Gold Cup

Gold Cup

In Brief

Bantam Lyons borrows Bloom's newspaper near the end of Lotus Eaters because he wants information on "that French horse that's running today" in the "Gold cup," a prestigious and lucrative race run annually at "Ascot" Heath near London. The 16 June 1904 Freeman's Journal did announce the race, listing the time (3:00 PM), the distance (two and a half miles), the purse ("1,000 sovereigns with 3,000 sovereigns in specie in addition"), and the field (twelve named colts and fillies ranging from age 3 to age 5). But first-time readers, unless tipped off by some commentator, are likely to miss the most significant part of the exchange: when Bloom offers to let Lyons keep the paper, Lyons thinks that he has given him a tip for betting on the race. This fact becomes clear only later, as practical consequences and symbolic associations accumulate.

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Bloom offers to give Lyons the paper: "I was just going to throw it away." Lyons shoots him a significant look and asks, "What's that?" After Bloom repeats his observation, Lyons hesitates for a moment and then shoves the paper back in Bloom's hands, saying, "I'll risk it. Here, thanks." Joyce does not disclose anything about his thought process, but the obscurity is mimetically justified. Bloom does not mean to give Lyons a racing tip, and he is eager to be rid of the man, so he does not think much about what "I'll risk it" may mean. For his part, Lyons is planning to engage in illegal activity: in 1904 betting on horses was allowed only at racetracks and at certain authorized bookmakers where credit was required, not cash. In such an environment tips would have been offered and taken quickly, quietly, even cryptically. Page 7 of the day's Freeman, however, reveals what the narrative and the interior monologue do not: the name of one of the horses racing on June 16 was...Throwaway!

Ironies attendant upon this strange little coincidence unfold throughout the novel. In Lestrygonians Lyons tells his drinking companions that he is planning to bet five shillings on the horse Bloom recommended. Such a bet would have made a lot of money: Throwaway was a longshot running at 20 to 1 against. But in Wandering Rocks Lenehan says that he ran into Lyons on his way to place his bet, and in Cyclops he adds that he talked him out of it. Lenehan has a different favorite in the race, running at odds of only 7 to 4 against. He announces it in Aeolus: "—Who wants a dead cert for the Gold cup? he asked. Sceptre with O. Madden up." In Lestrygonians Nosey Flynn remarks that "Lenehan gets some good ones. He’s giving Sceptre today. Zinfandel’s the favourite, Lord Howard de Walden’s, won at Epsom. Morny Cannon is riding him." (Zinfandel was indeed the favorite, running at odds of 5 to 4 in favor.) In Wandering Rocks Lenehan says "I want to pop into Lynam’s to see Sceptre’s starting price," and Oxen of the Sun reveals that he has placed a bet on the horse.

Lenehan also peddles his prediction to his friend Blazes Boylan. In Sirens he tells Boylan that Sceptre "will win in a canter," prompting Boylan to remark that he has acted on the recommendation: "— I plunged a bit, said Boylan winking and drinking. Not on my own, you know. Fancy of a friend of mine." In Cyclops Lenehan discloses that "Boylan plunged two quid on my tip Sceptre for himself and a lady friend." Since early in the 19th century the Gold Cup was known colloquially in England as Ladies' Day, because women attended the race dressed to the nines. Boylan's lady, of course, is Molly Bloom.

In his kitchen at the end of the day in Ithaca, Bloom discovers "Four polygonal fragments of two lacerated scarlet betting tickets, numbered 8 87, 8 86" on top of the dresser and thinks of "coincidences, truth stranger than fiction, preindicative of the result of the Gold Cup flat handicap." Chief among these "coincidences" are his misinterpreted words to Bantam Lyons and a second "throwaway," the piece of paper announcing a religious revival meeting placed in his hands at the beginning of Lestrygonians. These events preindicated the result because, in a stunning upset, Throwaway beat Zinfandel by a length. Sceptre came in third, and Maximum II, Lyons' "French horse," was fourth.

Bloom knows the results because in the previous chapter he found them summarized on page 3 of the Evening Telegraph: "Ascot Throwaway recalls Derby of '92 when Captain Marshall's dark horse, Sir Hugo, captured the blue ribband at long odds.... Throwaway and Zinfandel stood close order. It was anybody's race then the rank outsider drew to the fore got long lead, beating lord Howard de Walden's chestnut colt and Mr W. Bass's bay filly Sceptre on a 2½ mile course." Seeing the tickets in Ithaca makes Bloom reflect that he held valuable information in his hands that morrning. In a parody of Aeolus' account of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with "the light of inspiration shining in his countenance," carrying stone tablets "graven in the language of the outlaw" (i.e., Hebrew), Ithaca describes Bloom taking back from Lyons a newspaper "which he had been about to throw away (subsequently thrown away)" and walking on to the Turkish baths "with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the secret of the race, graven in the language of prediction." Bloom becomes Moses, and the divine secret of the Jewish race becomes the secret of the Ascot race.

