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June 22, 2011updated 08 Jan 2016 5:42pm

Horse Sense

By Spear's

You can put your money on a horse but it may well fall off. Far better to put it on a painting, says Steve King
“Horse sense,” said W.C. Fields, “is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.” But it’s not just betting on horses that makes fools of people. Buying horses in the expectation that other people will bet on them can seem pretty silly too.

The most expensive thoroughbred sold at public auction was named The Green Monkey. He fetched £9 million (about $16 million) in 2006. Two years later he was put out to pasture after failing to win a single race. Back in 1983, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE, paid $10.2 million for Snaafi Dancer. He fared even worse than The Green Monkey. The poor creature never raced and was subsequently found to have fertility problems. He is now believed to be nursing a crippling sense of underachievement on a farm in Florida.

A more reliable way to profit from horses might be to buy paintings of them, particularly late-18th-century masterpieces by George Stubbs. His Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath comes up for sale at Christie’s in London on 5 July.

Gimcrack stood a mere 14 hands high, but the doughty little beast had a habit, pleasing to his owner Lord Bolingbroke – who also commissioned the painting – of winning races. The last time Stubbs’s unconventional and elegantly frieze-like picture was sold, in 1951, it realised £12,600. The smart money says that this time round it’s likely to go for upwards of £20 million, which would make it one of the most expensive Old Master paintings ever. Then again, you wouldn’t want to bet on it.

Christie’s Old Master and British Paintings sale, July 5, 2011, 8 King Street, London, SW1

Image courtesy Christie’s

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