Commentary

Our Horse

Updated: February 16, 2012, 5:07 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

There's a local hero element to horse racing in the spring as the Triple Crown races come to mind.

There's a team sports feeling to the Kentucky Derby prep races.

Speaking of teams, here's what happened in and around the Super Bowl. The game produced some of the best sports action in the history of the game. Numerous experts participated in the nuttiest thing ever in post-game thinking, second-guessing a winner. Should the Giant runner have fallen down on the one? Let's see. Probably not, since the Giants won the game. Had he fallen down and had the Giants kicked the field goal, New England would have gotten the ball with time enough to hit a bomb of less length than Brady's hail heave then try a field goal. Nobody has even mentioned the key play in the game, the fumble by the New York runner in reasonably close proximity to the Giant goal line. Four New England players were in position to flop on the football, yet the lone Giant in the picture somehow got there first.

The offering of Super Bowl commercials confirmed a global creative crisis of epic proportions. According to "USA Today" Monday morning, the top rated commercial was the one where a dog buried a cat for some chips. In a time of extreme bullying and violence, killing a cat for a snack might not be the kind of message that needs to be regarded as brilliant, even if a considerable portion of the viewing audience was full of beer. I rated that one last. The only commercial that had a drop of creativity was the Audi spot in which car headlights turned out to be as bright as daylight and as such zapped some vampires, the driver of the vehicle included.

Getting back to the spring three-year old horse races evoking a sense of team spirit, thoroughbred country can be divided into three parts, east, west, and the heartland.

Eastern racing is mostly New York and Florida, with some New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania occasionally thrown into the mix. The best of New York is always a major Kentucky Derby player. The problem with the best of New York is that the prep races thin out to the extent that only four or five of them wind up waltzing down that lonesome backstretch of road at Belmont that looks something like the Bonneville Salt Flats in length. Going from a short New York field to a barroom brawl in Louisville is asking a lot of a developing horse.

Racing in the west is Los Angeles. After years of watching fake dirt act like quicksand with respect to horses on the lead, Santa Anita has gone back to dirt. But California horses have always been considered to be speedy in nature. Horses on the lead win the Derby about once every two decades. And, who knows, the weather in California could be too good. About the only moisture the horses in Los Angeles see comes from champagne bottles. Also, it's a long way from L.A. to Churchill.

Heartland racing is essentially Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., with the oddball freakish runner from New Mexico popping up, due to spiked prep purses from slot machines. Oaklawn is one of the few "live" thoroughbred meets drawing more than flies. There's fishing, barbecue and gambling, the essentials of a mini-vacation in the interior. The top couple of horses from Oaklawn have been among the best of the Derby contenders in recent years, with full fields, a climate and a racing surface similar to Kentucky's, and the perfect timing of the prep races adding up to a very competitive springtime in the Ozarks.

Oaklawn Park is the "home" track of my simulcast joint, which is about a five-plus-hour drive away from Hot Springs. Bettors there regard the Oaklawn representative in the Kentucky Derby as family. Putting a bet on the "house" horse is as routinely done as wagering on lucky numbers or a name that goes to your personal history.

Big-city horse race writers tend to be homers as well in races with global impact. It's natural to tout the ones with whom you are most familiar. It's also good for the prices paid by the winner.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.