Bloom himself could have made a lot of money had he recognized and acted upon the uncanny coincidence. This reflection causes him some brief "perturbations" in Ithaca, but they are "allayed" by reflecting on the difficulties of recognizing occult signs and the benefits of not crying over spilt milk. He quickly regains his equanimity: "He had not risked, he did not expect, he had not been disappointed, he was satisfied." What satisfied him? "To have sustained no positive loss. To have brought a positive gain to others. Light to the gentiles." Bloom finds a quiet pleasure, in other words, in having benefited the gentile Lyons while gaining nothing himself. But the Dublin rumor mill manufactures a precisely opposite story: since the Jew gave Lyons a tip on Throwaway, he must have bet on the horse himself.

In Cyclops Lenehan explains Bloom's brief absence from the bar: "The courthouse is a blind. He had a few bob on Throwaway and he's gone to gather in the shekels." This hypothesis is immediately accepted as fact by all present, so, in an excruciating irony, Bloom's exit to advance the charitable cause of donating money to Paddy Dignam's widow and children becomes evidence of stereotypical Jewish financial rapacity. When Martin Cunningham comes in looking for Bloom, Lenehan says he is out "Defrauding widows and orphans." When Bloom himself returns, the narrator thinks, "Courthouse my eye and your pockets hanging down with gold and silver. Mean bloody scut. Stand us a drink itself. Devil a sweet fear! There's a jew for you! All for number one. Cute as a shithouse rat. Hundred to five." A surly taunt follows: "— Don't tell anyone, says the citizen." Bloom's supposed refusal to share his newfound wealth leads to an outbreak of bawling, brawling antisemitism.

But in addition to this ugly promise of future hatred, the novel builds into the Throwaway story one prediction of possible happiness for Bloom, and it too begins in Barney Kiernan's pub. When Lenehan says, "He's the only man in Dublin has it. A dark horse," Joe Hynes (who owes Bloom money and who fails to repay him even on this day when he has collected his salary) replies, "He's a bloody dark horse himself." The narrator then leaves the bar, and thoughts of Jews and dark horses tumble about in his drunken mind as he urinates. The bigoted Catholics in the bar think of Bloom as a dark horse because his complexion is darker than theirs and his motivations presumably are obscure and malign. But Throwaway won his race, so Bloom too may be symbolically fated to win the marital sweepstakes against long odds.

Joyce develops that logic by having Blazes Boylan bet on Throwaway's rival Sceptre. The phallic connotations of the name make Sceptre a good choice to enter the winner's circle of the vaginally suggestive Gold Cup. Boylan does take Molly's cup, repeatedly, on June 16, but the longer she thinks about him in Penelope the less he seems like a possible life partner. One trait that repels her is his angry reaction to losing a bet, so different from Bloom's reaction to the news from Ascot: "he was like a perfect devil for a few minutes after he came back with the stoppress tearing up the tickets and swearing blazes because he lost 20 quid he said he lost over that outsider that won and half he put on for me on account of Lenehans tip cursing him to the lowest pits." With a gambling addict's irrationality, Boylan does not curse the loss of the single pound he bet on Sceptre, or even the two pounds he laid down for himself and Molly. He feels cheated out of the twenty pounds he could have pocketed if he had picked Throwaway, even though the book gives no indication that he ever intended to do so. And he blames this financial catastrophe on Lenehan.

Circe's hallucinatory version of the race—"A dark horse, riderless, bolts like a phantom past the winningpost, his mane moonfoaming, his eyeballs stars. The field follows"—feels like a prediction of Bloom's success, not at the seamy business of racetrack betting, but at the more serious work of winning his wife's affections. This dark horse, or "outsider" as Molly calls him, cannot be counted out yet.

JH 2022
The Gold Cup awarded to winners of the annual race at Ascot Heath since 1807. Source:
The Royal Enclosure at Ascot Heath on cup day in 1907. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A Few Seconds More, and Four Horses Flashed Past the Winning Post, engraving print published by Harper's Weekly in July 1884. Source:
Throwaway entering the winner's enclosure after the Gold Cup race of 1904. Source:
The horse named Throwaway in a photograph taken by Clarence Hailey, owned by Dermot Goulding and displayed in the James Joyce Museum in Sandycove. Source: