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Monday, August 6, 2012
Ahead

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

Most horse race writing is devoted to analyzing what just happened.

Bozo the clown could do that. History is pretty easy to review.

In this little place in the horse race watching world, the focus is forward. Handicappers should borrow some blinders and ignore the distractions. The goal here is to find winners before the race, not after.

It's rewarding to dispel snake oil handicapping theory and end debates over nonsense like the search for "value" at the horse race track. When I came to work here, numerous seemingly coherent pickers spent most of their air and print time in the never-ending (until they went broke) search for "value" plays at the windows. It has since been documented that all winners have value. Four chalk winners in a pick 4 anywhere are apt to produce a payoff of $175; this, while the "value" play at 15-1 is running wavy lines down the stretch to finish sixth.

Handicap what's alive, not numbers.

Here is what we have foreseen so far this summer.

Some Beyer numbers are consistently inflated.

A mud Beyer is one.

A grass Beyer is another.

A short-field Beyer is a third.

Next, some pick fours are easier to hit than pick twos, than exactas. Playing multiple pick-a-winner tickets are more to the purpose of the game than trying to guess who is apt to wobble across from second through fourth.

Next, handicap owners as well as trainers and jockeys. Anybody who wants to paint a horse's tail blue is probably going to run up the track at 3-5, it's karma.

Next, be aware of, and beware of, moves from fake dirt to real dirt.

Next, play "savers" as insurance only on the last race of a pick 3 or 4 or 6 ticket, when somebody you left off could beat you out of good money.

Here are two more forward-thinking ideas.

Global scorching has hit the heartland and has pushed summertime rain north and east around the enormous high pressure system entrenched like a fat over the middle of the country.

Turf races near cool fronts are iffy propositions.

Handicap a race card the day of, not the night before.

Taking a contest off the turf because of same-day rain can turn the race upside down. Four thousand dollar claimers can go off favored versus allowance horses because of experience with being wet behind the ears. But when a good grass horse is left in a mud race, bet it, as something valuable wouldn't be put at risk unnecessarily.

Finally, open claiming race runners are frequently better than higher-priced stuff for state-bred horses.

State-bred races, no matter the state, is where favorites go to get lost, and it's where long shots with good open claiming records go to pay the bills.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.