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Willie Mullins admits Cheltenham expectations leave ‘a certain dread in your stomach’

There’s only 20 days to the start of the Cheltenham festival so first things first – Willie Mullins thinks Allaho is his best bet for jump racing’s biggest week of the year.

Since Allaho is a 4-5 favourite to repeat last year’s success in the Ryanair Chase its cautious advice unlikely to make any punter rich.

However, since Mullins is the most successful figure in festival history with 78 winners – and is himself odds-on to be top trainer for a ninth time – he knows his every word gets pounced on at this time of year.

When quizzed by media at his Co Carlow base on Wednesday morning he had barely mentioned favouring the Turners Chase rather than the Brown Advisory for Galopin Des Champs than the star novice’s price collapsed in the shorter race.

It sets up the prospect of a mouth-watering cIash with another Irish star in Bob Olinger, although 27 years of Cheltenham success has taught Mullins the value of wriggle room.

That means definitive festival plans are unlikely to be finalised until the first 48-hour declaration stage the Sunday before.

That will be when the brains trust of Mullins, his son Patrick, champion jockey Paul Townend, assistant trainer David Casey, and someone called Ruby Walsh, sit down and divvy up a colossal 60-horse squad.

“Mental,” is how the perennial champion trainer describes how that decisive date used to be in the office. It’s a quicker process now but still him with the ultimate call.

“It’s probably a gut feeling. Sometimes you don’t make the right decision but you go with your gut feeling or whoever puts up the biggest argument.

“Sometimes [though] I’ll have my mind made up, I listen to the others, and we go my way!” he says.

Allaho on the gallops during the media visit to Willie Mullins’s yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown on Wednesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Allaho on the gallops during the media visit to Willie Mullins’s yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown on Wednesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

It means the racing world must hang on longer for where other exciting novice talents such as Sir Gerhard and Dysart Dynamo end up.

There are other dilemmas, too, such as whether the former dual-Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo will emerge in time from an apparent mood slump to try and regain the ‘Blue Riband’ crown, or if Chacun Pour Soi is too much of a home bird to carry his outstanding domestic form across the Irish Sea.

So perhaps it’s little wonder that while everyone else is counting down the days the central figure is more ambivalent.

“[I] probably dread it because of the expectation from everyone that we’re going to have half a dozen winners,” he admitted.

It seems not even 78 winners – including eight in a single week in 2015 – can insulate someone against a fear of it all going wrong.

“Some year it will happen – we’ll have a blowout. And that’s always on the back of your mind,” Mullins said.

“Everyone’s expectation is going to be your failure if you don’t come up with it. That leaves a certain dread in your stomach. A week or two before the festival can be tough in that respect.

“But I’m lucky enough with the owners and the horses I have to be in that position. You just have to take what comes with it; people always stopping you and people always ringing you, that’s the price you pay.

“And thankfully people are because there’s lots of guys no one wants to ring. I know I’m very lucky so that’s the way I feel going into it. On one hand you’re dreading it – on the other I’m lucky,” he added.

Cheltenham’s central role in the sport means it’s not just the racing world focusing on the four days in the Cotswolds.

Willie Mullins watches his horses parade during a media visit to his yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Willie Mullins watches his horses parade during a media visit to his yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

After the reputational disaster of 2020, and last year’s eerie behind closed doors action, the prospect of an ‘old normal’ festival with heaving crowds felt as bright as Wednesday morning’s sunshine following a week of torrential rain and wind.

“It comes from over there, from Jim Bolger country,” Mullins joked, pointing to nearby hills where his outspoken former mentor is based. “Comes down here and lands on us – like a lot of stuff from there!”

Squabbles might be as common as rain in Irish racing but what’s novel is the scale of the raider’s dominance at Cheltenham.

A record 23 of the 28 festival races last year were won by Irish-based horses, leaving a mortified home team to indulge in introspective examination of their failure.

It didn’t feel like only modesty that led the most successful figure of all to disagree with Gold Cup-winning trainer Henrietta Knight’s recent comments about part of the Irish success being due to better trainers here.

“Our racing structure, with better prizemoney, is attracting better and bigger owners, who in turn can buy horses and we have the investment in Irish racing to buy the types of horses that are needed.

“I don’t think it’s about the trainers. I think it’s the stock we have.

“I remember my father was champion trainer and if he had two Grade One horses in his yard at the one time that was a good number. Because any time a horse popped its head up at that time it was bought and on the ferry.

“So the money and investment went into English racing. Now it’s the other way around. That’s the big thing,” Mullins said.

