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Monday, February 3, 2014
Gamers gone wild

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

After "Luck," the HBO series about freaky gamblers and creaky crooks, you had to wonder if there would ever be another story about horseplayers on any screen.

Real horses accidentally died during the filming of "Luck" and the series was cancelled mid-run before PETA could throw itself in front of the starting gate. "Luck" fancied itself as art, which is the Hollywood treatment given most "strange ducks." And that series forwarded the film premise that when a horse race track appears on a screen, you think: Here comes trouble.

'Horseplayers' the TV show is about a half-dozen or so race track regulars who throw money at the windows with both fists.

But horseplayers are back, this time as real live people on the Esquire cable TV channel series about hard-core bettors. What is the Esquire channel? Good question. It just popped up on my channel guide one day, one of seemingly a thousand cable outlets that are like hiking boots -- good to have around if things get boring enough. Everybody and his dog's dog has a cable channel, witness Puppy Bowl X, where pooches showed a better downfield presence than the Denver offensive unit.

The Esquire channel does not seem to extend the magazine for which it is named; rather, the TV outlet seems comprised of stuff a little too offbeat for the mainstream. Now showing is something called "Knife Fight," a show that is about cooking, hopefully, followed by a "Million Dollar Listing" rerun marathon – reruns for those who missed the first-run reruns.

The show about horseplayers is called "Horseplayers."

It is one of Esquire's few bits of original programming and runs Tuesday nights.

The description "horseplayers" is to track rats as "gaming" is to gambling, it's a nice way of putting something.

"Horseplayers" the TV show is about a half-dozen or so race track regulars who throw money at the windows with both fists. Most real life TV material about horse racing is about crowns, hats, steeples, or empty race track grandstands. It's pleasant to see men and women betting their guts out for a change. One of each of the chief varieties of horse race track dwellers is featured in the series: the bright bow-tied fellow who works in the industry; the old-school part-time horse owner who seems to have been born in the infield; the contest winner turned guru overnight; a self-proclaimed spiritualist missing only a flock; and some young guy who gives the indication that he might have trouble picking the exacta off a race replay.

Its "new" show last week showed the gang handicapping about like everybody else during last year's Triple Crown series.

No new handicapping theories or past performance investigatory techniques are revealed here. Rather it's a show about a bunch of people raised around the sport and hooked by its mysteries. Even these most committed horseplayers fall victim to the age-old race track traps: tips, gossip, the search for value over talent, track bias, weather, pure luck misinterpreted as handicapping skill.

The most revealing element in the show is how prevalent wagering syndicates have become, with regular citizens giving handicappers with a reputation, deserved or not, lots of money to pool and bet.

This series redefines smart money.

Smart money is usually a big bet, that's all.