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Do Losing Bets Count as an Existential Threat?

Suddenly we’re surrounded by ‘existential threats’. According to politicians parading upon the Today Programme, antisemitism is an existential threat to the Labour Party, ISIS is an existential threat in the Middle East and climate change is an existential threat to all of us.

In this context, I’m not certain whether the word ‘existential’ (which only entered the English language in 1941) is intended to describe the source of the threat or the subject which is being threatened.

Is climate change a threat which is caused by our existence, or is it a threat to our existence? Depending on your view, the answer may well be both – turning the phrase into a powerful philosophical paradigm.

Every generation suffers the fear of a major, overbearing threat. When I was growing up it was the nuclear threat: the fear that the Cold War would end in total annihilation; if you didn’t get evaporated by a bomb blast then you’d be fried slowly from the inside out by radiation. I’m not saying that I was scarred by my childhood – but, to this day, I harbour a deep distrust of microwave ovens.

Following this week’s record breaking weather and a fairly uncomfortable train journey in a steaming carriage, I wondered: Is global warming really an existential threat at all? It’s certainly a threat to racing taking place – which admittedly makes it serious enough to trouble my own narrow horizon. Several fixtures have been lost in France this year due to the baked ground and racing enthusiasts will be aware of the abandonment of the final races at Southwell on Thursday in order to safeguard the welfare of the participants.

I’m not planning to buy a house at low sea-level but, apart from the possibility of coastal flooding and the abandonment of racing, I tend not to lie awake at night worrying about climate change. Terrorism, however, is another matter…

Standing next to Stanley Johnson, the father of the Prime Minister, at Cartmel races last weekend, I felt slightly uneasy. Not that he’d be the most obvious terrorism target now – much more likely that anti-brexit campaigners will attempt to send someone back in time to terminate him before Boris is born. And that the Brexit lobby will send a gladiatorial mercenary to defend him (there might be a film script in there somewhere…)

But even so, standing next to Stanley gave me the same feeling that I get when terrorism rears its ugly head. And it’s not a feeling about concern for my own existence – because that would be like letting the terrorists win. It’s much more troubling than that and you can call me flawed if you like… But if I were blown up, run down or shut in a microwave oven by terrorists, and someone were to start rifling through my pockets to identify my corpse, I’d really really want them to find one of my rare winning betting slips and not one of the common-all-garden losing ones.

This week’s selection is Crystal Ocean who is taken to spoil Enable’s party at Ascot.

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