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Monday, January 20, 2014
Picking and grinning

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

The public continues to misuse its single greatest handicapping aid -- rotten picks by experts.

Whats an expert? Thats often somebody who is friends with the one doing the hiring.

We here on the horse racing screen are continually amazed by the difficulty people have picking the winners of football games. True, you cant handicap bad officiating, highlighted by the dumbest rule in the history of sport, the pro pass interference penalty. In this one, the ball is placed at the approximate point of the alleged violation. Lots of debatable 40-yard penalties determine the winners of games. This rule is particularly nutty because it is assumed that the pass would have been caught had there been no foul. What percentage of 40-yard passes are caught in the first place? Forty percent? Fifty? There are 30 and 40-yard pass interference penalties that couldnt have been caught with butterfly nets. And there goes somebodys smart money. But heres what horse race people find intriguing about pro football: Only two teams play. And Las Vegas frequently comes right out and tells you which side it is going to be on in a football game, which is usually the winning side. The commissions on 50-50 games didnt build betting parlors. The losing public side did. Las Vegas point spread people are very good. In the pro football playoff games just completed, Las Vegas said it loved Denver and Seattle. It opened Denver as more than a four-point favorite against one of the greatest one-two coaching-quarterback combinations in the history of the game, and had Seattle as more than a field goal pick over the greatest running quarterback since some kid in a championship pee wee game. Vegas said bring your Brady and San Francisco money, well fade every dime.

The commissions on 50-50 games didnt build betting parlors. The losing public side did.

And what expert didnt love New England and San Francisco?

Being on the side of the house, not the pickers, is a good place to be.

Horse players are indirectly involved with the house in that slot machine revenue funds the sport. Thanks slot players, keep it coming.

And whereas a terrible football picker immediately puts you in the winning column, its harder to get your moneys worth out of patently bad horse selections. Being able to eliminate one of ten horses doesnt automatically put you on the money.

But according to my year-end review of all horse wagering strategies great and sorry, I have found direct links to making money by being able to eliminate horses picked to win by three professional handicappers. Its like knowing the best food in New Orleans. Its a secret that has to be kept. I cant tell you who the worst pickers are. It would ruin the atmosphere. They might change strategy.

About the only reason to ask who do you like at the horse races is to go another way. The whole point of wagering is to know more than the next person and make money. What could somebody know that you dont know? Its usually all right there in the past performances. Crooks will get theirs. Inside information runs second. Many former coaches and players cant pick team sport winners any better than somebody in Sheboygan. And trainers and former jockeys are often lousy handicappers.

Being handed a loser on a rusty platter can be just the ticket at the windows.

Handicapping a race oftentimes comes down to making a call between two horses.

I have come to know three professional handicappers who would have to watch a one-horse race to make sure the entrant finished. These people are drawn to vulnerable favorites the way lonely people are attracted to bad company. They cant seem to resist the powerful call of the obvious. Theyre open to star power suggestion. They seldom learn from their mistakes and will be right back at the post with another doggy pick with all the hindsight accountability of a TV meteorologist.

The occasional great horse pick is one that makes sense immediately after you hear it. Its like you should have thought of it.

Bad picks are bozo friendly.

Finding horse pickers who have the unique skill of identifying favorites that cant win is often as rewarding as digging for long shot victors.