Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Grand National

My dad raced Greyhounds, so I was introduced to the concept of racing and betting from early on. Then my grandfather, Boss Brody, at 85 years old, took me, some of my sisters and brothers and my mum racing to the Galway Plate day in the Galway Races summer meeting in 1966, and from then on, the racing bug was well and truly rooted in me. He showed me how to compare the odds on the Totalisator (Tote, Paramutual) and those being offered by the Bookies in the ring, the first true supply and demand market I ever encountered. In fact I would say that the very best bookies would put actuaries in the shade when it comes to computing and predicting probability. gambling on horses is not at all unlike gambling on the stock-market. Winners and losers all add up to a collective market, one where the Bookies hold the advantage, but where every individual investor/gambler has as good a chance of winning any race. Why else is the Daily Numbers game (racket) in New York predicated on the last 3 digits of the Dow Jones? Intertwined inextricably!

The Grand National race was a standard in our house (and dare I say, in almost every house in Ireland and Britain), being marked on the new year's calendar before even our birthdays were.

It was the common man's race, where long-odds horses had every chance, given the random nature of fallers over 30 fences, where favourites and outsiders alike fell foul to the daunting array of ditches and fences over the fabled 41/2 miles circuit of Aintree. Unlike their behaviour when setting starting prices and odds for regular racing, the book-makers (bookies) take Aintree's randomness into account when setting the odds and freely profer favourites at as much as 8/1, while outsiders are relatively uncapped in their potential being freely offered at 100 and 200/1. There was a silver lining too for the amateur wagererers, in that the bookies paid out 1/4 of the odds on the horse that places 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and even on the 5th place horse, if there were more than 40 horses starting the race. In one year there were 66 declared starters. It resembled the charge of the Light Brigade more than you can imagine. In another year, only 2 horses finished!

Little old ladies and parsimonious priests, savvy bankers and penny-pinching pensioners all would have had the same newspapers spread open at the racing page on the breakfast table. In our house, about as far removed a house from racehorses as you'd be likely to get in Ireland, the favoured method of choosing the 3 or 4 horses our family would back, was the darning needle on a thread, divining the winners while wearing blinkers. 'Birdie' Sheridan who had worked in England during the war years, and now was our housekeeper, was particularly adept at tea-leaf reading in order to come up with her selection, and my dad, the conservative and sagacious school-master, while eschewing the less scientific methods of handicapping, would suddenly announce a horse's name, as if by divine intervention he had had the winner's name revealed to him. His selection was always mysterious and we were wont to follow his morning with particular attention, hoping to see the source of his Oracle. Others looked at the horses name and went on that.

This year Good Will attracted the attention of everyone called Bill, Will, Willie, Billy, William, some 500,000 in the UK alone. All lost! Others see salvation in the Racing Form, a paper printed by Bookies, sure to mislead and flatters to deceive! Hard to condemn it though! Finally, when all else fails my Grandfather swore by Old Moores Almanac, where amongst the crop recommendations, bull pedigrees and the weather forecast, there was always a cryptic prognostication on the National's future winner.

All around these islands, pauper and peer alike spent the morning hours in various conclaves, swapping tips and sowing doubts, recklessly declaring undying devotion to a given trainer, while secretly coveting another trainers horse. Jockeys I seem to remember featured large in this lottery too, those knavish mountbanks on whose skill and tenacity our 2/6 would ride. many favoured the one or two Greys who would be declared for the race. Greys seemingly are lucky, though I cannot remember a Grey winner of the Grand National since I first started watching it on TV in 1967. Red Rum, won it three times out of five attempts in the 70's, winning it in 1973, 1974 and 1977. (he was second in '75 and '76). Red Alligator won it in 1971. wasnt my favourite colour, but I saw a trend!

Other punters favoured the Queen's horses, given that common wisdom had it that the owner with the most money had the best horses. It wasn't the Queen actually owned the horses, but the Queen Mother, but as one of our jockeys, now turned racing commentator said when reviewing a horses form on live TV a few years back, 'I rode her and I rode her mother, both great rides'! Anyway, not so, the poor Queen Mother has never won the National, though she did own Devon Loch who was leading the race with a furlong to go when his legs gave out.

