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Friday, March 11, 2005
Common sense or nonsense?

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

An urban myth is something that has been retold to the point that it is believed despite a lack of CSI or DNA evidence -- the 15-foot alligator killing time in your sewer line as an example.

An oval myth is similar, it's something you've heard from day one at the horse races, something that sounds axiomatic but turns out to be too costly to be true.

Betting on something that sounds perfectly logical can get expensive.

Horse racing is changing. Three-year-old exceptions to nature race from the Triple Crown events to the mating suite, turning tricks before they can turn an ankle. Horses routinely win after nine-month layoffs. I have actually bet money on an animal with 100 starts.

Handicapping thoughts have to change with the contemporary form.

How can this be done?

First, block expert advice from your mind

Next, maintain this state.

I cannot thank television racing experts enough for picking Exactas. Please continue. It's a blessing. By running a black line through all the second choices of TV handicappers, viewers have something like a ten percent edge over those not watching.

Nobody is laughing at your selections. We know how hard it is. Just keep firing, nobody does it more predictably.

Each old-fashioned notion dispelled can equal money.

Last season, I attempted to make a case or two against time-honored policy of searching for "value" at the race track, the point being that there is always value in the winner. The argument in favor of looking for value in certain races has taken some handicappers here: What if you like two horses about the same, one at even money, one at 20-1?

Bet them both or bet neither.

Next question.

Earning a 100 percent return on your money in a minute or two should be one of the American dreams.

I got an email last week from somebody in Texas who said he loved a 6-5 horse and didn't know what to do with it and almost as an afterthought decided to go with $60 to win. The Exacta looked almost impossible and turned to be considerably more difficult. The horse won by half a tote board.

If you can't bet enough to derive enjoyment from a 100 percent return on your wager, go home.

Getting back to the handicapping experts, sometimes they can enable you to throw out an entire state's chances.

Everybody loves the best three year-olds racing in California this spring. The problem is, the fields are so light in number, they're almost like match races.

This might be a tough line leading into the Kentucky Derby starting gate, concerning the size of 2005 spring fields in California: 5, 4, 5, 20.

Here's an oval myth we're starting to hear a lot about this year: If a horse closes hard at something like a mile, making up eight or nine lengths to lose by a hard-charging half, this horse will benefit greatly from some extra distance.

Playing a horse that runs late is like betting the over in a football or basketball game, you always seem to have a chance.

A horse that shows speed and fades and barely holds on is sometimes considered an ugly winner.

A horse that makes up a dozen lengths and just misses in the photo, that's a good loss.

I seem to recall having taken about 20 minutes on the college entrance exam question where trains leave stations at the same time, with one traveling 14 percent slower than the train that was 28 miles closer, who gets to Toronto first?

But I do believe that if you're closing at a mile, there will probably be more distance to close at a mile and a quarter, with less oxygen and energy remaining for the challenge.

Extra distance benefits the one that closed with a rush: I doubt you will find rocket scientists betting this.