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They call me 'Lekky Watson'
James Bond extras, Grace Campbell and pensions
The Cheltenham Festival of horse racing is like a religious gathering of the tribes. There are working-class kids, mainly men, dressed like the peaky blinders, having the craic and drinking Guinness. There are the severe men of the turf, many semi-retired, with their functional weather wear and discreet binoculars.
There are the country folk who live in the orbit of a stable, who are there to will their horses and jockeys over the line. There is the old and new money, dressed immaculately in seasonal weaves. And to add to the fun, our friends from Ireland are there to do what they do.
Cheltenham is a hat-wearer’s paradise. On my first visit last year, I felt semi-naked without one, something I remedied at great expense this year.
I visited the festival for a day last year and loved it so much that I cleared the diary for the whole week for this year’s festival. The experience had such an impact that I subscribed to the Racing Post’s monthly premium package.
The Racing Post is at the forefront of data-led journalism and media consolidation. As well as the news reports and interviews, you have a ‘tracker’ to follow your favourite horses in a digital file.
You can watch all the horses’ previous races, which gets addictive. You get to know them like old friends.
For the final day, the jockey club allowed me inside the paddock. Of all the sporting privileges I’ve been lucky enough to experience, this was the greatest.
The parade ground is where the horses are shown off before they are led onto the track to race. Horse lovers and serious punters always crowd against the fences of the enclosure to see how the animals look. Are they aggressive or relaxed? Are they sweating or blinkered?
These characteristics are eagerly discussed as to whether they will help or hinder the horse’s chance of winning.
Thousands can be pressed against the enclosure fence on the big races to watch their fancied horses. Before walking out to this area, the horses are in a tiny paddock where they are stabled and saddled.
Visiting the paddock of Cheltenham on race day is like entering a cathedral on a Holy day. You get to see the horses parading before they are saddled up.
People whisper to each other in reverence. These magnificent beasts, their grooms and trainers are in charge here. It's where princesses and paupers are secondary to the horse's needs.
It's an important business, too. A serious accident can happen on the track if a horse isn't saddled correctly. In near silence, you get up close to the most majestic animals on the planet.
I took a bet every day, and despite all the new knowledge and data charts, I ended the week up because I was lucky, using a unique system.
Here's how I picked some of my winners:
Lekky Watson 66/1 each way. Picked for obvious reasons. I was less lucky with 400/1 each way on Rightsotom for the same logic.
The Real Whacker 8/1 each way. Picked because an Irish man tipped it to my friend at 3am the night before.
Lieutenant Rocco 125/1 each way. Picked because I was feeling lucky.
Halka Du Tarbert. 12/1 each way. My friend bumped into the owner.
Notachance. 33/1 each way. Backed because I thought it funny that it had a chance.
Camprond. 16/1 each way. A pal who knows what he is talking about gave it to me.
Metamorpheus 22/1 each way. Like above.
Corach Rambler. 7/1 each way. This is one I picked myself because it's in my tracker.
Impaire Et Passe 4/1 to win. Given to me by the doorkeeper of a top London restaurant two months ago, and I remembered. (Thanks, Sean!)
There were many more losers than winners, but I had a wonderful week, and it was all worth it.
The Budget was fascinating this week. Jeremy Hunt is a good Conservative Chancellor, which of course, is different to being a good Chancellor, but let's face it, he's better than his recent predecessors.
Hunt had to achieve two things - put right the shitshow created by Kwasi Kwarteng and create political dividing lines for the election. The chancellor's pension announcement was perhaps cleverer than my Labour colleagues thought.
As more people are taken out of 'defined benefit' pensions based on their years of service and final salary and move to 'money purchase' pensions based on the cash invested into a pension pot and its growth over time, it always seemed unfair to me that you would tax people for having too large a pot.
Suppose a person invested in Apple computers with a pension when a teenager and the benefits of forty years of compounding leave them with a giant pot. Why should they be penalised more than people who invested later in their working lives and lost the benefits of compounding?
Provided you make the tax benefits equal when entering a pension scheme, I don't think the Treasury should interfere with the size of the pot. Of course, if the income taken from a pension is high, you will be taxed at a higher rate. So the Treasury doesn't lose out.
For the nerdier, the pension reforms will probably encourage more affluent people to switch investments to pension funds at the expense of tax-efficient but risky venture capital trusts, enterprise investment schemes and even buy-to-let properties. It may boost capital investment in the UK economy.
Of course, Hunt's pension reforms are made at the expense of other political reforms not taken. He said little about homeowners and first-time buyers in this Budget. With some predicting a 10% fall in property values in the next 12 months and mortgage rates doubling, Margaret Thatcher's vision of a property-owning democracy looks shakier than ever.
So whilst helping pensioners seemed ok to a proto-pensioner like me, Hunt failed to put right Kwasi's quasi-property-owning tax - the unnecessarily high-interest rates we endure because he crashed the economy.
Whatever Rishi Sunak wants the next election to be about, voters will make it a cost-of-living election. In this sense, the Budget was a missed opportunity.
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Grace Campbell - wash your mouth out with soap.
What happened to that beautifully polite teenage daughter of Alastair Campbell and Fiona Millar? She became a stand-up sensation, that’s what. I spent the evening at one of Grace’s sell-out gigs at Clapham Grand this week. It was packed to the rafters with women in their twenties and thirties, the occasional boyfriend, and me. I don’t mind saying I was out of my depth. She brought the house down. I strongly recommend Grace's show if you don’t mind blushing in the dark. She is very, very funny.
A fascinating memoir by career mandarin Hayden Phillips who, as well as dealing with IRA bombings, the Iranian embassy siege, the creation of the national lottery and the setting up of Tate Modern and the Millenium Dome, was also an extra in a James Bond movie. How cool is that?