Ashforth’s Angles: Will Evans march to Wolverhampton win?

Mary Anne Evans, AKA pen name George Eliot

Mary Anne Evans, AKA pen name George Eliot

ANOTHER day, another Wolverhampton, but this one’s a bit different because it features Mary Anne Evans, alias George Eliot, the author of Middlemarch, over nine and a half furlongs (3.20).

In life, Evans defied social convention and she’s the same as a horse. Social convention dictates that parents should preferably die before their children and that children should definitely be born before their parents.

Mary Anne Evans’ dam is Gertrude Bell, another remarkable woman born almost 50 years after Eliot. It makes virgin birth a minor curiosity.

Unfortunately for Evans, cruel observers were apt to compare her appearance to that of a horse before she finally became one.

Fellow novelist Henry James famously and infamously declared himself “in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking.”

Another novelist, Lucy Clifford, also likened Eliot to a horse, although noting – “a strange variety of horse that was full of knowledge and beauty of thought.”

Eliot was capable of getting her own back. I like to think that she was envisaging some modern political leaders when writing, “He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.”

Even great writers sometimes produce nonsense. Eliot’s “It is never too late to be what you might have been” is clever but daft, although there’s more to be said for “A good horse makes short miles.”

We used to play a game where you had to make up a quote that could be a candidate for the Dictionary of Quotations. “Time gives and time takes away” – that sort of thing.

You might like to try it between races. As there are a lot of four runner races at the moment there’ll be plenty of spare time.

Eliot was prepared to gamble but not, probably, on horses so she may have been an unreliable predictor of Mary Anne Evans’ performance at Wolverhampton, as am I.

“Horseracing is a great humbler” (see Dictionary of Quotations, above) with the result that you will know people who tend to wait until a race is over before proclaiming their prediction.

The longer the distance between the race and the prediction, the firmer the conviction. Yes, truly, “Horseracing is a gathering of human frailties.”

That doesn’t necessarily explain another curiosity and minor mystery – the naming of Gvs Irportensa, who runs in the bumper race at Market Rasen (4.40).

Where does the name come from? Is it the name of something or the name of nothing (apart from the horse)? Is it a name designed purely to provoke questions about the name? Is it a seemly name for a racehorse?

More important, having twice finished runner-up, will the mare win on Monday? As so often in racing, it’s difficult to know for sure. It’s not just at Wolverhampton and Market Rasen that it’s hard to predict the outcome, it’s at Plumpton too.

Will Goring Two (Plumpton 4.30), owned by George Goring, possibly from Goring-by-Sea, ever win another race for Anna Newton-Smith?

“We live in hope and die in disappointment.” (See above).


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