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Monday, May 2, 2005
Updated: May 3, 10:21 AM ET
Kentucky Derby Q & A

By Jay Cronley
Special to

It happens every spring: The world takes a break from wondering who's on steroids to drop in on horse racing around Kentucky Derby time.

Q: How dead is horse racing?
A: About as dead as it was last year during one of the greatest periods in thoroughbred racing history, in terms of money wagered.

Horse racing is not judged like NASCAR, on tonnage of beer served and hundreds of thousands of backsides parked. Horse racing is measured by dollars stacked. There could be 300 people in the grandstand of a race track that is nonetheless having a very good day thanks to home-betting avenues through a satellite, and off-track simulcast facilities. The main force moving horse racing toward what will undoubtedly be a record year concerning purses paid is the average slot machine junkie. Many horse race tracks have slot machines on the grounds; those that don't risk pushing up dandelions.

Q: If horse racing isn't dead, what sport is?
A: College football is worse than dead, it's evil. Last year Auburn had a great football team, yet was denied a spot in the national championship game, leaving instead Oklahoma to render the Orange Bowl in need of fumigation.

Q: Is picking a winner at the horse races harder than it used to be?
A: Probably not. Horse players are simply picking worse.

According to some of the world's best gamblers speaking through this book by the Daily Racing Form Press, "Six Secrets of Successful Bettors," approximately one percent of those at the races come out ahead of the game. One or two percent winners, those are Keeno numbers.

The reason why people are picking worse these days is because of the ease with which many tracks can be bet at once at simulcast venues.

My guess is that the one thing those on the back rows of Gamblers Anonymous meetings everywhere have in common is: playing multiple tracks at once.

Q: How will you handicap this Kentucky Derby?
A: Inexpensively.

1. Throw out the late runners.

2. Throw out the post positions that don't suit the horse's style.

3. Throw out the trainers from another league.

4. Throw out what's trendy.

5. Throw out horses incapable of ringing up a winning Beyer.

That should pare the field down to one dozen possible winners, six of which look alike.

Steinbrenner's horse could pose an interesting aside, as Yankee haters will spitefully look elsewhere for a winner.

You are apt to hear numerous handicapping experts mention that they will be looking for "value" in this horse race.

Run a line through their selections, eliminating them. Value shoppers belong at the flea market, not the betting windows.

Why do so many national experts miss their predictions?

My idea is they rely on so-called inside information from trainers.

Q: How can horse racing attract younger fans?
A: Many people who love horse racing used to hang around tracks when they were younger, gaining atmosphere. Simulcast venue atmosphere is like bowling alley atmosphere.

Anymore, young sports are hanging around computers, learning and playing poker on-line.

Put in a card room next to the slot machine room at the race track.

Q: What's being at the Kentucky Derby like?

A: If it weren't for the race, I wouldn't go.

I have been in the infield in the heat when it felt more like the Sahara than Woodstock, and I have been in a fancy box over the finish line surrounded by minor celebrities and politicians and southern Belles who knew nothing much of the sport.

I'd do either again like that, the race itself is so great.

Watch the Kentucky Derby on NBC, Saturday at 5 p.m. ET