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Monday, June 28, 2010
You're not alone

By Jay Cronley
Special to

Here are some questions that jumped off the screen.

Question: Going by last year's Breeder's Cup races, and this season's Triple Crown series, you've been better than anybody in public with your picks for ESPN. Can I count on you at this fall's Breeder's Cup championship series in Louisville? If form holds, I'll really need the money.

Answer: One thing hot pickers don't need is pressure from good people with empty pockets.

Picks are not made with starving artisans in mind. Picks are made for people who wouldn't miss around $75 too much.

This Breeder's Cup looks like one of the best. First, it's on dirt. Next, it'll be good to see Nick Lachey again, a regular face at the big horse racing events; not that I won't buy a CD or attend a concert one day.

The bad news is that oftentimes the Churchill track plays very fairly.

Q: When you accidentally hit a pick, do people send you things as thanks?

A: Nothing is kept for obvious reasons: imagine people wanting rotten picks reimbursed. Gifts are returned or given to charities.

Q: What's your favorite type of betting race?

A: It's hard to go wrong with a cheap non-winners of two, as such a spectacle brings into play all the elements of a windfall waiting to be harnessed: rotten connections, questionable fitness, insane wagering from a dopey public. It's a magical place where 1-for-4 isn't always better than 1-for-45.

Q: What was your worst beat ever?

A: At the local track, which is so small as to be almost a circle, a friend and I had the only possible Pick Six winning ticket going into the last race. We went in $40-something apiece and singled the last race with a 5-1 horse.

The payoff had carried over a number of days and was right at $30,000.

The last race in the Pick Six puzzle was a mile in length -- the sharp turns on this track had a habit of wearing down the quicker horses and turning them into mush. Closers from the middle at a mile had won every race I had seen there.

So my friend and I went to the paddock, and then the rail and said (shouted) to the jockey: "Whatever you do, don't take this horse out too fast." The part of the track at the rail was like a peat bog, heavy and slow. All the rider had to do was sit third, fourth, anywhere in there, let them start melting up front, trot by inside or outside, it was that simple.

Walking onto the track for the post parade, the jockey looked at us like: Are you trying to tell me how to ply my profession? It was the look a real worker gave the owner's son. Our final bit of instruction was similar to the first, and the middle: "Whatever you do, don't get on the stinking lead!"

When they were sent off from the gate, the jockey rode like he worked for the Pony Express and was late with the big stockyards payroll.

Our $28,000-and-change horse led by 12.

My friend said he felt ill to his stomach and might need medical assistance.

I said that maybe this would be the one out of a hundred times when the lead at a mile would not render a horse irrational at the halfway point.

Then we led by 10. Then by 7, 5, 4, less than 3. Then horses resembling what Shriners rode in parades came at us.

On the last hairpin turn to the short home stretch, it appeared that our brave horse might actually get his feet stuck in the thick racing surface by the rail.

The favorite got us late and at least had the decency to spare us a Photo.

I could swear that the alleged trainer told our play-like jockey, "Good job, man."

I called out from the rail that the rider had found the only way to lose the race.

He smiled at me as if to say: At least I got paid.

Q: What's your advice to beginners at horse race handicapping?

A: Earn more -- playing on the cheap can cause a handicapper to be right without collecting. Make a small win bet on long shots you like so you'll get paid.

Watch races without betting, see what wins, and why.

Focus on a particular racetrack, get any home field advantage that is available.

Q: Didn't you once mention an NFL system that worked?

A: Yeah, it was during a discussion about a way, any way, to make money wagering legally, without thinking.

Here's the way the NFL idea goes: Team A wins a football game and covers the point spread at home, then goes on the road. Team B loses a game and the point spread on the road and then comes home. Team A versus team B, take team B. The premise here is that little happens the same way in the NFL week to week, that the obvious will wear you out. The problem with this angle is that you have to play some really terrible football teams.

Q: How can horse racing get new people to the track?

A: New young people, it's going to be difficult; new old people, yeah, sure, why not.

Most young people have no money. Young gamblers with cash are attracted to poker.

Baby boomers have money and time. Tracks should focus on keeping them alive, feed them better, throw in an exercise class.

Q: How might race tracks improve service?

A: The other night, the person selling past performances and programs was in another part of the building, celebrating the successful three-way split of a tri. Another employee said he would be right with me after he finished figuring how much he had won on a dime Super. A teller discussed tip sheet picks with a friend. When employees are on hot streaks, it's like serve-yourself.

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