanks to Sire du Berlais. My faith in Jessica was misguided. Walk to Freedom ran a stinker in the Pertemps - making multiple mistakes and never getting involved. Supasundae ran a decent enough race but clearly doesn’t stay three miles. Maybe she should have run her in the Champion Hurdle after all. He’s won two Grade 1’s over two miles.

Today I’m just having three bets. In the Gold Cup I’m sure all romantics will want Presenting Percy to win but he’s too short for me and his profile lacks the substance I’d expect. Nichols’ horse Clan Des Obeaux could continue his good run but I’m not sure he’s going too last the distance. I’ve backed Native River at 5-1. Not very original as he’s last year’s winner but he’s tried and tested over the course and distance and this race has been his plan all year. Elsewhere Sir Erek is apparently a certainty for the Triumph but not for me at odds of 4/5. I’ll have a nibble at the County Hurdle though. We Have a Dream is a class above the rest of the field and despite his weight is good value at 20-1. Again I’ll have a saver on Gordon Elliot’s Eclair de Beaufeu at 11-1.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - Day 3 Thoughts

Although I had a profitable Day 2 with Band of Outlaws and Envoi Allen both winning and also having them in a double, this modest success was overshadowed by Wicklow Brave’s narrow defeat at 28-1 in the Coral Cup. He was caught on the line after looking a certain winner - costing me financially and emotionally. But hey that’s the fun of the fair - it’s all about passionate engagement. Tiger Roll and Alterior both won as predicted but at prices too short to involve me - I enjoyed both of them anyway. Alterior toughed it out like a champion while Tiger Roll strolled unconcernedly to victory. Both Envoi Allen and Band of Outlaws won easily - and I suspect we’ll hear about both again.

Day 3 should see Jessica Harrington getting off the mark. I think Supasundae is certain to be at least placed in the Stayer’s Hurdle and I feel she may prick the Paisley Park bubble. She also has a fancied runner in the Pertemps Final at 2.10. Her Walk to Freedom is closely linked form wise with Sire du Berlais and Cuneo on the December Pertemps heat at Leopardstown. However, he needed that race and despite his weights should be a decent each way bet at 12-1. Jessica reckons he’ll improve. I’d save on Sire du Berlais. The Ryanair Chase seems to be dominated by the Irish runners. Both Monalee and Road to Respect could be running in the Gold Cup but have gone for this consolation prize instead. In the latter’s case I think this distance suits him much better but I felt Monalee was a more genuine contender for the bigger prize so will favour him. Elsewhere I think Mullins’ Real Steel is overpriced at 7-1 in the opening race and I fancy Henry de Bromhead to confirm his Cheltenham pedigree winner with Sinoria in the 4.50 - a reasonable 13-2 at the moment.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - Day 2 Thoughts

An excellent Day1. It started with a disaster in the first race where Elixir de Nutz didn’t run and Angel’s Breath ran a stinker. Mullins’ horses are inclined to relish soft going and Klassical Dream stepped up on his previous form. I avoided the Arkle and my selection in the Ultima never figured. But all changed in the Champion Hurdle when all the favourites disappointed and my choice, Espoir D’Allen, won readily at 18-1. A Plus Tard won equally easily for me at 11-2 in the 4.50 race and I was only denied am unprecedented treble when Discorama was denied by a narrow margin in the last -  the third horse was 47 lengths behind.

But that’s the past now and so we look ahead to Day 2. Altior and Tiger Roll will probably win the Champion Chase and the Cross Country race so these races are best watched. I don’t back short-priced horses (was not involved in the Benie Des Deux debacle today - the whining on Twitter was a joy to behold) so I’ll just watch these races. In the 1.30 I think that Gordon Elliot will get off the mark with Battleoverdoyen. He won his maiden at Navan by 13 lengths on yielding going. The 2.10 is a Novice’s Chase so I will ignore that as a betting proposition too. I do love a handicap hurdle so the Coral Cup at 2.50 is very enticing. I’ll do a couple each way. Wicklow Brave has recent form that places him close to today’s Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’Allen so at 14-1 he’s worth a few bob. Dancing on My Own at 12-1 finished close to Klassical dream last time out so he’s also a decent speculative punt. Willie Mullins has the favourite Uradel but I’d prefer longer odds in such an open race. In the Fred Winter at 4.50 I like Joseph O’Brien’s Band of Outlaws and I think Gordon Elliot could also win the bumper with Envoi Allen. The wind tomorrow may blow all this off course but they’ll keep for Saturday in that case.

