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Clear conscious and screen

This clears the machine and desk of good questions.

Question: My spouse wants to go to the horse races with me. She has come to get me at the horse races. But she has never sat through a racing card with me. What do you think?

Answer: If you have going fishing with a spouse for more than six hours in a small boat, it should work out all right. I have had the best success with spouses, plural, two of them, by betting the entire card before the first race starts, then adding two-dollar adjustments along the way. It's hard to explain a $50 four-horse exacta box.

Q: What's best and worst about TV horse race coverage?

A: I like Randy Moss. He got started in this part of the country, hustling picks out of the back of his car at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. He was a terrific handicapper. And probably still is. But national television has a way of putting a happy face on everything. And as a host for big-race broadcasts, Randy seems more concerned with cues and cuts than handicapping and sometimes the horses get to the post without any picks from him.

The most unpleasant TV handicappers are the ones who have to keep reminding you of the big one they hit four years ago. As it happens, the viewer thinks: Four more of those $400,000 scores and he might be even. The only picks that matter are the last one and the next one.

Q: Do you really make bets according to the picks of what you consider to be bad handicappers?

A: Yes. It's a chief reason to bet the big horse races: to get the big, bad picks off television. Trying to cancel a bet on a busy day at a betting window can be torture. Being able to get at your money quickly is a chief attribute of home or screen wagering. Plus accurate tax records are kept for you. With some TV pickers, a win pick is an automatic cancellation of a bet. Sometimes I'll add a horse based on a picker's reasoning and a rare hot streak. Certain TV handicappers do the public a tremendous service by making their horrible selections as early as possible.

Q: I'm new horse racing. Why are so many races called betting races?

A: It's irony. At the horse races, irony is bad luck with a twist, a twist of humor. Obviously a betting race should be one that appears to be the easiest to handicap. But with horses, a betting race is one in which any animal can win, producing a big price for anybody who played a name same as the cat. So a betting race is one that can't be won by anybody reasonably competent.

Q: What does it mean when a connection says the horse didn't like the track?

A: It means you've been taken. Horses like tracks working out but don't like the same track racing? It's a trainer's excuse. Q: Are Kentucky Derby future pools worth playing?

A: Ask somebody who had California Chrome at 20-1 in the middle of the winter a couple of years ago. Somebody sent me an anonymous note saying Chrome was working in mid-air, that fast. To avoid the wrath of karma, all you can do in a situation like that is buy a ticket and write that you had it and how you got it. Future Derby bets are worth it because early favorites seldom win and even the great horses start out with fat odds.

Q: Who are the best horse race writers?

A: This sport tends to attract the best writers. Why? Emotion is usually at the surface. Emotion is fun to write. And the mystery of a horse race attracts writers who are smarter than most. I make it a point to find everything Steven Crist writes. He has a wicked sense of humor, which is the best kind. His mother brought literature to the film criticism business and he does the same to this sport. And at a time when "America's Got Talent," we need all the decent grammar and creative descriptions we can get. The title of that show is possessive, which makes it a big fat flub.

Q: How do you cope with cheaters?

A: One thing you learn by going to the races in the sticks is that people seldom cheat once. Winning impossibly is often contagious. When a barn puts out a $100 impossible winner, chances are, a $50 winner under similar shadowy circumstances from the same barn will follow. There should be an analytic for impossible winners, a statistic. The purpose of an analytic is to reduce the need for intense thought.

Q: Always what?

A: Always bet something to win on a long shot. Too many people use long shots only in exactas and the like. What's worse than being right about a 30-1 shot, but not collecting a dime when it wins? Only losing your billfold full of credit cards is worse. Always play pic 3's and 4's.

Q: Do all winners really have value?

A: Not according to the person who just had the 20-1 horse than ran ninth.

Q: Is it true that you once won $500 playing three-card monte?

A: This is a timely question as the game is coming back mostly in big cities.

It's true I won that.

After college, I went to New York to learn how to sell stocks and bonds and passed the extremely difficult stock broker test by one point. How, I'll never know. Surely the grading machine malfunctioned in my favor.

We got paid a thousand bucks the first of each month, went to ball games and plays non-stop and were broke and eating free stuff on toothpicks in neighborhood bars by the 15th. I lived in a residence hotel around the corner from the Dakota, where the original "Rosemary's Baby" was filmed, and where John Lennon was shot on the sidewalk. Tough looking guys who couldn't or wouldn't talk rode the elevator to the top floor of our residence hotel.

Three-card monte is a shell-type game where you are asked to follow one of three cards and try to identify it at the end of a game. It is usually played near parks on a cardboard box and is run by somebody with a fast mouth, fast feet, and faster hands. There's a winner every time. Usually it's the dealer. So what you do is eliminate the most obvious card, making the proposition 50-50. In the case of the $500 game, the dealer kept the key card, the red queen, by his strong hand, his right hand. So I eliminated the obvious card, got it to close to a 50-50 game, and pointed to the card on the dealer's right.

He refused to turn over that card.

So I turned it over.

Red queen beside two black aces.

I thanked the dealer for the courtside Knicks game tickets and got out of there.