Betting on Dark Horses

Matt Lafleur avatar

by Matt Lafleur |

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I always try to bet on dark horses.

On quiet summer nights near my house, I can hear the buzzer of the nearby racetrack signaling the start and finish of horse races. I swear sometimes I can even hear the gates clanging open, and the rapid-fire voice of the announcer.

I’m not much of a gambler, as I prefer to save my money. But I’ve been to that racetrack a number of times. If the friends I’m with place bets, I’ll put a couple dollars on the horse with the craziest-sounding name, like “Aunt Bae Bae” or “Alistar Superstar.” 

I don’t study the night’s program for each horse’s statistics before placing a bet, nor do I care to. I’m used to living with the unexpected symptoms of Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), so making diligent plans seems moot. I tend to avoid planning in almost all activities, including $2 bets on horse races. 

If the horse I wagered money on happens to win, then I consider it to be a dark horse. And recognizing that I bet on a dark horse makes me smile, regardless of whether I win a few dollars or not.

The term, which originates in horse racing, has always intrigued me. A dark horse is a shadowy competitor about which little is known. Betting on one of them is often seen as more reckless than betting on a horse whose statistics are known to the gambler.

The term has been borrowed for politics, too, where a dark horse candidate is someone whose political history is unknown. U.S. presidents elected in 2008 and 2016 were seen as dark horse candidates when they campaigned.

I hope to recover the term from its political connotation.

With Friedreich’s ataxia, patients face surprising symptoms that often vary from person to person. Living in the world of FA, we are familiar with facing the unknown. We do this in one of two ways.

The standard method of facing the unpredictability of Friedreich’s ataxia, though not ideal, is to dread and bemoan the disease’s chaotic nature, and fear any further disability that tomorrow may bring. I admit, I still live this way much more often than I’d like.

There is another way to face its unpredictable outcomes, however. We can attempt to remain hopeful and optimistic, even when facing an unknown future, and even when we don’t have all of the information. We can place our bets on a dark horse.

FA is still relatively unknown to most people. In the 158 years since its discovery, a treatment has never been developed, much less a cure. Far too many of us have died because of a lack of knowledge about this disease. For those of us with FA, the situation may seem hopeless.

Yet research is slowly inching forward, year after year, decade after decade. If a treatment or cure becomes available in our lifetimes, we will receive it by honoring those in the FA community who have died while waiting.

Instead of giving in to hopelessness and surrendering to chaos, we need to believe in our chances of surviving in an unknown future. It’s a scary wager, but our happiness depends on remaining hopeful. 

Everyone should bet on the FA community, because we are dark horses.


Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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