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

An edited version of this review was published in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on 10 March 2019.

In her role as co-founder of Tramp Press Sarah Davis-Goff has bemoaned the dearth of women writers cited as influences by those who submitted work for publication. She saw it as a wasteful dismissal of “the experiences, viewpoints and brilliant work of women.” Her enjoyable debut novel suffers from no such deficit. A recent New Yorker article by Laura Miller noted how feminist dystopian narratives are now enjoying a boom – encouraged perhaps by the TV adaption of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Miller cites: Future Home of the Living God (breeding controls) by Louise Edrich ; The Water Cure (beleaguered girls on an island) by Sophie Mackintosh; Vox (verbal constraints on women) by Christina Dalcher; and Red Clocks (breeding controls again and the uselessness of men) by Leni Zumas. Davis-Goff may have read none of these works but her novel has certainly tapped into the prevailing zeitgeist as she includes elements of all of them in her very own Irish dystopia. But fear not an earnest feminist polemic, this is a ripping yarn, an entertainment not a tract.

The central character and narrator is Orpen, a young girl, who grew up on Slanbeg, an island on the west coast deserted apart from her mother Muirinn and her taciturn partner Maeve. Her childhood is a pastoral idyll of hens, and gardening and rock pools and “snug as a bug” after a bath. However from an early age this idyll has added martial training. Orpen is brought up to be a warrior by her mother and Maeve  – strong, hard and adept with knives. She is told that “We’re never safe. The only thing we can do is be prepared.” Beyond the island is a semi-deserted wasteland patrolled by hordes of skrake. These are zombie-like creatures who roam our blighted isle and from whom one bite is fatal - it transforms the bitten one into a member of their murderous, albeit mouldering (bits of them tend to fall off) tribe. We don’t know from whence these monsters came but sensitive men may feel there’s an accusatory metaphor lurking in there somewhere. Nor are we told what caused the apocalypse, but two things are clear: it happened in the distant past and men are responsible. Only the crumbling remains of towns and villages remain and trees grow from the middle of the road. “Men are dangerous” we hear and the whole dystopian mess was caused by “the men making the decisions and women suffering for them.” All the characters in the book are female apart from a rather wet male character called Cillian who gets bullied by every woman he encounters. Orpen even thinks about “putting him down” at one stage. However, late in the book the normally stoical Orpen feels a stirring of something else:  “He kisses me. I think about it for the whole rest of my life.” Biology still works.

The action involves a quest by Orpen that takes her from her island fastness. Her immediate concern is a cure for Maeve, stricken by the skrake. However she also hungers for a life beyond her narrow islanded existence, and for the companionship of  a peer group. She sets out on a journey across Ireland to Phoenix City – a dimly-perceived haven based on overheard conversations between Muirinn and Maeve who had to leave there because of Orpen’s birth. “We left because you were pregnant and you weren’t meant to be.” On the road she encounters skrake, a few other lost souls, and eventually finds her peers in the form of a group of banshees. It was only a matter of time before there was a move to rehabilitate the negative stereotypes around banshees. There we were thinking of them as doleful harbingers of death that you’d be better off avoiding. But in Davis-Goff’s novel they have become powerful, liberated women who patrol our ravaged land seeking out and destroying the marauding skrake.

Chapters alternate between the past and the present showing us how Orpen got where she is today.
Davis-Goff captures well the naïve, and permanently wary voice of Orpen. Brought up in isolation, her perspective is circumscribed by the world-view of her mother and her partner and glimpses of the old world from carefully hoarded scraps of old books and magazines. We are so far removed from civilization that Orpen’s mother doesn’t even have names for the days of the week – “summer sol” and “winter sol” divide the time. The story focuses on Orpen, her inner life  and her development. The action along the road is mostly confined to bloody jousts with the skrake. The author has a fine grasp of revolting detail and for those who like their Grand Guignol the blood, snot and entrails are piled on with visceral relish.

