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Thursday, January 20, 2005
Is the fix in?

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

We were sitting around talking about fixes the other day.

Time was, the simple mention of such a thing would suck all the air out of the jockey club. Attendance and handle would decline.

Anymore, nobody bolts from a bad race to the stock market.

Somebody said that the fact that a fix of any type was being talked about was actually a good thing because that meant somebody had been caught. Something more deserving of concern from the honest horse or sports bettor was Internet gambling.

Internet gambling is unsupervised gambling where, say, a college quarterback could sit in his dorm room and, with a credit card, bet on games left and right. Why the Internet is considered to be off limits when it comes to arresting crooks and cheaters is anybody's guess. So horrific pornography and unsupervised gambling opportunities come from another country, from off a shore, or from outer space -- who cares where bad stuff on the Internet originates.

It's where it lands that's important.

Here's the way to keep college athletes from gambling on their computers.

You pass a law.

Next question.

Somebody at our round-table discussion of fixes said that all cheaters considered, a horse race fix seemed to have evolved into a relatively minor event in terms of manpower anyway. Groups of riders didn't meet out behind the barn to arrange the order of super-duper Supers that would pay $50k to each schmuck for a couple of minute's worth of skullduggery. Most race track fixes involved a bad rider and/or a bad trainer and a juiced horse.

Look at Martha. The occasional fix seems to have become like a surcharge, the price a player pays to have the opportunity to be in any game involving money.

I said at this point in the discussion that when it came to crooks at the horse races, they might be easier to spot at a small track, yet another reason to comb the bushes in search of winners, the main reason being winners were easier to pick at tiny tracks, the kicker being that 10-1 paid $22 in the Apple or in a panhandle. Everybody knows everybody at a small track. The impossible is more obvious. Dirty money can knock the odds from 20-1 to 2-1 like that. In this way, small tracks seem to regulate themselves.

Somebody disagreed with that, saying that the huge purses at the biggest tracks made cheating unnecessary.

Somebody else said that at the horse races, sometimes there sure was a fine line between cheating and brilliant training. For example, going at a race as though a horse needed the trip is sound thoroughbred development technique. But if you don't try to win in order to jack up a price next time, that's cheating. Needing a race and setting up a race both look similar, don't they.

Somebody else said nobody every arranged a race so the chalk won by ten, the point being, long shot players might accidentally land on a ringer.

Somebody said that betting small was a hedge against chiselers.

Somebody said he had heard somebody had gotten away with using a counterfeit chip at a casino, had put the fake chip in play and had used it as a laundering tactic in a way, and was paid with good money on a winning wager.

Somebody asked what we thought about the horse race that had allegedly been fixed back east recently.

We were in agreement here.

This was the time to play that track, a more honest place you couldn't hope to find, because it's all about right angles.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@go.com