Friday, June 06, 2008

The impurity of the turf

In honour of tomorrow's Derby, here's one of the more agreeably louche openings of a novel.

"I'll take the odds against Caravan."

"In poneys?"
And Lord Milford , a young noble , entered in his book the bet which he had just made with Mr. Latour , a grey-headed member of the Jockey Club.

It was the eve of the Derby of 1837. In a vast and golden saloon , that in its decorations would have become , and in its splendour would not have disgraced , Versailles in the days of the grand monarch , were assembled many whose hearts beat at the thought of the morrow , and whose brains still laboured to control its fortunes to their advantage.
They say that Caravan looks puffy," lisped in a low voice a young man, lounging on the edge of a buhl table that had once belonged to a Mortemart, and dangling a rich cane with affectad indifference in order to conceal his anxiety from all , except the person whom he addressed.
"They are taking seven to two against him freely over the way," was the reply. " I believe it 's all right."

Okay, the Derby doesn't enjoy the prestige - or the sense of being a great national occasion - that it enjoyed in the 19th century. Until recently it was run on a Wednesday, giving it a natural appeal to idlers, skivers, aristocrats, dandies and other ne'er do wells. The pity is that there were not enough of them to sustain it as a weekday event in the modern era.

Then again, our current crop of statesmen don't seem the sort to knock out a novel or two as a sideline. Disraeli was no more an aristocrat than our current Prime Minister, but Gordon Brown does not strike one as the sort to enjoy anything to do with the racing world.

My Derby tip is don't listen to me, listen to people who really know what they're talking about. That said, I like the look of Doctor Freemantle as an each way bet (currently available at around 10/1).

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