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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Good reading

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

Last week, a horse racing site had in a fat headline prior to the San Felipe at Santa Anita the notion that Goldencents would be a better "value" play than Flashback.

It has long been my contention that the search for "value" in horse racing was closer to dumpster diving than handicapping; that you should look first for winners, then at the numbers on the board, the odds; that all winners have "value," and that likely winners with little "value" oftentimes fit well on pick 3's, 4's and beyond; that a search for a "value" bet was done primarily by those looking to get even; and that every time you heard a professional handicapper mention "value," or better still, when you saw a "value" tout in a headline, you should think seriously about eliminating that particular horse from consideration at least on one ticket.

Looking for a winner and eliminating losers is handicapping.

Looking for a price is "Let's Make a Deal."

Don't let odds put you on a horse; rather, let odds suggest how much to bet and where to bet it.

If you can't decide which of two or three horses appears to be the best, and the "value" shopping angle tilts you toward the biggest price, my advice is to bet them all or sit on your hands.

I have been following "value" bets suggested by handicappers on TV screens for some while without coming across a single winner. Picks like this are like errant weather forecasts. Nobody who made one comes back on the air and rehashes it.

The story behind a "value" wager in horse racing, so far as I can understand it, is that it goes on a horse that has a lesser chance of winning than some others at far lower prices. But if the "value" bet does win, you're rich. The conjunction "but" frequently follows "value" bets: "I'm going for value in this race on the 15-1 shot. But crazier things have happened."

Another negative associated with "value" horses is that they're frequently trendy picks, something that had a little trouble in a previous race, they're horses with past performance lines that appeal to somebody down $200; and trendy picks seldom win.

Since so many "professional" handicappers mention "value" horses, you'd think one would get DQ'd into a victory once in a while.

What's the difference in a 15-1 "value" bet and a 15-1 legitimate play?

Confidence.

Concerning the San Felipe at Santa Anita, there didn't appear to be any way that the dragster quick Goldencents, the "value" tout over Flashback, could run fourth.

Then Goldencents ran fourth.

Handicappers gambling for the better "value" were pained.

Soon after the San Felipe, there came a message from somebody who had seen the "value" headline as well, and had recalled my thinking about the perils of bargain shopping at the race track. This person said that for a lark, he had excluded Goldencents from the top three, had boxed some others in dollar bets, and had wound up very pleased for having been such a good reader.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.