'Course, when an outsider horse does win there is a rush to the bookies for the pay-out as many times in the past, when an outsider has won, particularly with local connections, the punters arrived to find the bookie had taken flight overnight. One local Loughrea legend has several Turf Accountants (Irish pseudonym for Bookie) go to the wall overnight, having taken many bets on a horse called Foinavon in 1967, at starting odds of 100/1. There was some connection to Foinavon's racing stable living in our town at the time and many of our neighbors were on insider information about this 100/1 'Sure Cert'. At the Chair, the largest of the fences at the end of the second circuit, 2 loose horses upset the entire field and some 16 horses refused to jump the fence, many of them dislodging their hapless jockeys into the ditch. While many remounted and re-jumped the Chair, Foinavon was unperturbed from his position at the rear of the field. He went around the melee, jumped the Chair first time and finished a clear winner. No one got paid-out in Loughrea though as the local Bookie was on a plane to the US that night.

I knew him well in later life, a real gambler, still game for any sport, no matter the odds. He worked in B. Altman and never missed Saratoga. He was just playing with bookies money, not unlike our current crop of Bank executives. Didn'tt make him a bad guy I suppose, but it does bear out your statement, 'attending a horse race without placing a bet is an utter waste of time'.

At four-thirty on National Saturday the entire country stops. Ordinary folks had already downed tools, taking advantageous positions around TV's and radios in homes and businesses across Ireland and Britain. Bated breath punctuated by ooohs and aaahs as faller after faller spelled the end of another lottery hope. Then the final cheer after the Chair and the long run on to the finish line. 100/1 Mon Mome. What a winner!

I had looked through the field looking for a French connection, as my wife and a friend were in Paris last weekend. So I backed L'ami, over Mon Mome, he had better credentials, that friend did, but hey what do you know, Lami pulled up at the Chair! Mon Mome, with a female trainer who broke her neck riding in the National 10 years ago, and a female owner who is a professional Bridge player, won by a street with a jockey with bad teeth. Now who'd a thunk! How you gonna win?

My brother worked with GE in Schenectady and lived in Galway, NY, just south of Saratoga. he had us up to the Saratoga races twice in the 90's and we really loved it. It is the race meeting most akin to the one my grandfather took us to in Galway, Ireland and thus is my favourite New York track. Sorry Belmont just doesn't cut it, no class, no style, and no winners! There was however a consolation prize there in Cohan's Parting Glass Bar, and the songs of Maura O'Connell, but that story is for another day!
The Grand National - Mylesnag, April 30, 2009
Do feel free to leave a comment - in fact please do!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shattered Crystal, Broken Dreams

How sad is the ongoing Waterford Crystal debacle?

Mind you Waterford were never easy to deal with. It is no secret that they treated shops and outlets who sold their brands in Ireland and in the US, with complete disdain most of the time. Those same shops were selling container-loads of glass annually, one stem at a time, to ordinary moms and pops across America. It is disgraceful really how the shops were treated, but they put up with it because it was 'Waterford' and they were 'privileged' to be allowed to represent it.

World recession aside, how Waterford came to be in such dire finances is beyond me. Anyone there ever heard of dropping prices to compete and trade their way out of trouble? Or would that have undermined such a top-shelf international brand? We will never know now, will we? The boffins in Wall, NJ and the number crunchers in Waterford have co-incided tragically, blinkers on and choked the goose that laid the crystal egg.

I believe the demand for their traditional crystal brands is still there. Lismore is still the market leader. Waterford could have easily appealed to the customer goodwill out there, especially in the US if they had used their heads and their contacts, and maybe admitted that yes, the Irish and the Irish-American public loved them, and made them the success they were.

But no, Waterford had their head in the sand, pun intended, pretending that their success had nothing at all to do with the traditional Irish lace-curtain values, pride in heritage and patriotism. Those same Waterford collectors could yet save them if approached sympathetically.

