His teenaged student, Daniel, didn’t understand how the cleaning of a car could have anything to do with the learning of a martial art, but in time it all fell into place.
My own ‘wax on, wax off’ experience started in 1982 (two years before the release of Karate Kid) when my parents took me, aged 15, to the offices of Form Organisation, with the request that Charles Faull and his team teach me something about horse racing and breeding. It was an escape from boarding school that I dove straight into, using all kinds of excuses to leave the school grounds for a few hours. These ranged from runs around Rondebosch Common to shopping trips for essential items.
One of the main pieces of work I did was to transcribe onto special stationery (from the Stud Book) the names of all foals by a stallion, separated into colts and fillies. Then, using the Racing Calendar, I had to look up the racing performances of these horses, recording number of races won, as well as their top performances.
I learnt a huge amount from a time consuming and apparently tedious exercise. Apart from exposure to the performances of great horses and their sires, the most valuable learning may have been seeing the rarity of top racehorses. Rarer still, are stallions that sire a high percentage of top horses.
Bayes’ theorem improves our understanding of probability, because it incorporates the concept of base rate. Through all those hours that I sat doing this research I was brought face-to-face with base rate, which in the case of top-class racehorses is alarmingly low.
An important race, awaited with great anticipation, is a focal high point, releasing a rush of excitement. Underlying it all is an endlessly fascinating intellectual pursuit of trying to beat the odds. If you’re a breeder you are matching stallions and mares in the hope that the resulting DNA will produce an athlete. Owners (and their advisers) scour auction sales looking for the unraced youngster that will grow up to be an athlete. Punters study form with the hope of gleaning an insight that will give them an edge at the betting windows.
From start to finish, it’s a great intellectual pursuit.
The focus of all this attention is the Thoroughbred, an athlete so magnificent that we are eventually forced to put aside all intellectualising, and just feel.
I would have loved it anyway, but the ‘wax on, wax off’ has added valuable dimensions to the experience.