Commentary

Spring forward

Updated: March 17, 2014, 2:33 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Kentucky Derby questions accompany the thaw.

Q: How seriously do you take criticism when one of your picks stinks?

A: Some of the attacks on the Internet cause writers to schedule therapy sessions with mental counselors. It's the anonymous responses that hurt the most, that threaten your confidence, those nearly obscene comments composed by people with super hero aliases and grammar to die for. All pickers want is for the nuts to really like them.

Actually here is the way it usually works. Unless you say something before the event, unless you make your own pick, then the wild critical remarks afterward are read only by other complainers. It's true, the next best thing to picking your own winner is celebrating somebody else's lousy selection. But it's the people who were right about a race who own the world and the Internet response space; until the next race.

Picking is harder for most before a race begins.

Q: Do you have any future's wagers on the Derby?

A: Yeah, two, Tapiture and California Chrome.

Tapiture had a couple of excuses in his most recent race in Arkansas, the weather and the ride, both of which were all wet. The jockey seemed to have been surprised at several points down the stretch that other horses were in the race.

Cal-bred "Chrome" has run last to first and first to first in his last two.

After its most recent win at Santa Anita, Chrome's trainer hustled across town to saddle a cheap claimer at Los Alamitos. Before the days of blanket simulcasting, a friend and I often made that run, yielding only to cash machines.

Q: Why don't TV pickers spend any time explaining why their selections were so wrong?

A: It would take all night.

Q: Have you been to the Kentucky Derby? What's it like?

A: I've been twice and cashed approximately one ticket, that on the overnight Double, which always pays more than you expect.

The Derby is easily the number one sports spectacle in the country, having flown past the best car races, whatever they are, and the team championship events. But being at the Derby is like having to get through the Mardi Gras parade to bet. Nobody goes alone. So it's more social than business. And unless you sleep in your car, the expense is such that you have to hit one trifecta and two exactas to pay for the day.

There's almost a collegiate vibe throughout the facility, as people tend to support horses that have been successful at tracks in their parts of the country.

Q: Has the Derby ever seemed this wide open?

A: No.

The winner could have an allowance victory in its file.

The best from New York and California come from a series of races that resemble trail rides, short fields of six or seven horses running single file around the track, posting high Beyer numbers. These flashy figures don't mean all that much when the Derby starting gate opens and each horse finds 19 others looking to rumble.

Q: Are there any automatic throw-outs in the Derby?

A: Sure.

Drawing the rail is like trying to outrun an avalanche.

Extreme running styles, on the lead or toward the back, ask too much of a horse.

I usually throw out any horse coming to dirt from synthetic surfaces. Most synthetic surfaces resemble the La Brea Tar Pits halfway down the stretch. Speed stops. Any horse that runs through a synthetic bias might be worth your money.

Also, there's a trendy horse or two each year at the Derby, a sleeper that has value written all over it, something the morning line odds maker seemed to have overlooked.

The description "trendy" on a horse means it is getting ready to finish sixth or seventh.

Q: Is there anything to be learned from the TV show "Horseplayers" on the Esquire channel, where handicappers discuss wagering strategies?

A: Yes, how not to act on camera.

Q: Why are there no more super horses that are serious contenders to win the Triple Crown?

A: Horses are bred to breed.

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