Commentary

One big resolution

Updated: February 16, 2012, 5:04 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Horse racing isn't conducive to resolutions beyond, "I resolve to try not to be as stupid as last year."

That's because the exact same thing that cost you before could pay big next time.

Ours is a game of illusions, of the inexplicable in the gate becoming perfectly understandable upon further review of the charts after the race.

Luck plays such a key role in horse race handicapping, insane good fortune is folded into the process: When you hit one by an inch because the one in front hiccupped, it is taken to mean that you outsmarted them again. Sometimes it takes different eyes to put a blessed one's score in perspective. After saying, "I knew the favorite would quit," in a race where that happened, producing a $40 Exacta, a person relatively new to the sport said, "You knew the jockey on one horse would run up another's backside, and that the other guy would drop his whip, and that those other two would bang together?"

Yeah.

Basically.

Who wouldn't rather say, "I knew it!" than "I just made three-eighty on a miracle for the ages."

One of the more interesting things about horse racing is that something miraculous determines the winner of about every third or fourth race. It's the only sport where the impossible becomes routine on a daily basis.

It is said that freakish good and bad luck achieves a balance over time, that bad beats in poker, absurd ref calls in the NFL and head bobs and nose wrinkles in horse racing, will fall in your favor as often as not. But nobody who benefits from nutty good luck pulls up, knowing that somewhere down the line, you'll get yours. You just play on, hoping that you're good enough to find the five-length winners at 10-1, and not have to rely on the scrums at the finish.

There's so little that's absolute in this business, it's hard to know what to resolve. There are simply respectful appeals to the gods of racing. Even the inexplicable has been a little too predictable particularly in one category over the course of the previous year: The "All" button.

A little help please. It has been as though the needle on a spinner had a magnet tying it to the lowest price on the board on "All" races. The very definition of an "All" race is anybody can win, when the 3-5 chalk and the 20-1 shot have similar positives. When an odds-on favorite gets up in an "All" race, winning can feel like losing.

It was another great year for "value" playing, as every single time this panic-stricken plea was made on TV, the horse lost.

The "value" theory of horse handicapping picks prices over talent. "Value" handicapping is, by definition, for losers, for people down a grand, for people betting peanuts trying to hook an elephant. If you like two horses the same, bet them both. If you like more than two horses the same, have a beer. I know this is hard to remember during a losing streak: All winners have value. If a 100 percent return (even money) isn't enough, find second in an Exacta. There is value in a 1-1 cinch, it's why they made pick 3's and 4's.

In the new year, we resolve to be lucky, right?

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.