In a life that spanned 77 years, the vast majority of them spent in the 18th century, he served in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, as ambassador to the Hague, negotiated the second Treaty of Vienna, gave birth to the Chesterfield couch and got caught up in some sort of a dispute with Samuel Johnson over the first English dictionary. The time he spent in Ireland was shortlived but, by all accounts, a significant success and is evidenced by the fact that, to this day, the central avenue through the Phoenix Park in Dublin bears his name: Chesterfield Avenue.
If there was one area he gave a wide berth, however, it was horse racing. It was an aversion that he took with him beyond the grave and one made abundantly clear by David Randall in his book on Great Sporting Eccentrics when he quoted a clause from the Earl’s will after he died in 1773.
“In case my godson Philip Stanhope shall at any time keep or be concerned in keeping any racehorse or pack of hounds, or reside one night at Newmarket, that infamous seminary of iniquity and ill-manners, during the course of the races there, or shall resort to the said races or shall lose in one day at any game or bet whatsoever the sum of £500 then in any of the cases aforesaid it is my express will that he, my said godson, shall forfeit and pay out of my estate the sum of £50,000 to and for the use of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster.”
What the Earl would have made of Cheltenham in modern times can only be imagined but were you to take everyone at their word around Prestbury Park this week you would be forgiven if you felt that old Philip was something of a sucker to turn his nose up at such easy, and legal, plunder.
Tips, as they say, are like a certain bodily orifice in that everyone has one but there is a definite sense of gathering confusion the closer you get to the actual course when it comes to Cheltenham, and other meets, and all the more so when you are privileged enough to spend the majority of the week in the media areas and the inner sanctum that is the parade ring and winners’ enclosure. The fact is that in four years coming to the Cotswolds this is the first time that this particular mug will make it to the Friday with anything approximating a profit.
Of course, it is the curse of gambling that the winners never warm the heart so much as the ones that got away break it and it is a source of considerable pain that this know-nothing didn’t follow through on a promise made last week to back the genius that is Ruby Walsh in every single race. Before yesterday’s races that plan of campaign would have cost, at a fiver a go, €50 and returned somewhere in the region of €161.50.
Even a zero-from-five strike rate yesterday doesn’t seem all that bad when you think that he wrote in the Irish Examiner earlier this week that he wouldn’t swap Silviniaco Conti for any other horse in the Gold Cup and that Far West, in the Triumph Hurdle today, was actually his best bet of the meet. Naturally, we’ve splurged in a last, desperate bid to make up for lost cash.
Here’s hoping we don’t regret such rashness and end up wishing that we had followed the example of the 5th Earl of Chesterfield who, unlike his successor (the 6th Earl, a noted race horse trainer and gambler) seems to have taken heed of his godfather’s strict guidelines by eschewing the delights of the sport of kings and went on to make money in the most foolproof way possible as Master of the Mint. Now if only the rest of us had thought of that.