Commentary

Honestly good long shots

Updated: June 18, 2012, 3:43 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

When a long shot wins a race, and you have it, the result is taken as an example of your handicapping skill.

When a long shot finishes first and you don't have it, you're sure you've been fixed.

More long shot winners are written off to cheaters than are attributed to bad handicappers or to good trainers. Blaming rascals for upset winners is easier to take than blaming yourself for not betting $8 more to win a thousand. The problem with calling everything that pays more than $35 evil is you won't play something similar the next time around: You're sure you didn't miss anything on the track or on the past performances. You missed something out behind the barn.

The only way to learn from a mistake is to admit one.

Here's a long shot that always looks fishy, but happens so often, it has to be a legitimate betting angle. It shows up at out of the way tracks where the riders appear to be doing movie stunt work, and at the paddocks where reasonable grammar is practiced, as well.

The strange, but probably true, race takes place on the turf at a distance of five furlongs.

Afterward, the regulars tell the winning connections that they hope they can look their children in their faces and sleep nights every time what appears to be a routine router checks down to a sprint, and wins going away.

Here's the way the odds maker looks at a certain horse shortening up for a turf mini-sprint:

Has run nothing shorter than a mile in about a year, 10-1.

Is up against some lifetime sprinters with decent speed, 15-1.

Has not shown much quickness at routes and has not hit the board in the last half dozen, 18-1.

A five furlong turf race is a good place to lose an average allowance router dropping into a claiming crowd scene. Decent route horses going off at 18-1 against average sprint claimers is one reason 50-cent Pick Threes and Pick Fours were invented. Horses that pay $38 and fit among three chalk winners oftentimes pay many hundreds of dollars on a cheap ticket. When playing a 50-cent package, it's always a good idea to include a few horses that the boneheads can't find. Honest handicapping angles still exist by the score. Closing routers versus quitting sprinters can be just the ticket.

Here's what a legitimate long shot play looks like: Short turf races aren't always made for speed. But they're bet like that's the case. And usually there are three or four quick ones involved. The usual speedy suspects pop out first at five furlongs on the grass. The solid but unspectacular former router breaks toward the back of the field. The first turn is right on top of the hottest five furlong runners, and most of the quickest float wide. The route horse is by itself on the rail. Space saved is doubly valuable at a short distance. The best of the sprinters straightens its wide self in the middle of the track and heads for home and is surprised to be passed by the one who just finished fourth at a mile, seventy, but was not given the courtesy of the inside space then that you could have driven a single engine aircraft through here.

This is the way I handicap races involving half-dollar exotics. First I look at the card as though all the world was honest. Then I go over it wondering how somebody devilish might train. And then I always try to bet more.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.