I’ve only once placed a bet on a horse race and won. I learnt in the winning that gambling is for losers.
The occasion and the opportunity came when I was 15 or 16 staying with a French family on an exchange programme organised through my school. Pierre in return stayed with my family. That we came to dislike each other intensely I put down to class differences, although I did learn that wine at meals was pleasurable. (My parents were teetotal except for a bottle of sweet sickly Sauternes as a Xmas ritual.)
Pierre’s family lived in Beauvais, and the nearest race course was at Deauville, on the coast of the Calvados region of Normandy, northern France. (It must have been then that I first drank Calvados, a delightful apple cider liqueur.)
Our day at the races was an annual outing for Pierre’s family, and carefully orchestrated by papa. The whole family was encouraged to ‘have a flutter’, so I picked a horse because … I liked the name? It won, and I was the only one to actually show a profit, much to Papa’s disgust.
I’ve never placed a bet since, not at a UK betting shop, nor online. Nor did I waste my money during my 24 hour visit to Las Vegas back in ’83. I was then travelling with a Malaysian student whose ambition was to lose $100 playing Blackjack at the tables. That he initially tripled his stake meant that I had to stand stoically beside him … bringing him luck?
My only interest in UK horse racing would have been the Grand National. This was “first run in 1839, [and]is a handicap steeplechase over 4 miles 3½ furlongs (7.141 km) with horses jumping 30 fences over two laps. It is the most valuable jump race in Europe, with a prize fund of £1 million in 2015.“
My interest in that race would have been because I’d randomly picked the name of a horse out of a ‘hat’ in the office sweepstake. The holders of the names of the first three placed horses would share the pot.
And that is why I’m familiar with the name and voice of (Sir) Peter O’Sullevan who died yesterday aged 97.