Thursday, 10 March 2016

What Have You Got To Lose?

I was just seven years old, standing in the school playground, when I first contemplated Pascal’s Wager. Of course I’d never actually heard of the 17th Century philosopher, nor did I really understand the concept of wagering, but the thought process was there.

My friend Peter Colligan, who was also seven, asked me ‘Do you believe in God?’ 

I responded by looking over my left shoulder, just in case God was actually standing behind me, thought for a moment, and said ‘Yes’. Because I wasn’t really sure, but if God did exist and he heard me saying ‘No’, there was a very real possibility that I could be struck by lightning on the spot. In other words, it may have been a longshot - but there seemed little harm in acknowledging God’s existence and a major potential downside if I denied it.

Pascal had it the other way around. In a document entitled ‘Pensées’, published posthumously (by which time he presumably knew the result of his wager) he reasoned that there was little downside to believing in God - besides the deprivation of a few luxuries - but a major upside if we found ourselves ascending to an infinite paradise as a result of our belief. He posed the question ‘What have you got to lose?’ 

… Which is what I ask myself, every year, as we approach the major National Hunt Festivals of Cheltenham and Aintree. 

Here’s an easy one: Should I back the Jimmy Moffatt trained Highland Lodge at 50/1 for the Grand National? On the downside, I might lose my £2. On the upside, I could win £100 – and more importantly, if he does win, I won’t be derided as the only person in South Cumbria who hasn’t backed him. Answer: back Highland Lodge.

Here’s another one: Should I back the dual Cartmel winner Pena Dorada, at 66/1, for the Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase? Again, I might lose my £2, but then I might win £132. And if he were to win without my money down, there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth – so much worse than the fiery depths of hell. I obviously have to back him.

So what about this week’s selection? Well this is where we depart from the cold logic of Pascal’s Wager and rely on good old fashioned faith. Because, let’s face it, an omnipotent being would see straight through Pascal in any case - faith being so much more powerful than logic.

I’m placing my faith in Lucinda Russell - the trainer of Bold Sir Brian who attempts to win, for the first time since 2012, at Ayr on Saturday. He’ll be running off a handicap hurdle mark of just 115, compared to a peak of 155 when beating Pacha du Polder (the replacement for Victoria Pendleton's bicycle at Cheltenham next week) over the larger obstacles back in 2012. 

Come on, what have you got to lose?

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