THOUGHTS FOR THE NATIONAL
SPORTING SCRIBES' FALLIBILITY
A clever skit appeared in London Punch just after the English Derby, a couple of months ago, when Fairway, the favourite, failed to get a place. It was written by "A.P.H./' and here is
some of it:—
Far be it from me to rub pepper into a gaping wound, and far be it from me to deprive a fellow being from the means of his livelihood, but, this being the morrow of the Derby and my wallet empty, I am moved to speak (of prophets, and of prophecy, that most gratuitous form of error. I address particularly the proprietors of the daily newspapers. There is a body of men, increasing in numbers and self-importance, who make it theff business every day of the week to offer to the people elaborate predictions concerning the conduct, celerity and endurance of race horses and the order in which they will respectively arrive at a given point on a given day. These forecasts purport to ( be based upon physical and psychological peculiarities of the individual animals engaged. And to the acquisition and distribution of this information these gentlemen devote their lives. They travel assiduously from one speed contest to another; they gaze through high-powered glasses at the competing horses, and in their minds make copious notes of what they seeas that this horse perspired and that did not ; that this ran willingly and that without enthusiasm; they hang about with jockeys at the stable door; they compare opinions with the train trs and jockeys, owners of horses andeven those degraded men who crouch behind bushes and spy upon the innocent rehearsals of the creatures; they egle the blushing filly in the paddock before the race, and from her skin, her carriage or the lustre of her eye form an estimate of her velocity and resolution which will govern their minds far into the future, so that, if she be sweating and ,yet contrives to win the race, that guilty warmth will months afterwards be remembered against her and published in the Press. Nothing, therefore, could exceed the industry, the patience, faith, sincerity, knowledge and experience of the proVlicls. But it can be shown that with jail these advantages their predictions are no more likely to be correct than the haphazard selections of a girl clerk j who chooses a horse for the sound of iits name, then it would appear that j this vast fabric of prophecy is founded |on a morass; and it then becomes a
question whether the forces of justice should not be set in motion. For it is notorious that the greater part of the newspapers published in this country are purchased, not for the literary matter they contain and not for the guidance which they offer in matters of politics or religion, but for the equestrian pages of which these predictions are the essential feature; and certain journals now publish mid-day editions which consist of nothing else. These papers are eagerly bought and blindly followed by vast numbers of the population, whom no discouragement or proof of error seems able to dissuade from their pathetic faith; those who sell them undoubtedly hold out to the puchaser that one man by care and study is better able than another to predict the conduct of a horse in given circumstances; and to obtain money by pretending a non-existent fact is to be guilty of obtaining money by false pretences.
It is now my painful duty to compare positive predictions with actual events. By now the prophets' followers have almost forgotten the Derby and are doubtless, with unshaken confidence, investing money in prognostications equally confident concerning the races to-day. But I, foul fellow, am still thinking of the Derby, and I have before me the inspired pronouncements of thirty-three prophets concerning the first three arrivals in that race: —
19 of those gave Fairway as winner. 8 of these gave Flamingo as winner. 4 gave Sunny Trace as winner. 1 gave Fernldoof as winner. 1 gave Ranjit Singh as winner. None gave Felstcad as winner. None gave Felstead for a place. None gave Black Watch for a place. Two questions therefore arise: Are not these gentlemen wasting their lives; and ought we to allow it? Such diligence, such ceaseless labour, such feats of observation and memory, sueh a penmanship and such inventiveness, such disappointment nobly borne, such error bravely thrust behind them! What qualities! What small rewards! Where could they noi excel? Authors and business men, nay, even politicians, after a fundamental bloomer suffer loss of credit and sometimes ruin. But these gay fellows, day after day . asserting that such and such a thing will happen, hold on undaunted by the fact that it does not. And even while we revile them for their last mistake we eagerly embrace the next. They" should marry. They should be in the
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THE PROPHETS, Ellesmere Guardian, Volume XLVI, Issue 3245, 14 August 1928
THE PROPHETS Ellesmere Guardian, Volume XLVI, Issue 3245, 14 August 1928
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