The conclusion is left so open-ended that you wonder if a sequel is planned, or even a series of novels. I see distinct possibilities for a film or TV series with Orpen as the hero. A kind of Dirty Harriet, or Mad Maxine, for the apocalypse.

Tinder Press
PP: 272
RRP: ??

John P. O’Sullivan
March 2019

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - Day 1 Thoughts

Day 1 of Cheltenham is always my favourite with the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the Arkle Chase and the Champion Hurdle to relish. This year however I am filled with uncertainty about all three races. Mind you this is probably a healthier state than being filled with certainty. The Supreme is a complete conundrum. There’s six horses for whom I can convincingly make a case – and they make up the first six in the betting. Elixir de Nutz was my early choice but he’s a front runner and may set it up for a finisher. He beat Grand Sancy last time out narrowly – but staying on strongly, a good sign. He also beat Southfield Stone who has beaten the joint favourite Angel’s Breath – albeit getting five pounds. The other favourite, Al Dancer, may be just a good handicapper so I’m letting him go. The imponderables are the two Irish horses Klassical Dream and Fakir d’Oudairies. The latter won very easily already at Cheltenham and the former is Willie Mullins’ first choice. I’ll have a bet of course but a restrained one on Elixir de Nutz e.w. and Angel’s Breath – plus the forecast on the two. In the Champion Hurdle I think Gavin Cromwell’s Espoir D’Allen at 18-1 might be worth an e.w. bet. Melon ran a great race last year but I can’t forgive his lamentable last run where he jumped appallingly. I find it impossible to separate those at the head of the market (Lauriana, Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air) so I’m avoiding them in favor of this outsider at a decent price. Elsewhere I like Discorama in the last race – trained by my former greyhound trainer Paul Nolan. He ran very well here last year and has excellent recent form. I’ll nibble at Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard in the previous race. De Bromhead’s horses invariably run above themselves at Cheltenham. My mother always counseled me to avoid handicap chases but it’s hard to ignore Singlefarmpayment in the Ultima Chase. You do like to be involved no matter how problematical the race.

The Keeper - to Have and to Hold at the Model Sligo

An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on 10 March 2019.

The Niland Collection is a monument to the will and indefatigable energy of Nora Niland – the Sligo County Librarian who started the collection 60 years ago. The Model in Sligo is celebrating the woman and her heritage with an exhibition, curated by its director Emer McGarry, that encompasses 100 works from the Niland collection together with a small and quirky selection from the collection   of former director Jobst Graeve. Accompanying these are four fascinating contemporary video works that relate to the importance of collecting and what can be lost when we don’t “keep”, or “keep” properly.

A seminal work in the Niland Collection is Leaving the Far Point by Jack B. Yeats (see above), painted in 1946 and given to his wife Cottie as a birthday present in 1947, the year before she died. It’s an imaginary scenario with Yeats, Cottie and his favourite uncle George Pollexfen taking a walk along the beach near Rosses Point – where his uncle had a house, and where the artist spent 20 happy summers. Pollexfen had died in 1910 so this much later work represents the aging Yeats looking back at an idyllic period in his life. However, the painting has a significance beyond its personal resonances for the artist. He presented it to the people of Sligo in 1954 and it was the seed from which the Niland collection emerged. Nora Niland had borrowed five other works by Yeats from the Capuchins for the inaugural Willian Butler Yeats Summer School and she decided she would like to add them to her solitary painting and start to build a Yeats collection for the county he loved so well. She raised the money by public subscription, with a little help from the Arts Council, and paid off the good friars – and thus the Niland collection was born. It now has 52 works by Jack B. Yeats – making it the most significant collection by the artist outside the National Gallery of Ireland. Niland was a determined and well-connected woman - her family owned the Niland Cash and Carry business in Galway. Money for art in the west was tight so she used her connections to approach wealthy individuals and local businesses. Arts organizations such as Friends of the National Collections were also very helpful. A major boost to the fledgling project was a bequest of 35 paintings from the Irish-American James A. Healy – a successful stockbroker. “They formed the core of the collection” according to McGarry. Another fertile source has been artists themselves to whom Niland regularly wrote asking for work. Work also arrived unbidden. As recently as last year Sean McSweeney’s family donated five paintings by the popular local artist. McSweeney was an avid supporter of the Model up to his much mourned death in 2018.

