How a French mathematician, insurance broker and risk assessor made millions from bets on horses: Risk and insurance
Figures so brilliant that they change the shape of their domain or vocation are rare.
You might think of Hank Greenberg’s impact on commercial insurance, how Ernest Hemingway influenced the way we read and write sentences, or perhaps more currently Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore, who became the first woman to ride a horse to win the Grand National at Aintree last year.
A book I read during the holidays tells the story of one of these characters. His name was Patrice des Moutis, and yes, he was a risk manager.
The book, first published in 2018, is titled “Monsieur X, the incredible story of the most daring player in history.” It was written by Jamie Reid, who has several horse racing books to his credit.
It’s a real pleasure to come across a writer of Reid’s quality. I would say if you need a good book to get you through the gloom of February and spring, get this one. But it produced many other intriguing titles that I intend to devour with as much enthusiasm as I devoured this one.
Born in 1921 into an upper-class family (his father was a successful insurance broker), des Moutis studied mathematics and engineering at the Ecole Centrale de Paris. With his father’s company as his home base, des Moutis, who graduated with honors, put his training in mathematics and his sharp analytical mind as a “risk assessor” into it.
But that was only one aspect of Patrice des Moutis’ life. des Moutis was also a horse racing enthusiast who, according to Reid’s account, was known to collect commissions for illegally placing horse racing bets for several of his well-heeled friends.
Des Moutis was not only a “risk assessor”, but also a “handicapper”. By this we mean that he developed a sensation and method for analyzing a horse’s “form”, its published and observed racing history, and determining how good the horse’s chances might be on any given race day.
It did not detract from the fact that des Moutis knew many of the leading French trainers and horse owners. To aid his analysis, des Moutis could call stables he knew to get advice from trainers and riders on a horse’s condition.
According to Reid’s book, where des Moutis achieved fame, wealth, glory and ultimately infamy was in pursuit of what the French call a Tierce bet. Here in the US we call it the trifecta, meaning predicting and betting on the top three in a given horse race. It’s a tough bet to pull off, but if done correctly, it can yield outsized returns.
In Reid’s account, des Moutis would study the field of a horse race, eliminate the horses he felt had no chance of winning, and then use his mathematical training to construct bets on various combinations of those remaining horses which , according to him, could complete a Tierce ticket. .
For example, des Moutis might eliminate 7 out of 13 runners in a given race and play the remaining 6 in any number of combinations. Des Moutis calculated the kind of payout he could make from each combination and placed his bets, very large bets, accordingly.
des Moutis has become very good at it. On one occasion, during the Prix de l’Elevage race on 11 November 1958, des Moutis cashed in Tierce Winners tickets worth £295,248 in today’s money.
At first, reporters after his massive wins called des Moutis “Monsieur X” as he was able to keep his name out of the public eye for quite some time. That would change.
Paris in the late 1950s must have been a wonderful place to celebrate such successes. And according to Reid, celebrating Moutis did. Dinners at world-class restaurants accompanied by champagne and Calvados, ski vacations and family getaways to a beach house in Normandy were all part of the life of des Moutis.
Of course, a success like this eventually brought trouble.
As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, des Moutis grew livid when he learned that officials at Pari-Mutuel Urbain, the French government-controlled betting service, were evidently betting with him, reducing his chances and reducing his profit margin.
des Moutis fought them at every step. As his battle with the PMU became more public, for a time “Monsieur X” was a hero to the public. He was seen as a modern-day Robin Hood, whipping the public betting system that in turn defrauded so many poor divers on a daily basis.
Famously, on December 31, 1961, des Moutis worked late into the night to study the form of the Prix de Croise Laroche scheduled the next day for the Hippodrome de Vincennes in Paris.
On the morning of January 1, 1962, des Moutis made his way on foot through frozen Paris, placing as many bets as he could in the city’s betting shops. His horses from Vincennes arrived as expected and des Moutis pocketed £4.9million.
French officials, many of whom had studied with Moutis at the Ecole Centrale, began to pass regulations that limited the amounts he could bet on races. Always innovative, des Moutis quickly enlisted friends and associates to place bets for him, a maneuver that legal forces were quick to sniff out.
Paris is home to famous racecourses such as Vincennes and Longchamps. In des Moutis’ time, it was also home to Le Cabaret des Trois Canards, or the Cabaret des Trois Canards. The cabaret has hosted famous jazzmen like Django Reinhardt. It was also known to house a criminal organization of the same name.
When it comes to horse racing and betting, a lot is real sport and thriving. But where there is gambling, there is organized crime, and with that comes race fixation.
Whether gangsters sought out Moutis to launder drug money through racing bets, or whether he was pushed into their arms by the pinch imposed on him by the government, it may not be. never known with certainty.
But in the end, des Moutis, who liked to play the races and refused to back down under pressure from the PMU, was accused of conspiring to rig the races. He faced trial, imprisonment and the ruin of his reputation.
With his family’s insurance business on the rocks and facing continued pressure from the government and the underworld, des Moutis committed suicide in 1975.
The method of his departure was a valuable shotgun, much like the route taken by Hemingway.
Des Moutis’ son François, who was in despair in his efforts to clear his father’s name, also committed suicide shortly afterwards.
Moutis’ life ended sadly. But in the hands of Jamie Reid, his life story lives on and shines.
He was a man with enormous talent and a will to succeed. He did things very few people could do, and he had a blast doing it in his lifetime.
Not every risk manager can live like Patrice des Moutis, but his life story is just one more example that a career in insurance never has to be boring. &