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Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Surviving a slump

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

This isn't funny so please don't laugh.

It was a recent week-day at the simulcast hall, ideal conditions, quiet drunks to the left, men looking for some magic in their computer picks to the right; no socializing, no excuses.

I had a full field in a cheap claiming race at a no-frills track handicapped down to four and only four possible winners. Remember the Perfect Storm depicted in the motion picture of the same name where inexplicable forces combined when you least expected them to produce a natural phenomenon?

This felt like the Perfect Race. Jockeys playing musical horses, trouble lines galore, animals written off because they had performed badly on off tracks, it looked like Suckers Day at the races, it was as though the odds had been placed under the wrong numbers on the tote board when nobody was looking.

Sadly, funds were not unlimited, which is the subject of today's story, slumps.

It seems like the days you have hundreds to spare, the racing card looks like the lottery. When you have $88, you love four horses that simply cannot lose, and you could use $300, which could make you thousands.

A slump occurs when you can't win for losing.

A baseball slump is where you hit the baseball squarely but right at somebody. In college, I hit a ball so hard on one hop to right field that I was thrown out at first, 9-3 in the scorebook, Slump City, USA.

A slump in golf is where you turn an ankle improving your lie, in football, it's where a kick hits a post to beat you out of one-ten.

A horseplayer's slump is the worst of them all because it's all mental, you're not losing a physical edge, you're losing your mind.

Getting back to the race where I plucked from the middle of a betting slump the four horses that just had to be there: I loved the 5 and the 6 and couldn't do without the 1 and the 2.

Losing a close race that you should have won can cause a person to briefly ponder the creation of the universe. Losing a photo finish after a bad ride after a questionable disqualification after a bad bet because of a lack of funds after a bad because of funds needed, times 20, well, you start second-guessing third guesses and fourth hunches. My thinking at the time during this slump, and I have reviewed the notes directly from the ledger on which I record bets, talk about a sad read, was: You're riding a bad trend and haven't been able to pick anything in two weeks, so program the wagering depression into your bet. Allow for the slump.

If you like the 5 and the 6 and are slumping badly, you can't play the 5 and the 6, which is to say you can't play one with the other.

You split the two horses you like and play the 5 and the 6 over what you favor almost as much, the 1 and the 2 in this case. Then of course you bet back the 1 and the 2 over the 5 and the 6 for Exactas worth half as much.

Slumping, what you like simply cannot come in, period, correct?

When you're in a wagering slump, not only can you not win, you can barely see the race.

I would venture a guess that during the running of this six furlong race, the ten horses seemed to change positions a total of, oh, 100 times, all the ebbing and flowing and flopping and charging.

It came of course 6-5 and paid a small fortune and change.

What I loved had won because I had not bet it, the slump had been super-sized.

The only solution to a betting slump can be found as far away from the races as you can get.