The collection has expanded well beyond its initial Jack B. Yeats emphasis and it now consists of more than 300 paintings that provide a comprehensive survey of 20th Century Irish art. Emer McGarry has gone for a salon hang format to enable as much of the collection as feasible to be put on show. The exhibition is dominated numerically by the Jack B. Yeats paintings (23 of which are displayed), many of outstanding quality. There’s a nice contrast between the elaborate formal and the fraught practical in his treatments of two funeral scenes: The Funeral of Harry Boland and An Island Funeral. The father, John B. Yeats, gets a look in with his famously prevaricated over self-portrait – 11 years labour and still unfinished. There’s also his charming portrait of a languid William B. Yeats reading in the garden. Elsewhere an exquisite small work, Grey Pool, by Sean McSweeney catches the eye. There are strong works by Mainie Jellett (Abstract Composition) and Mary Swanzy (Abstract) and women artists generally are well represented. There’s also an unusually expressive work, Bog Sun, by that purveyor of restraint and decorum Patrick Scott.

The Niland collection is accompanied by work from the Jobst Graeve Collection – on temporary loan to the Model. This featured quirkier and more idiosyncratic work – a leather jacket here, a cow’s nipple shoe there, elegant craft work, and some agitprop paintings (such as Rita Duffy’s striking Belfast Pieta). The benefactor himself features, naked of torso and full-length of pleated skirt, in a Mick O’Dea portrait that the charitable will assume is an essay in the mock-heroic.

The third strand of this ambitious and absorbing exhibition features four well-presented and accessible pieces of video art by  four contemporary artists. Sadly one of them, Susan Miller, died between the shows’s gestation and the actual opening. It is ironic indeed that her exhibit is called The Last Silent Movie. In it we hear snatches of dead and dying languages accompanied by sub-titled translations. This artist’s dying word encompassing the dying words of other civilizations and tribes.

Perhaps more pertinent to the theme of collecting is Ed Atkins’ Trick Brain. Atkins film takes us on a tour of André Breton’s Paris apartment as it was when he died in 1966. A veritable cabinet of wonders, it was crammed with weird and wonderful artifacts with a noticeable bias towards the bizarre, the African and the surreal. Bretons’s family wanted it preserved as a museum but the French government demurred and the collection was sold at auction and dispersed in 2003. Money trumps the common good in today’s art world.

Turner Price winning artist Elizabeth Price’s video A Restoration views with a jaundiced eye the “taxonomical recklessness” shown to artifacts recovered from Knossos on Crete by Sir Arthur Evans and his team during their excavations in the early 20th century. Collecting and preserving the past requires rigour and integrity – qualities that Evans appeared to lack.

The fourth video work by Taus Makhacheva tales us to a village in Dagestan where every resident is an expert tight-rope walker – a necessity more than a sport in a land of gorges and ravines. We see aerial maestros walk across a rope suspended over a gorge while carrying works of art. It’s a metaphor with many applications: art as a precarious occupation and the difficulties of building a collection being the most obvious.

Curator of the show and Director of the Model Emer McGarry emphasizes that the collection is still a living one and acquisitions will continue where funds permit. “We definitely want to add works of museum quality”. This year already it has acquired The Racecard Seller, a characterful early work by Jack B.Yeats, from the office of the Taoiseach. It’s on loan for two years but history has taught us that works loaned to the Niland Collection tend to stick around – especially if they’re by Yeats. And rightly so. They are at home. Yeats has said “From the beginning of my painting life every painting which I have made has somewhere in it a thought of Sligo”.

John P. O’Sullivan
March 2019