Even money

Even money

In Brief

Stephen's fantasy about long-ago races featuring English thoroughbred horses like Repulse, Shotover, and Ceylon becomes mixed with actual memories of an Irish racetrack "Where Cranly led me to get rich quick." In the remembered scene Cranly goes "hunting his winners among the mudsplashed brakes" while "bookies" call out the odds in loud "bawls."

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Citing Robert M. Adams' Surface and Symbol, Thornton notes that on 4 June 1902 a horse named Fair Rebel did in fact compete at exactly the odds Stephen recalls—"Even money Fair Rebel: ten to one the field"—and won the Curragh Plate of fifty pounds. This race took place annually at Leopardstown, several miles southeast of Dublin.

Other details crowd in: the "reek" of the bad food at the concession stand, the shouts of the hucksters working the concourse (a "thimblerig" is a shell game, using thimbles instead of shells), the brightly clashing colors of the jockeys' "vying caps and jackets," and the arresting sight of a "meatfaced woman" whose lips are "nuzzling" a "clove of orange." (A clove can be a natural segment of fruit just as of garlic, expressing the idea of being cloven. The OED cites three examples from 1634 to 1707.)

JH 2012
Irish race track in the early 1900s, with economically diverse crowd. Source: www.census.nationalarchives.ie.