Back in the 1980’s I was already hopelessly addicted to the Grand National and bet on the race every year. I had not, however, developed an interest in horse racing as a whole and knew little or nothing about the sport. This did not stop my interest being aroused by a new piece of software that claimed to be able to predict the winners of races.
The programme was available for the Atari ST which was then at the cutting edge of computer gaming and miraculously I owned one! The idea was too enticing and I invested in the software and launched on a new hobby gambling on the horses.
On first using my new miracle programme I discovered that it was actually very time consuming and quite hard work. It was necessary to invest in racing publications each week and enter the details of the horses that were running in forthcoming races. This included all of their past form, including race results, going, distances etc. Data also had to be entered on the records of the associated trainers and Jockeys.
The programme used the accumulated information to predict the outcome of the races, having the ability to weigh up the factors of the race more accurately than the human brain. At least that was the claim! The first week I used the software I diligently entered as much information as I could and was disappointed when the system then told me that most of the races I was considering for a gamble were not worth betting on either because they were too unpredictable or the odds on the best horse were poor.
It did, however, suggest a gamble on a horse I had never heard of in a race on the Saturday afternoon. It was no surprise that I had not heard of the horse as I hadn’t, in fact, heard of any horses who had not won the Grand National, the Kentucky Derby or reached near legendary status. I grabbed my courage in both hands and put a wager on the suggested horse fearing disaster but loving the suspense!
After placing my bet I was obliged to go out but on returning home rushed straight to my television to examine that relic of times past, the Teletext service. On accessing the horse racing results I was delighted to see the headline “Dessie does it again”. It seemed that my unknown horse had romped home winning me a tidy wedge and I felt instantly emotionally attached to my new friend who turned out to be called Desert Orchid!
Desert Orchid or “Dessie” as he was known went on to enjoy a rather more stellar career than I did with the gambling software. The system turned out to work quite well but required such a huge amount of work to accumulate enough data for the programme to function that I could not use it regularly.
I returned to my annual gambits on the National whilst Desert Orchid ran his way to legendary status with me keeping a close eye on his achievements. This gorgeous grey horse was famous for his gutsy front running and never say die attitude and was working his way towards a starring appearance at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I lost count of the amount of times I watched the highlights of Dessie cantering home, with the owner’s colours of navy and grey silks and grey hat cover being etched firmly into my memory. I was simply praying that he would achieve the crowning glory of winning the Gold Cup in 1989.
Sadly a victory did not look likely as there had been a great deal of both rain and snow at the course making the going heavy which did not favour the grey and the course was a left hander which he did not like.
The distance was also believed to be problematic as Dessie had been considered a 2 mile horse and the Gold Cup is run over 3 miles and 2 furlongs. In spite of the challenges it was decided that Dessie should run and an enormous crowd watched on as he fought against the mud lark Yahoo to take the race by one and half lengths in a dramatic finish.
I was at work at the time but having placed a small sentimental wager, was seen running around the building shouting with joy! During his career Dessie won almost everything including the Irish Grand National and the King George VI Chase no less than four times. He recently had the honour of being voted the 5th best steeplechaser in history.
Dessie is long gone now but his memory will always live on, especially with me. I can’t believe I didn’t know who he was when I placed that first bet but I certainly do now!
- License: Creative Commons image source
- Desert Orchid: Wikipedia
Sally S has a life-long fascination with horses and still bets every year on the Grand National, although sadly the Atari ST has now died…