Print and Go Back ESPN.com: HorseRacing [Print without images]

Monday, June 3, 2013
Updated: June 4, 12:22 PM ET
A horse player with no name

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

The piece I wrote five minutes after the end of the Preakness was called something like "What Were You People Thinking?" and it was meant to encourage handicappers to look beyond such things as can't-miss speed figures, and discover buried posts.

I picked Oxbow to run third and he won.

Oxbow spent the spring running out of left field at Oaklawn Park, drawing a series of outside posts that rendered the horse virtually inoperable.

Before the Triple Crown season, the only time I had heard that name mentioned in a favorable light had to do with the motion picture "The Ox-Bow Incident," a fine '40s film starring Henry Fonda. What happened in this one was a drifter rode into town right after a local cattleman was murdered, and the trendy pick was to string up the stranger. Justice prevailed by about a neck.

The wagering public regarded Oxbow the horse as the overmatched pipe dream of a trainer who had won his share back in a few of the days. He was sent to the cheery gate at the Preakness as the second-highest number on the board.

Oxbow spent the spring running out of left field at Oaklawn Park, drawing a series of outside posts that rendered the horse virtually inoperable. Then it caught the oppressive 1-spot at Churchill, a perfect place for that pretender, most thought -- out of the way.

Here's the way many play the Triple Crown races: You take the highest speed figure and box it with the trendiest TV pick.

Sometimes hopeful improvement can come in the form of something as simple as a better starting spot.

So anyway, the day after the Preakness, I was standing in a grocery-store line and somebody right behind in line, a man, asked if I was who he thought I was.

And I was.

Being a writer is a thoughtful experience. Before you say who you are, you think: What have I written recently? In this case, there was the Preakness wrap piece and a newspaper column about the anger with which some anonymous people respond on the Internet, the "Ox-Bow Incident" attitude revisited: fire him, arrest her, kick them out of office, signed, The Angel of Peace. With instant gratification comes instant unrest. And perhaps as a result, writing has changed, particularly column writing. Anymore, somebody writes a feature story, sticks a picture next to it, and presto, it's another columnist. There's a lot of manipulation going on in the writing business. That's when you write about puppy dogs and sad sacks, guaranteed tearful pieces. A column writer has an opinion. So what's the difference in a columnist and an editorial writer?

Editorial people deal in politics. And columnists generally write better.

Being a writer is a thoughtful experience. Before you say who you are, you think: What have I written recently?

The man behind me in line at the grocery store gave me his nickname, Rocket something-or-other. Time was, others gave you nicknames based on what you looked like or acted like. Anymore, people give themselves nicknames, oftentimes based on what they wished they were or might one day become. Some anonymous material is of great value. A good idea doesn't require a name. Sometimes a decent idea can get a person using a real name fired.

Readers probably wonder how much reaction to his or her work that a writer reads. I read everything with a real name, the rest, only what's great and loving and adoring.

Anyhow, I thought, what the heck, and told the Rocket person that I was who he thought I was.

He was a horse race handicapping man. And he wanted to know why I hadn't picked Oxbow to win, not show; and why I didn't come up with my own set of rating numbers if I didn't like any others; and why I didn't have my own TV show if I didn't like what the rest of them were saying. He was pleasant enough. When he was finished with all the questions, I had one for him.

It was: Who you like in the Belmont?

Quiet, blissful silence.