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Monday, March 25, 2013
Understanding the impossible

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

Have you ever wondered which bettors win the impossible races?

I wonder that many times per day, sometimes five or six times a race card, hundreds of times over a month.

Who in his or her right mind could have played the second favorite with the 35-1 shot and hit that exacta?

Who could have thought the $80 horse might have a chance to get through on the rail and win a three-horse photo?

Who could have put real money on the trainer who hadn't won a race this entire season?

Who could have played the old jockey?

The 11-year old horse?

The owner/trainer/hot walker with a relative of the same last name riding?

Have you ever wondered what kind of indescribably fortunate person took your money from a race whose top finishers could not have been handicapped by any coherent criteria?

Big winners love to talk. Winners of considerable amounts of money usually think they got there with superior horse picking skills. Whereas bad luck is obviously a determining factor in sad losses, pure good luck is seldom given its due in victory. The bettor found the winner. The collector was right and so many were wrong. Winners are often glad to talk about how brilliant they just were.

Who could ever predict the exact behavior of animals? Some races can be written off to gaminess.

But humans bet.

How could anybody with a logical existence find a winner and a runner-up in a race that appeared to defy reality? Come to think about it, how come the exacta only paid $490 with those bums running 1-2?

I began wondering about the winning strategy of certain races not long ago after watching a claiming horse that couldn't win, win, and a horse that couldn't place, place. The payoffs seemed to cause the lights on the tote board to flicker upon being posted.

Only one person in this betting area celebrated.

He seemed to keep matching the numbers on his ticket to the winners on the board, like somebody making sure he had just hit the lottery.

I doubted that I could have hit the replay of this particular race. So after the man collected his winnings, I asked him if he would share the handicapping technique that had enabled him to collect the substantial payoff.

He said sure.

He said that he always bet the two birthdays of his sons on this particular day of the month.

I have been asking around after what appeared to have been impossible wins and have found other reasons why people cash big tickets on difficult races.

Here they are.

Some winners of extremely hard races:

Frequently play the longest shot in the field with the top two favorites, particularly in races involving young horses.

Often play the dog's name.

Play extremely long layoffs.

Play maiden winners versus the more successful runners.

Hear voices about whom to bet.

Frequently play first time on a new surface.

Usually play all class drops.

Play the speed on grass races.

Play the speed on muddy tracks.

Play last to first on muddy tracks.

Play speed that quit on fake dirt tracks.

Play off-form horses with wins at the track, even long-ago wins.

When asked if the people with the rare tickets won consistently, discussions ceased.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.