Weekend Preview: Philosophy of the Duel

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There's every reason to get philosophical about this weekend, says Jamie Lynch, as he calls on Descartes to analyse the big head-to-heads in Britain and Ireland...

"Under the specific circumstances of this year's Tingle Creek, with an accessory of Sanctuaire's class and style, it's not out of the question we'll get a Kauto Star-standard rating from Sprinter Sacre..."

There was a day when philosophers sought to settle their intellectual differences not with academic discourse, but by a duel to the death. That primitive day was six years ago. After his work was debunked by Fang Zhouzi, through the conventional channel of a published critique, Li Ming sucked a philosophical tooth and proposed that the pair should get together at the China Academy of Sciences, conduct an experiment to determine who was indeed right, and whoever lost would commit suicide.  

Mr Fang turned down Mr Li's deadly wager on the grounds that 'results are built on evidence and logic, not on a duel'. That and the fact that he didn't particularly want to kill himself if it got that far.

I'm no philosopher, but Mr Fang is clearly wrong; not in declining the hara-kiri bit, but in suggesting that a duel doesn't get results as much as evidence and logic do. The outcome of a duel is pretty much definitive, you would think, while evidence and logic are used more for the estimation of a result, or at least that's the way we roll in racing.

I'd like to see Mr Fang go up to the payout window in a bookies, clutching his losing slip, and say to Linda: 'Excuse me, good lady, now I know that the result screen says my selection didn't win, but there's evidence and logic to say it was in fact the best horse in the race, so if you could just settle up then I'll be off. And, by the way, if you had to kill yourself what would be your preferred method?'

This is a weekend of big duels in the racing world, and there's philosophy to apply to them, based on the certainty of knowledge. Rene Descartes, owner of 'I think, therefore I am' and holder of the title 'Father of Modern Philosophy' until Joey Barton came along, would have been a gambler as he believed that absolute knowledge could be acquired from a priori (before the event) evidence, whereas most other philosophers hedged their bets, the original aftertimers, as they considered certainty was possible only a posteriori, known from experience. Which brings us to the Tingle Creek

Rarely if ever in the history of the sport, even in the recent age of Frankel, can there have been a race dripping with so much a priori data, all overwhelmingly pointing to a result of which we're certain. We know palpably how good each of the seven runners is, we know palpably that five of them will have no bearing on the outcome, we know palpably how the tactics will pan out, and we know palpably that Sprinter Sacre will catch Sanctuaire.    

Descartes would be filling his wing-tips at [1.47] on Betfair.

It's not even a duel. The etiquette of dueling involves matched weapons and a level playing field; nowhere in the guide book does it say that one should have more firepower than the other, and should have it set up for him, but that's the state of play here. Far from being a danger, Sanctuaire is actually a help to Sprinter Sacre. If he could handpick any chaser in training to act as the perfect foil, then he'd choose Sanctuaire, who will give Sprinter Sacre the sort of tow through the race he has only dreamed of and allow him to really show what he can do. 

And what can Sprinter Sacre really do? Well, under the specific circumstances of this year's Tingle Creek, with an accessory of Sanctuaire's class and style, it's not out of the question we'll get a Kauto Star-standard rating from Sprinter Sacre. The attending Star will be watching with interest. 

The duel in Ireland on Sunday, in the John Durkan Memorial, isn't so black and white. Firstly because, on Timeform ratings, there's only 1 lb between Sir des Champs and Flemenstar, in the former's favour, and secondly because the bit-part players aren't so bit part as in the Tingle Creek, as both Bog Warrior and Rubi Light are Grade 1 winners themselves. 

All the same, it's surprising that Sir des Champs, favourite for the Gold Cup until Bobs proved his worth last weekend, isn't favourite for this. Okay, so it's two-and-a-half miles when he'll ideally want three, and Flemenstar has a presumed advantage of race-fitness, but Sir des Champs has never been beaten, and it looked like he may never be beaten the way he won the Jewson at Cheltenham in March. 

It's the same philosophy for both the Tingle Creek and John Durkan - Sanctuaire and Flemenstar are top horses and would be worthy winners of their respective races, but Sprinter Sacre and Sir des Champs are potential monsters. 

I'm taking the lead from my favourite, gambling-inclined philosopher and putting Sprinter Sacre and Sir des Champs in a double. An across-Descartes double.        

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