Pity about this is that the brand is so iconic and so potentially viable in the long term, now to be just a memory, or a trophy traded by Clarion Capital, or some other such opportunistic trader. They got Wedgewood and Royal Doulton as a package with Waterford. thats like getting a latter day Louis Vuioton for a cent on the dollar. Fair play to them I suppose, for siezing the opportunity, but all those skilled folks out of a job, their pensions up in smoke and the shares, worthless. For Shame.

the Irish Government perhaps rightfully refused to be drawn in and offer a rescue package for the factory in Waterford. They saw the O'Reilly consortium plough millions in without arresting the decline...of the group. Waterford Crystal on its own is a different prospect. The skillsets that were built up over generations have now been dumped. yes the apprentice system and the mastercutter class cost a lot of money, but it worked and the product was just fine. Now within a ten-year, we will be bereft of these skills, left without any trace it had ever happened and no control over our patriotic brands, Lismore, Powerscourt, Kenmare, Kilbarry and Hibernia.

Sir Tony O'Reilly may indeed have been at the helm when Waterford's ship struck the reef and he has to regret that role and share the blame, but I would include management (unimpressive and unresponsive) and the unions (irresponsible) equally in the blame-game, for letting things get so out of hand. Pride comes before the fall they say. The Waterford Crystal Ball has well and truly fallen in Times Square, perhaps for the last time.
Dairygolds Demise - inevitable evolution, bad management or worse?
Does anyone think it odd that Kerry Co-op have snapped up all of Dairygold's consumer brands on the cheap (€140 million, some €25 million less than book-value last year), while Dairygold was being managed by Jerry Henchy, a former senior Kerry Co-op Executive?

Henchy, colloquially known as 'Hatchet Henchy' for his penchant for trimming costs, was head-hunted from Kerry Co-op by Dairygold's Board of Directors, as their new CEO, some 6 years ago. He was fired last week under mysterious circumstances from his CEO post in Dairygold, having already been let go from REOX, a mutant Dairygold subsidiary in January 2009. Henchy is now rumoured to be in receipt of a €3 million golden-boot payment from Dairygold, having led that Co-op to near bankruptcy during the Celtic Tiger boom. If that exit payment is even half that much, then at the very least Dairygold owe a full explanation of his sacking and remuneration to their 10,000 shareholders.

In the 6 years since he was appointed boss of Dairygold. Henchy has presided over the effective emasculation of Dairygold, the pride of the Golden Vale co-operatives. He has eliminated most of their production capacity, laid off 2/3rds of their employees and run up extra-ordinary debt under the subsidiary company, REOX Holdings, where net debt rose from €21 million to €148 million in the year to September 2008. Dairygold's own debt has risen by 95% to €70 million in the same period. Henchy's final act as CEO was selling off Dairygold's valuable consumer brands to their arch-competitor and his former employer, Kerry Co-op, at a discount after the competition authority held up the deal for 12 months. Dairygold last week announced a cut in milk prices paid to their farmer/suppliers just when rumours are rife that Dairygold is insolvent and may be taken over by the banks.

The whole ethos of the Irish Farmers Co-operative Society movement is demeaned by this debacle, which seems to have had the active approval of Dairygold's Board of Directors, most of whom have been in office since before Henchy's appointment as CEO. Call a spade a spade here.

Perhaps he is just the 'patsy' for a failed power trip by Dairygold's Board of Directors? Most other large Co-ops have 'gone public' and the resultant rise in share values has helped farmers survive.

Dairygold's shareholders look like they will be left with nothing but debt! Some questions need to be asked, and answered;

Why was Henchy sacked and why was he paid a lump sum from Dairygold and/or REOX?
Have Deloitte and Touche, Dairygold's auditors, any comment on this? (They were after all the shareholder's watchdog agency during Henchy's 6-year tenure as CEO of Dairygold and REOX). Do the Banks now effectively own Dairygold?
What is their position as regards the Board of Directors of Dairygold?
Does the Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith, endorse what has happened to one of the 5 biggest players in Ireland's agri-sector?
Is the Junior Minister for Agriculture, Ned O'Keeffe, himself a substantial Dairygold shareholder and supplier, satisfied with Dairygold's current state of affairs?
Is the Competition Authority really satisfied that Kerry Co-op's owning so much of the nations food brands is a good thing?
Are Dairygold's 10,000 farmers-shareholders satisfied that their interests as Shareholders and as Co-op members, have been well served by Dairygold's Management and Board of Directors?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Best Begging Letter Ever

You are probably like me, receiving dozens of unsolicited begging e-mails every week, mostly from shady characters with poor grammar from sub-saharan Africa. However, I have noticed a new kid on the beggar's block recently, one who stands out from the crowd. I love this guy...his name is Muda. (see his most recent missive to me below) it's his best effort yet.

