Monday, July 30, 2012
By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com
One evening last week, I was sitting at home wondering how it could be hotter here than it was in Cairo, the jungle, or at the equator, while playing the early Pick Four at Penn National.
The high temperatures have been more than 100 degrees in Tulsa for longer than most residents can remember. This narrative is not offered as a call to sympathy. It is intended to make you feel better about your afternoons. The forecast for my neighborhood today is 111 degrees and plenty of sunshine. In all seriousness: Insane heat alters life courses and mental trends. When the sun passes overhead here, you feel like ducking. You can fry bacon on the sidewalk. Potted plants inhale water. Grass goes white. Air conditioning units never shut off. The only two places that are known to be hotter are Baghdad and Death Valley. And how are our winters? Minus five degrees occasionally. It's why we love our perennials. They have to survive 120-degree temperature swings.
Why live here?
1. There's no traffic
2. It's material
3. Spring and fall are nice
Getting back to the Pick Four at Penn National: After the first race, a storm hit. It hit hard. It rained thick and fast. We remember rain here. Barely. When next it rains in this place, many will rush outside in minimal clothing to offer themselves to the cooling drops, lightning bolts no matter.
The storm at Penn National caused, first, a delay in the racing card, then a switch in surfaces for two of the next three races: off the turf.
When a race is washed off the grass before a racing program starts, scratches can be numerous. When there is a surface switch DURING a racing card, chaos ensues. Trainers pull horses left and right as though a black, toxic rain was falling.
When a horse is scratched on a multi-race betting ticket, that bet goes to the favorite. This is easier on the track than what amounts to a complicated refunding process. Refunding means less profit. All a bettor can do when weighed down with a lousy cheap favorite is rush to the windows to bet on something else.
When a majority of horses from two grass races are scratched, leaving you with your best in show being a 14-1 turf specialist probably hanging around just to keep the tote board open, with some old dirt dog having gone from 20-1 to 1-1 as the new favorite: now what?
As is usually the case when something out of a horse player's control takes place, your ticket had seemed perfect. I had singled the winner of the first race, the 12, a simple victor. The rest of my Pick 4 ticket had been over-populated with 10-1 and 15-1 live wires, a payoff in the high triple figures seeming possible.
Then the storm struck.
Then the grass was closed.
Then two horses were scratched. Then four. Five. Six.
Racing was delayed a half-hour.
When the card resumed, two favorites came in, the fields having been reduced to what could barely run straight, and what couldn't.
The state of the exotic wager tickets had become so surreal, a track official took the microphone to explain the obtuseness of the moment, citing a rule that few knew existed, track personnel possibly included: When a surface switch occurred after a Pick 3, 4 or 6 sequence had begun, subsequent scratches didn't result in your bet or bets going to the post-time favorite. When surfaces were scratched, or changed, your bet became an All. In other words, in any words, all bets were off, it was no race. Say you thought you still had a 15-1 shot that had a plodder's chance. Say it won. Tough, everybody had it, even bums that had the 3-5 chalk that ran last.
So here was the winning Pick 4 ticket: 12, all, all, the 1-1 favorite in a regularly scheduled dirt race.
With only two races counting in the Pick 4 sequence, a 50-cent Pick 4 ticket paid $1.75.
Not bad if you had it a couple of hundred times.
One point is, always check the weather before the past performances.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.