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Monday, December 2, 2013
Sure thing eased

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

This is no way to start the new year: The worst picker in the world has been eased.

Actually he might not be the worst picker on earth. But he is the worst Ive ever witnessed. Horses and teams he has bet on have probably been used as examples of what not to do at Gamblers Anonymous: Continue to bet as things like touchdowns have been called back because of sight-unseen holding penalties; as kicks hit an upright and a crossbar and then fall on the wrong side; as odds-on favorites get up for third by an inch to ruin a landslide exacta; as overhand meaningless three-pointers bank in from half court; as there are backdoor covers and impossible disqualifications.

To have his misfortune even out over the course of time, hed have to live to be 135 years of age.

A lot of people dont realize that picking the winners of anything requires a knack, a skill, a talent, the ability to see beyond the obvious into the fog of whats quirky. Like the Di Niro character in Casino, some people have the courage of strange convictions. Most dont. Its why slot machines are so popular, particularly in the sticks: No thought is required, just money and a finger or two to keep the wheels spinning.

You would think that after losing streaks of epic proportions, a person might try anything to stop a slump, picking what you liked and then wagering on the other side, for example. But it doesnt work that way. You like who you like. You cant fool the lords of wagering. Some losing goes beyond bad luck and begins to resemble an art form. The way a person bets is often built into his or her DNA, into the personalities. Conservative people love favorites. Liberals dont bet enough.

Usually the two things you cant handicap are luck and officiating.

The nonsensical pass interference call in pro football is one reason why you shouldnt bet much of your money on this sport. Youre putting your finances in the hands of an official. In pro football, pass interference is a point of the foul penalty. The ball is moved to where the alleged interference might have occurred. Forty-yard game-changing penalties are common. Whats wrong with this penalty is that it is assumed the pass would have been caught. Thats hard-core nutty. Thirty or forty or fifty-yard passes are caught what, a third of the time? Half at most? So why put the ball down where a pass probably wouldnt have been caught in the first place? The college penalty, 15 yards, is perfect and seldom alters the outcome of a game. Theres more flopping by receivers in the NFL than there ever was in hoops. A receiver calling for a penalty with that wimpy little throw-a-flag motion should result in a penalty in its own right.

Whereas you cant predict bad officiating, you can handicap bad luck to a degree.

Its finding the person who cant pick a winner.

I cant tell you how many times over the years I have gone to this person to get horses to avoid. Hell hit some favorites occasionally. But on the whole, his obvious plays stop like defensive tackles with an interception at his own ten. His long shots finish later. I have no idea where his money came from. After a while, the perils that have befallen some of his horses and teams have offered comedy clips from the occult. You came to expect horses on the lead to fail to turn for home, for footballs to bounce off the heads of officials into the wrong hands. Theres worse than bad luck. Theres whats consistently eerie.

I have valued those selections greatly and have dreaded this day. True, its usually only a horse or two involved in the elimination process. But to learn the name of a short priced animal that could very well be attacked by a flock of birds on the back side is a handicapping tool that is impossible to replace. I have offered encouragement in the wake of Ripleys-caliber losses. I have bought lunches. But now comes the terrible news that this person is easing himself away from the horse wagering windows. Hes tired of losing.

I said but wait. Take some time off. Read a novel. Watch some of those housewives and swamp dwellers on the reality tube. Come back for the Triple Crown series better than whatever.

What would he do for an obsessive compulsion?

Maybe some blackjack.

Can a lousy picker consistently produce losers without wagering?

Its doubtful, but well see.