Many a favourite has fallen at the fifteenth- Wayfarer column

Life has many ways of bringing you to your senses and making you realise that you should not take anything for granted.

The Grand National which was run last Saturday brings out the gambling instincts in those who never usually gamble, but as the race is famous for bringing in the most unexpected winner it attracts many more gamblers than usual.

Many a favourite has fallen at the fifteenth fence, The Chair, and often it seems the race is won by the one horse remaining on its feet complete with jockey. However for many, gambling is a way of life and there are those who will bet on the most outlandish things, such as two flies climbing up a window.

William Douglas (1724-1810) 4th. Duke of Queensberry was like that. He was a famous gambler who was well known for the most unusual bets. One such wager was that he could send a letter fifty miles in under an hour and as this was in the age before first class post there were many who were keen to take his wager. However the wily Duke hired 20 expert cricketers who stood in a carefully measured circle and threw a cricket ball containing a letter to each other for an hour at the end of which it was agreed that the letter had travelled well over fifty miles. His next big wager was rather macabre in that the Duke bet Mr. Pigot 500 guineas that Mr. Pigot’s father would die before Sir William Codrington, both men being unwell at the time.

Unknown to both men Pigot’s father had died on the morning of the wager, so Pigot refused to pay up stating that as his father’s death happened before the bet was laid which meant that it was null and void. Queensberry refused to accept this and brought an action at the King’s Bench where the jury found in his favour. Five hundred guineas was a considerable sum of money in those days so perhaps it was well worth bringing the action.

However Queensberry, keen on unusual macabre bets, may have felt guilty at all the money he had acquired under these circumstances as in1809 he laid a wager that he would die on a certain hour on a certain date. He lost his bet and was pleased to pay up, but just stop to think what this meant, because if the wily old Duke had won the wager it would have meant the winner having to claim against his estate. A wily man, but those who accepted his bets must have been very gullible.

So beware of becoming involved with someone with the gambling habits of Duke of Queensberry and stick to the odd bet on the Grand National. See you next week.