Sunday, September 08, 2013

Caveat aleator

It's the way of the modern world that the belief has got about that one shouldn't have to take responsibility or suffer for the consequences of one's own stupidity.  Nothing is ever anyone's fault - or, if it is someone's fault, it's someone else's fault.  A classic example of this state of mind leads to the oft-quoted nonsense that it is/should be a maxim of betting that if you can't win, you can't lose.  This is, of course, nonsense: betting is meant to be a game of skill, and if someone is stupid enough to want to back, say, War Command for next year's Oaks, not knowing either that War Command is a colt or that the Oaks is restricted to fillies, that's his/her look-out.

Alternatively, two people could be arguing about the respective careers of, say, Don Bradman and Gary Sobers.  One maintains that the former had the higher first-class average, the other maintains that the latter had the higher.  They have a bet on it.  Clearly, the man who believed that Sobers had the higher average has done his dough (or at least I presume that he has, as I'm assuming that the Don's average was higher) in a bet which he could never have won - but surely nobody would maintain that it's a bet which he shouldn't be allowed to lose?

Or take another theoretical example.  There's a story (and I don't know if it's true) that in the spring of 1989, Nashwan, who was relatively unknown at the time and probably around 33/1 for the 2,000 Guineas, did so good a gallop on the Downs above West Ilsley that it seemed that he would have an outstanding chance for the Guineas (in which he ultimately justified favouritism).  The story goes that Willie Carson suggested to Dick Hern that he send the string home via an indirect route to allow connections to get their money on (at least one would hope that this would be being done on behalf of the horse's owner, even if it is hard to see that Sheikh Hamdan is much of a punter) before the lads got back to the yard, where they would naturally all take their turn at the call-box in the hostel, collectively ensuring that the 33/1 vanished.

Anyway, let's suppose that Hern and Carson had headed back to the stable - and as soon as they'd got out of sight of the string, Nashwan had done something stupid - got himself kicked, maybe, or got loose and galloped into a tree - and sustained a really bad injury, a broken leg or something.  Anyway, by the time that the stable money was on, this scenario sees the horse having already sustained a career-ending injury and having already reached the stage where it has become impossible that he could win the 2,000 Guineas - only, of course, those placing the bets wouldn't have known that the injury had just happened.  Would anyone in his right mind suggest that the bet should be refunded when it became clear that it was placed a few minutes after, rather than before, the accident took place?  Of course not.

Anyway, you might ask what has brought all this on?  Another tale from Roger Mortimer's 'The Jockey Club', of course.  So here goes:-

"Mr. Robert Piggott, a signatory of the Jockey Club documents in 1769 and 1771, was one of three brothers from  Shropshire, who were familiarly known as 'Shark' Piggott, 'Louse' Piggott and 'Black' Piggott, 'Black Piggott' being a parson.  'Louse' Piggott distinguished himself as a young man by backing his father's life against young Mr. Codrington's father's.  Mr. Piggott senior in fact was already dead when the bet was made, but the news of his death had not percolated to Newmarket.  Nor was it ever suggested that either of the bettors had knowledge, or even suspicion, of his decease.  When young Mr. Piggott found out the time that his father had died, he refused to pay, claiming that he had had no chance of winning. In the meantime, Mr. Codrington had passed on his interest in the bet to 'Old Q' (the Duke of Queensberry), who promptly appealed to the law, which in those days did not ignore gambling transactions.  The case came before the celebrated jurist Lord Mansfield who decided in 'Old Q's' favour, ruling that 'the impossibility of a contingency is no bar to its becoming the subject of a wager when the impossibility is unknown to both parties.'"

So that's our little slice of 18th-century sporting life for the day.  And I think that the lesson we can take from that is that we shouldn't take too seriously those who espouse the theory that if one can't win, one can't lose.  (And I'd even say, as my Bradman/Sobers example makes clear, I don't even think that the impossibility has to be known to both parties).  Anyway, that's all academic - unlike the continued lovely (but increasingly autumnal) weather, which is real, as you can see from photographs taken yesterday and today.

And, by the way, it transpires that the T. Y. C. winning post was the two-year-old course (which at Newmarket was 5 furlongs and 136 yards) winning post, for which information we have Charlie Potheen and Suzy Quirke to thank.

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