Snaafi Dancer

In 1982 a one year old horse was sold at auction for $10.2 million dollars. At the time it was a record price for a yearling, the first one to sell for more than $10 million, and the price is still the fourth highest paid for a horse of this type at public auction. With perfect conformation and an impeccable racing pedigree the horse was given the crap name of Snaafi Dancer and put into training with Michael Stoute in Newmarket.

The horse was useless. So slow it never made it to the racecourse.

There was still a chance for the Dubayan sheik who bought Snaafi Dancer to get some money back on his investment though. With such a good looking and expensive horse it was worth sending him to stud to see if he could pass on any of the supreme ability of his parents and siblings that unfortunately bypassed Snaafi directly to his offspring.

He couldn’t. He suffered from a genetic aberration called triploidy (his chromosomes came in triples rather than pairs) rendering him nearly infertile.

No one knows what happened to Snaafi Dancer.

The list of the ten most expensive yearlings ever bought at auction makes quite depressing reading. The total cost for the ten horses is approaching $100 million, and although none of the other nine have a story as pathetic as Snaafi Dancer’s, none of the other nine could in any way be considered champions.

Incidentally, the prices of yearlings at auction tends to track the price of crude oil quite closely.

At first glance spending $100 million on slow racehorses seems morally wrong. As has often been observed, there are people starving in Africa. Even spending $100 million on fast racehorses seems morally wrong when one thinks of all the suffering that that money could alleviate.

But hang on, all that has happened is a trade. The horses still exist and the money still exists, they’re just in the hands of different people. Nothing has been created or destroyed. The breeders who now have the $100 million are at perfect liberty to give that money to good causes if they so wish. So where is the moral crime?

Most of us can see that there must be one, but putting our finger on exactly where is a bit trickier.

I think the sin is one of distraction. If ten years ago I had asked you to write a list of the main problems the world faces, poverty, disease, environmental degradation etc would have been close the top of most people’s lists. How to make thinner TV’s or finding the Higgs’ boson wouldn’t. But spin on ten years and we have solved the latter problems, but not the former. The best and brightest minds are exorcised in solving problems that are actually quite trivial.

The ‘sin’ of the racehorse breeders is that they have devoted their lives to the non-problem of producing horses that can run marginally faster than their parents (the horses’ parents that is, not the breeders’ parents) and the ‘sin’ of the sheiks is to provide an incentive to the breeders to devote their lives to solving the non-problem of producing horses that can run marginally faster than their parents (the horses’ parents that is, not the sheiks’ parents).

And it’s a ‘sin’ nearly all of us are engaged in – I build IT systems for a games company, what’s the point of that? With the money I make I test the venality of others by providing an incentive to create better shoes or an iPhone slightly better than the previous one.

Sometimes I take great comfort from being atheist because if there was a being that was going to hold me to account for my actions I could well be f**ked (but hopefully not as badly as the people who spent $100 million on racehorses).


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