Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From the Archives

The Gambler

"The gambler stood at the Golden Gate,

His face was long and thin;
He meekly asked the Man of Fate,
If he could let him in.
’’What have you done?’’ St. Peter asked,
’’To gain admission here?’’
’’I’ve played the horses, Sir,’’ he said,
As he silently shed a tear.
The Golden Gate swung open wide,
And St. Peter clanged the bell;
’’Come in,’’ he said, ’’and choose your harp
You’ve had your share of Hell!’’

I don’t know who composed this poem, but I can assure you whosoever wrote it did so after a particularly disastrous day at the races. The poet surely belonged to the 95 percent majority.

One of the most popular spectator sports in the world, horse racing, unfortunately cannot be separated from its multi-million dollar gambling industry. And it is the lure of this money that has earned this sport a negative image that it perhaps does not deserve.

The casualty rate (some call it more bluntly as
death rate) among those who play the ponies is as high as 95 percent. These are the people who think racing to be easy money. They are lured to the racecourse driven by a fantasy. Ironically, a strange phenomenon called ’beginner’s luck’ generally works for them; and they are soon counting profits.

Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.

But there is a negative side to it too. Money won also gives one the bragging rights
and an inflated ego! The winner now thinks he has learnt all the secrets there are to learn about making money at the races. He is convinced he has the master key to the mint.

Then comes the first big losing bet that stings. What went wrong? Maybe it was plain bad luck. Soon there is a losing day at the races. So what? It could actually have been a winning day if only the jockey of that 10-1 horse had been a little more alert. The idiot lost a certain race. ’’Oh, it was just not my day,’’ the rationalization continues.

Soon, a losing week follows, then a losing month. The betting account is now in the red. What went wrong? Nothing really. It was just that the losing bets were big, and the winning bets (’’Of course, I had so many winners!’’) were small, at least not big enough to cover the losses.

The excuses are now running out fast. Soon, the loser gets suspicious, and falls prey to the ’conspiracy’ theory. He suspects foul play, and starts doubting the jockey, the trainer, even the horse owner.

Finally, he starts seeing the hand of the mafia. The logic is unassailable: ’’If so much money is involved, how can the mafia stay away from this sport? It’s all a racket, and the gullible punter is the sucker.’’

But aren’t the races supervised? What about the stewards’ panel that is supposed to minutely observe every race for any trace of malpractice before effecting payment on bets? ’’Oh, come, come, they are hand-in-glove with the racketeers, can’t you see?’’

The name of the game now becomes ’’passing the buck’’. Hate the jockey, blame the trainer, abuse the horse owner, curse the mafia and doubt the stewards.

The loser now believes there is no way he can make money at the races
and he is right!

There is no way
he can make money at the races. But there are others who are making money. They belong to the 5% minority of consistent winners.

They beat the races consistently; and despite the race club’s commission and the state’s greed for unreasonable taxes, they post consistent profits season after season, year after year.

I have had the opportunity of watching some winners and many losers over the years, and the contrast in their approach is very educative.

It starts with their bankroll or betting capital. The loser’s capital is all the money in his pocket that is available with him on the day. The typical winner has given a meticulous thought to his betting capital for the entire season, and brings only a fraction of it to the racecourse for the betting purpose.

The loser itches for action in every race; the winner is prepared to pass all races except the ones he has slated for attack.

The loser concentrates on ’picking maximum number of winning horses’; the winner concentrates on bettering his ’win percentage’.

The loser believes in betting at any odds; the winner backs his choice only if the odds represent ’value for money’ in his opinion.

The most striking difference that I have noticed is that the winner,
knowingly or intuitively, exploits only those situations that, in his opinion, offer an advantage (also known as winning edge) to him, whereas the loser makes indiscriminate bets without giving a thought to the concept of the winning edge.

Well, these are some salient points that separate winners from losers. But come to think of it, where do you find more winners than losers? In any sphere of life, we always come across a handful of winners as against scores of losers. Then why blame horse racing?

Look at the sport for what else it offers. Great thrill, amazing saddle artistry, the most wonderful and the most athletic creation of nature in full galloping action
quite a fare to enjoy!

(This article was first published as the opening piece of a series of articles I wrote for Sunday MiD DAY in 1998)


  1. Dear Prakash ji

    Excellent article, bang on target

    Thanks for sharing


  2. Sir, Experienced Article, Thanks for recollecting all that moments faced. Expecting your selections this coming two pune days. Regards.

  3. Sirji, Waiting for your selections, is that we can expect.

  4. Hi Prakash,
    very very educative article, i think if followed to its true sense, can make a whole lot of difference.


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