He was also keen to point out how not everyone gets right all of the time.

“I’ve turned down some good horses too. I turned down Denman because he was hobdayed [operation to improve a horse’s breathing].

“I rang Tom Mahoney [scout] the following year when he won his novice half the track and I said ‘why didn’t you ring me?’ and he says ‘I did, and I told you he was hobdayed, and you told me to f**k off!” Mullins laughed.

Appreciate It leads the parade during the visit to Willie Mullins’s yard. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Appreciate It leads the parade during the visit to Willie Mullins’s yard. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Mullins on his key Cheltenham hopes

Al Boum Photo (Gold Cup)
“I’d rather I had him in better order to be honest. I brought him away to work and I wasn’t happy with him.

“He’s fit and we should have plenty of time. I think he’s in better order this morning than he was the last few days.

“Maybe it just wasn’t his day when I brought him away. He usually comes right for Cheltenham.

“I wish he was in better form but we still have time. It’s just a matter of hoping he comes into form.”

Appreciate It (Champion Hurdle)
“I had him away for a gallop last week and I was very, very happy with him.

“I’d say we have a good record with horses running first time out at Cheltenham. I don’t know we’ve done it in a Champion Hurdle but we did it with Quevega and Joe Cullen won first time up.

“It’s not something I’m worried about. I made the decision ages ago and the closer we’ve got the happier I am that we didn’t have a run.”

Galopin Des Champs (Turners or Brown Advisory)
“Galopin did it very well at Leopardstown and I can’t see him going up to three miles. It’s not a decision yet but at the moment I’d be favouring going for the shorter race.

“I think he has the ability to do that. He jumps well, he’s sharp and I don’t think he needs to go three miles.

“Bob Olinger is obviously a worry but I’d be thinking our man would be better off in the shorter race.”

Sir Gerhard (Supreme or Ballymore)
“I’ve no doubt that whatever race he runs in, getting a lead, he’ll be fine. He has plenty of speed and jumps well. I’m looking forward to getting him over there and he could go in either race.

“You could toss a coin to decide which race he goes to. That’s the sort of ability I think he has.”

Facile Vega (Bumper)
“I got him ready last year to run and he did a bit of work here one day that said to me ‘wow’ this fella could be special. He got jarred so I left him alone. What he did from the furlong marker the last day [Dublin Racing Festival] was exceptional.”

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Assessing The Potential of The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) Against China’s Belt And Road Initiative (BRI)

(THE VOICE OF EU) – In a recent address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the newly unveiled India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) as a transformative force poised to shape global trade for centuries. While the IMEC undoubtedly presents a significant development, it’s vital to scrutinize its potential impact compared to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The IMEC was jointly announced by US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit in Delhi. Designed to fortify transportation and communication networks between Europe and Asia via rail and shipping routes, the project not only holds regional promise but also reflects a strategic move by the US in its geopolitical interests, particularly concerning China.

However, the IMEC faces a formidable contender in the form of China’s BRI, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.

Despite facing some headwinds, including a slowdown in lending due to China’s economic deceleration and concerns raised by nations like Italy, Sri Lanka, and Zambia regarding debt sustainability, the BRI remains a monumental global undertaking.

With investments surpassing a staggering $1 trillion and over 150 partner countries, the BRI has transformed from a regional initiative to a near-global endeavor.

Comparatively, the IMEC may not immediately match the scale or ambition of the BRI. While the US, Japan, and the G7 nations have introduced similar initiatives like the Global Gateway and Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, none have achieved the expansive reach or influence of the BRI.

The emergence of these projects over the past five years, however, demonstrates the BRI’s pivotal role as a catalyst for global economic growth.

Viewing the IMEC solely through the lens of opposition to the BRI may not provide a comprehensive understanding of its potential.

Instead, the IMEC contributes to a broader trend of transactional partnerships, where countries engage with multiple collaborators simultaneously, underscoring the complex and interconnected nature of global trade relations.

Yet, realizing the IMEC’s aspirations demands meticulous planning and execution. A comprehensive action plan is expected within the next 60 days, outlining key governmental agencies responsible for investments, allocated capital, and implementation timelines.

Establishing a streamlined customs and trade infrastructure is equally critical to facilitate seamless transit, a challenge highlighted by the Trans-Eurasian railway’s 30-country passage through Kazakhstan.

Navigating geopolitical complexities between partner countries, particularly the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, poses another potential hurdle.

Ensuring these nations maintain a unified strategic vision amid differing priorities and interests requires careful diplomatic coordination.

