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Monday, December 8, 2008
Cold turkey for New Year

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

A friend of mine said that for his New Year's Resolution, he was going to give up gambling.

He said that he had sat down with his financial statement, and his financial statement had said, "Stop, you're killing me."

His occasional high-dollar wins at the horse races had been more than offset by losing streaks lasting weeks on end, and end over end, dizzying conspiracies of bad rides, so it seemed, and seemed.

He was a daily player.

He said that the possibility existed that he might have less money on hand even after he quit gambling. Losing as he had been doing might have kept him from spending more elsewhere. But he was at the point where he had to find out what a life without gaming, which is what the owners and advertisers call gambling, was like.

I asked him how he was going to quit gambling.

He said man-up style, cold turkey sandwiches and champagne, midnight New Year's Eve, that was it.

I said I'd bet him a hundred he couldn't make it to Valentine's Day.

"You're on," he said.

Not to make sport of what could be a serious addiction, but to some, gaming isn't quit drugging. Neither is gambling. Alcoholics and other drug abusers can't become better drunks and junkies. But some gamblers can make better bets. Gambling can be as addictive as cocaine to the majority of chronic losers. But to some players, there's a step between being broke and going directly to needlepoint. If you lose a lot, before you quit the horses, try this, bet better.

Quit betting stupid.

Like quitting any bad habit, giving up bad betting is a step by step process.

Here's a good first move: Stop throwing money away on what seldom works.

A quick review of my handicapping and wagering notes for several recent years revealed that I never got good wood on what was considered to be a "betting race."

Many handicappers approach a "betting race" like it was found money when, in fact, the approximate definition of a "betting race" is a full field of horses close to equal in talent. In "betting races," payoffs run extremely high, and for good reason. Nobody in his or her right mind can hit them. I consider "betting races" to be ideal for people who bet squirrelly things, heartfelt dates and lucky numbers. Guessing race is more like it. Lousy handicappers like "betting races" because they always play favorites, and when many appear equal, the favorite could pay $8.

Decent handicappers prefer races that can be handicapped.

To my way of thinking, a "betting race" is any that can be successfully picked.

A $9 Exacta can be a beautiful example of such.

A "betting race" and "searching for value" are similar in that they are favored by people in a hole.

All winners have value.

Getting back to dumb betting, if I don't feel good about a race, which is to say that if I can't find a reason to play something and start guessing, I seldom win; seldom, as in, seldom plus three months.

Simply put, if you can't articulate a good reason for making a bet, talk yourself into passing the race.

I speak from personal experience in saying that this year I successfully carried out the resolution to give up "betting races," and am a better person for it.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.