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Monday, May 3, 2010
A decent week

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

There are a number of reasons to be on board with horse racing at the moment, beginning where all analysis focuses, at the cash box.

Ratings were great for Kentucky Derby 136. And, whatever the ratings are, they should be padded or expanded, as people who enjoy horse racing the most are at tracks or at the simulcast venues Derby Day, not home playing patty cake in front of the tube. Were people at tracks and off-track joints able to be rated, numbers would please networks even more. The same holds true for most sports, as the best fans are at the games. How many people in sports bars, or outside the home, watch CSI: Miami?

Three.

Other reasons the sport is hanging in there are:

  • The horses themselves.

    We love our wildlife in this country, starting with the eagle.

    Animal cruelty is a predictor of evilness. Mistreat a dog or a cat and you'll think it's only an animal.

    What's not to like about a race horse that doesn't have an untrue thought in its head.

  • The industry is more alert to social issues.

    Who would want to dine on watercress and peanut slices. Starving yourself and then riding for your life doesn't sound agreeable. Runway models weighing 101 pounds only have to do the prancing part.

    Even though serial activists can't always separate inherent danger from slack leadership, numerous safety issues are being given due and overdue consideration.

    On down the oat chain, the sticks compared to the big clubs, some pretty puzzling training results show up. But it's better than it used to be, and the industry seems to listen.

  • Jobs.

    A friend of mine breeds, raises, nurtures and owns horses that seem to have been born to be claimed for a nominal tag.

    It's a typical Mom and Pop Stable.

    You should see the number of people to whom he writes checks most months.

  • Horse racing is picker-friendly.

    You can't hit a golf shot like a pro. But sometimes you can sure pick horses as well as whatever-their-names-are on TV screens at the networks and at the tracks.

    That said, it's time to put in two good words for handicapping experts who have to make picks in front of lots of people; that's right, have to. An expert horse race handicapper can't pass on a tough race like the Derby. Deuce-six at poker, see you later. Tough Derby, you owe everybody a pick.

    Deciding which race to play is a great handicapping skill. The two good words that pertain to expert pickers: It's hard.

    Some expert pickers pick up whispers from trainers and pass that off as handicapping. Those attempting that inside info-type ploy at the Derby did poorly.

    I'd take a good handicapper over a good trainer in a picking contest any day.

  • Punk-free zone.

    Look at Todd Pletcher before the race, being dogged with questions about whether or not his career would be defined by Derby wins, or a lack thereof. And he answered every snipe, saying that yeah, it would probably be a good idea if he won the big one at Churchill one day.

    Winning jockey Borel used "Ma'am" to female reporters.

    Great young jockeys are not entitled to anything except a parking place. There's no one-and-done angle to eliminate riding in the sticks. Finding Joe Talamo at the Derby was like Where's Waldo? Oh. There he is. Toward the back.

    There are fewer punks in horse racing than any other sport.

    Handicapping note: You have probably heard what I have heard, which is that all Ice Box has to do to win the Belmont Stakes is get to the gate on time, Ice Box or some other horse that closed with gusto in Louisville.

    It happens every spring, that illusion. It suits the eye to think that if a horse closes powerfully at a mile and a quarter, it will benefit from extra distance. It's physics, you can look it up -- the longer the distance, the less energy there is for closing from deep space. It's up close and personal at the Belmont. Careful or you'll blow your Derby win.

    Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.