Furthermore, the IMEC will compete directly with the Suez Canal, a well-established and cost-effective maritime route.

While the IMEC may enhance relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, it could potentially strain ties with Egypt, prompting critical assessments of the project’s economic viability.

Beyond trade and economics, the IMEC ambitiously aims to incorporate diverse sectors, from electricity grids to cybersecurity.

This multi-dimensional approach aligns with discussions held in security forums like the Quad and, if realized, could significantly contribute to a safer, more sustainable global landscape.

As we contemplate the potential of the IMEC, it is with hope that the lofty ambitions outlined in New Delhi will culminate in a tangible and positive transformation for the world.

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Copyright Dispute: DC Comics And ‘Fables’ Author Clash over Ownership, Author Aims for Public Domain

A detail from a 'Fables' cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image courtesy of the publisher ECC.
A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image courtesy of the publisher ECC.

This is a story full of fairy tales. In some ways, it even resembles one. And yet it also proves that, in the real world, things rarely end happily ever after. A few days ago, Bill Willingham, the father of the celebrated Fables comic book series, announced that he was sending his most cherished work to the public domain, that is, to everyone. That’s only fair, since that is also where he got the main characters of his stories, from Snow White to the Wolf, from Pinocchio to Prince Charming, who were then relocated to modern New York. In this tale, the hero has long-faced mistreatment at the hands of the villains, DC Comics, the owner of Vertigo, which publishes the work in the United States, and its executives.

“If I couldn’t prevent Fables from falling into bad hands, at least this is a way I can arrange that it also falls into many good hands,” Willingham wrote in an online post in which he decried the label’s repeated attempts to take over his creations and opposed them with this final extreme remedy. But the company responded that it considers itself to be the true owner of the series.

In a statement published by the specialized media IGN, the company threatened to take “necessary action” to defend its rights. Thus, the end of the dispute is uncertain. But it is unlikely that everyone will end up happily ever after.

In the meantime, in a new post, Willingham celebrated the massive support he received. In fact, for the moment, he has declined all interview requests — he did not respond to this newspaper’s request, nor did the publisher — arguing that he preferred to spend the next few days working on new artistic projects. Meanwhile, the dispute continues.

Fables is one of the most celebrated graphic novels of the last 20 years, and it has spawned spin-offs and a video game adaptation (The Wolf Among Us).

This situation also touches on a key issue, namely, the intellectual property rights of characters and works, especially in a sector where, for decades, dozens of cartoonists and screenwriters have accused comic book giants Marvel and DC of pressuring them to cede their ideas and accept commissioned contracts.

Willingham sums it up as a policy aimed to make creators sign “work for hire” agreements and crush them. All of this makes a gesture that was already intended to make a splash even more resonant.

A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image provided by ECC
A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image provided by ECC.

Indeed, the battle over intellectual property is as old as contemporary comics: the copyrights for Superman, Batman and The Fantastic Four all have unresolved disputes and complaints from Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger and Jack Kirby over the contemptuous treatment they suffered. And heavyweight Alan Moore has been lamenting for years that DC took away his ownership of famous works like Watchmen.

Along with prestige and principles, tens of millions of dollars are at stake, especially now that the film industry has become interested in comics.

“When you sign a contract with DC, your responsibilities to them are carved in stone, where their responsibilities to you are treated as “helpful suggestions that we’ll try to accommodate when we can, but we’re serious adults, doing serious business and we can’t always take the time to indulge the needs of these children who work for us” the Fables author wrote on his blog. Following the impact of his original message, Willingham posted two other texts. He maintains that he had thought about sending his work into the public domain when he passed away, but that “certain events” have changed his plans: among them, he lists the changes in management and attitude at the top of the publishing company; the multiple breaches of obligations such as consultations about covers, artists for new plots and adaptations; DC’s forgetfulness when it came to pay, which forced him to demand invoices of up to $30,000; the suspicious frequency with which the publisher attributed it to “slipping through the cracks” (to such an extent that the author insisted that they stop using that expression); and the time and chances he gave them to respect the pact, renegotiate it or even break it and consensually separate.

A detail from the cover of the first volume of Bill Willingham's comprehensive collection of 'Fables.'
A detail from the cover of the first volume of Bill Willingham’s comprehensive collection of ‘Fables’.

“Shortly after creating Fables, I entered into a publishing agreement with DC Comics. In that agreement, while I continued to own the property, DC would have exclusive rights to publish Fables comics, and then later that agreement was expanded to give DC exclusive rights to exploit the property in other ways, including movies and TV.

