Ridicule for the Gentleman Cowboy

Theodore Roosevelt "hasten forward quickly there"

Theodore Roosevelt was a man’s man — the very image of individualism, strength, and courage. It is hard to imagine anyone making fun of the man who would become the 26th President of the United States. Continue reading

Return of the King? What are the Odds?

elvis wager horse odds wimbledon betting
Elvis Presley (left) and the horse Shergar (right)
Ian MacMillan was counting on the return of the King — the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, that is.

In 2002 MacMillan, an unemployed resident of Great Britain, placed a wager of five pence (7¢ in US currency) in favor of Elvis Presley riding into town on a horse named Shergar for a tennis match with Lord Lucan at Wimbeldon.

MacMillan was undeterred by the one or two obstacles that might get in the way of things turning out in his favor:

  • Elvis Presley died in 1977
  • Shergar, an Irish racehorse, was stolen in 1983 and hasn’t been seen since
  • Lord Lucan, an English peer and murder suspect, disappeared in 1974 and is still misssing

All things considered, bookmakers William Hill decided the odds of such an event transpiring at 20,000,000 to 1. MacMillan planned on placing £10 on the bet, which would have earned him £200,000,000 ($288,013,000). The bookmakers’ underwriters were concerned about having such a potential liability on the books, so they limited MacMillan’s wager to a maximum of five pence. Still, if MacMillan’s instincts prove to be reliable, it would generate £1,000,000 ($1,440,065).

Hope springs eternal, even among Britain’s unemployed. MacMillan told The Sun in an interview, “I’m looking forward to collecting my winnings.”


Forget Playing with Pigskin; This Sport Really Gets Your Goat

Kyrgyzstan Buzkashi players struggle for control of the goat
Kyrgyzstan Buzkashi players struggle for control of the goat

If basketball or hockey isn’t your thing, consider taking up the sport of buzkashi. Originating with the Turks and Mongols sometime between the 10th and 15th centuries, its name means “goat dragging.” The name describes it well.

Buzkashi games are played between horse-mounted players who compete to see who can drag a decapitated goat carcass across the goal line. The rules originally were rather sparse and consisted, essentially, of prohibitions against whipping another rider intentionally or deliberately knocking someone off the horse. Games were known to last for several days. The Afghan Olympic Federation has adopted the following rules:

  1. The ground has a square layout with each side 400 meters long.
  2. Each team consists of 10 riders.
  3. Only five riders from each team can play in a half.
  4. The total duration of each half is 45 minutes.
  5. There is only one 15 minute break between the two halves.
  6. The game is supervised by a referee.
  7. One point is awarded for placing the goat carcass (known as a kokpar) in the other team’s territory.

The game has its largest following in central Asia, with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan contributing the most fans. In western China there is a variation of buzkashi in which players ride yaks instead of horses. The game has yet to catch on in the United States, although there is a record of a variation of the game, known as Kav Kaz, played in the 1940’s in the Cleveland, Ohio area.

To see a 3-minute clip of a buzkashi game, go here.


Dishonesty Doesn’t Pay

Horatio Bottomley (1860-1933)
Horatio Bottomley (1860-1933)

British Member of Parliament Horatio Bottomley made a lot of money through fraud. He also lost a lot of money the same way.

In a classic case of karma, in 1914 Bottomley bought all the horses that would run a race. He paid the jockeys to finish in a certain order and bet large sums of money on what seemed to be a sure thing. Unfortunately for Bottomley, a dense fog rolled in right at the time of the race, and the jockeys were unable to see each other’s positions. Bottomley lost all the money he had put up for the race.

One of Bottomley’s favorite ways to make money was to create sweepstakes competitions, giving away large sums of money for prizes. Upon investigation it was revealed that the winners of the sweepstakes all seemed to have a close relationship to Bottomley or one of his associates. In one typical example, all but £250 of a £25,000 prize made it into a bank account controlled by Bottomley, himself.

Bottomley ultimately was convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison. He died impoverished.

President Lead Foot

President Ulysses S. Grant
President Ulysses S. Grant

US President Ulysses S. Grant was known for his military exploits and for being the 18th President of the United States. He was also known for being a bit of a lead foot, and he holds the dubious honor of having been arrested for speeding while he occupied the White House.

Grant was driving his horse-drawn coach down M Street NW at such a great speed, that after a police officer grabbed the horse’s bridle, it took half a block to stop the hasty president.

The police officer, William West, was so embarrassed when he discovered he had pulled over Grant that he offered to ignore the infraction. Grant would hear nothing of it, however. The president was reported as saying, “I was speeding, you caught me and I’ll pay the ticket.” At the time speeding tickets were payable by a $5 fine.

It was not Grant’s first. Racing through the streets was something of a favorite hobby of Grant’s. Even after being elected, he did not want to give up his life as a horseman. In fact, Grant rather liked to show off his equestrian skills. In 1866, two years before being elected President, while being dragged along on a political junket through New York City with President Andrew Johnson, Grant found himself riding in a carriage through Central Park. Grant challenged the driver of Johnson’s coach to a road race to the top of the parks’ Great Hill and won handily.

A few years later Grant’s driving skills led to a rather terrible incident. While traveling outside of Washington, the president’s coach ran over a young boy’s foot by accident. Grant wrote a letter apologizing and wishing the boy a speedy recovery, but was not ticketed for the run-in.