Such drama, such compassion, such creativity, such greed! A complete change from the usual jailed Nigerian Finance Minister's daughter, or Ghanian plane-crash victim's unclaimed funds. Muda has moved to complete new territory and introduced a whole new set of villians and victims, princes and paupers. This could be a thriller novel or even a movie the way he writes. It set me thinking on a new project!

I am seriously considering compiling the 'Best Begging Letters Ever' from all around the world, not just Nigeria and Ghana. I might publish the book under the same title. I think it would make for some really interesting reading and feel it would be a best-seller. Just think, it is bound to lift everyones hearts, what with this recession thing and everyone losing their money, we all need a glimmer of hope. What could be more hopeful than a 'Beggar'? They are ever hopeful, posess an ever optimistic nature and never accept rejection. A book on this subject would make a hot pick on Oprah. It could be a must-read bible in every Bathroom in the developed, now decimated world.

What do you think? I only need about a hundred grand advance to get started. Any Angel Investor out there? Publisher? Entrepreneur? Banker? I will share the royalties!If you are interested I will send my trusted aide and guard to pick up the cash (sorry, I don't accept checks). You will know him when he calls...he blocks most of the light in any standard front door.

From: Muda <>Sent: Thu, 2 Apr 2009 12:55 am
Subject: Investment of $25 Million USD in your Country.

I am contacting you via your email address because of the urgent need to keep this discussions and further actions private and confidential between both of us alone. Therefore, i solicit for your reliable assistance in the collection and investment of my funds.

I am Muda Hakeem, from the sultanate of Brunei in South East Asia. I want you to visit the websites below for a better insight and understanding into what necessitated my contacting you:-

As you may know from the international media above, the sultan had accused my father of financial mismanagement and impropriety running into Billion of dollars of state funds. The economic set back in Brunei was as a result of the Asian financial crisis that made my our firm Amedeo Development Company (i was Managing Director) and government owned Brunei Investment Company (controlled by my father) to be declared bankrupt during my fathers tenure in office.

However my father was falsely accused by the Sultan of financial misappropriation and in year 2000 a Brunei court ordered the seizure of all our bank accounts and private properties including a crude oil export refinery which where all confiscated by the sultanate. In May 2006, Prince Jefri lost an appeal to retain our properties, assets and Bank accounts which the sultan and security operatives wants forfeited to the government. During this unfortunate period I was still serving as Managing Director of my fathers own firm, Amedeo Development Company. I was advised to evacuate my immediate family outside the sultanate to avoid further prosecution from the sultan and his security operatives, but before I could do that I was placed under house arrest via a Court Order of which i was named co-defendant.

Before my arrest, I went ahead to dispatch some funds US$500 Million under special diplomatic arrangement. The money where packaged into metallic trunk Boxes and deposited in various Warehouses abroad for safe keeping abroad. Hence, I seek your good assistance to invest these funds deposited in various Bonded Warehouse into profitable investment in your country to facilitate future survival for my family abroad. My trusted aid and guard is still loyal to me, he would be my contact if there is any document I need to send to you which would enable you collect the boxes of money on my behalf.

The purpose of my contacting you is because you live in a country with a stable economy where one can invest. On receipt of your response after which we shall discuss in details the modalities for seeing this project through. If however, you are not disposed to assist, kindly forward to a reliable associate or relative or friend whom you deem fit to rescue this transaction from total loss if the location of the funds are discovered by security operatives.

I am counting on your absolute confidentiality, transparency, honesty and trust while looking forward to your prompt reply towards a swift conclusion of this proect. If you cant assist me please forward to any of your family relatives OR business associate who can render me this service.

I await your Urgent Reply.

Best Regards,