DC paid me a fair price for these rights (fair at the time), and as long as they behaved ethically and above-board, and conducted themselves as if this were a partnership, all was more or less well. But DC doesn’t seem to be capable of acting fairly and above-board.

In fact, they treated this agreement (as I suppose I should have known they would) as if they were the boss and I, their servant. In time that got worse, as they later reinterpreted our contracts to assume they owned Fables outright,” Willingham laments. Hence, he concluded that “you can’t reason with the unreasonable.”

Having ruled out a lawsuit as too expensive and time-consuming at 67 years of age, he found a more creative solution: if they prevented him from owning his works and benefiting from them as he was entitled to do, he would not let the publisher do so either. Or, at least, everyone could use the comics as they wished. But the label was quick to clarify in its statement to IGN: “The Fables comic books and graphic novels [are] published by DC, and are not in the public domain”.

For his part, Willingham promises to continue fighting for all the conditions of his still-in-force contract that he considers DC to have violated, as well as for the last installments of the series, the final script of which he delivered two years ago.

There will be additional chapters in this dispute, as well as in many other ones like it: in 2024, the historic first image of Mickey Mouse, the one that starred in the 1928 short Steamboat Willie, enters the public domain in the U.S. and other countries. Copyright in the U.S. lasts for 95 years, and math is an exact science.

Therefore, in a few years, King Kong, Superman and Popeye will meet the same fate. But The New York Times has wondered how the “notoriously litigious” Disney will react and how far it will go to fight in court. And who would dare to freely use all these works for fear of a million-dollar lawsuit? The same question surrounds DC and similar companies. Because in the real world, fairy tales are rare. Or they end up in court.

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Do water features like a pool, pond or fountains add value to a home?

He may be used to making a splash in politics. But now it seems that Boris Johnson will be able to do that closer to home, too.

This week, it was revealed that the former prime minister has been given permission to build a swimming pool in the garden of his £3.78 million Oxfordshire country home. 

A move which will doubtless provide a restful place to unwind, exercise and relax as he navigates post-political life.

Deep pockets: A country home with outdoor swimming pool

Deep pockets: A country home with outdoor swimming pool 

But even if you don’t have deep pockets for such deep-water projects, it’s still possible to create the tranquil benefits of waterside living. 

Whether it’s through installing a hot tub, pond, or even decorative fountains. 

But, as our experts point out, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons before splashing out…

Frequent attention

Introducing any kind of water feature to your garden requires some upkeep.

During the spring and summer, you’ll need to top up your water feature regularly to replenish water loss caused by evaporation. 

And there’s also the task of removing branches and leaves as well as pruning bushes nearby.

‘It’s also a good idea to give your water feature a thorough clean and add a wildlife-friendly algaecide or UV steriliser after cleaning,’ says Will Haxby, home and garden sales director at Haddonstone, which specialises in stonework ‘as this will prevent algae growth build-up caused by the warm conditions.’ 

When the temperatures drop, drain off water before the winter to protect your feature from frost. 

You’ll also need to clean the pump to remove any limescale build-up.

Will it add value?

Installing features like fountains can add to the kerb appeal of your home, says Tabitha Cumming, a property expert at The Lease Extension Company, says: ‘This means that it will make a better first impression and potentially add value to your home.’

Amer Siddiq, founder and CEO at Landlord Vision, believes that water features such as fountains can have other benefits, too.

‘They can help mask unwanted noises from roads or neighbours. They can also attract birds and wildlife, adding a touch of nature to your surroundings.’

Andrew Landers, director at Property Rescue, a home-buying service, says: ‘The post-covid world has seen the importance of outside space massively increase, and any enhancements that make this space more enjoyable is going to have a positive impact on the value of a home.’

Hidden costs

Factor additional costs into your budget, too, since water features rarely boil down to a single, one-off payment.

‘For example if any of your water features have fish, these can incur additional costs from the food and care that they will require, and you will also need to be vigilant to keep them safe from predators,’ says Cumming. 

Some features can cause structural issues, too. 

‘Fountains may become damaged through wear and tear or have cracks caused by water freezing over,’ she adds.

Beware risks

In summer, having a water feature will make you a magnet for friends and family who want to pop around and cool down. 

All of which, says Anna Giles, an associate at law firm Wedlake Bell, could increase scope for accidents

‘Homeowners should bear in mind that they could be subject to a claim for compensation if someone injures themselves at their property, so reasonable care needs to be taken to ensure that visitors and/or occupiers of the property will be safe.’

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