Underdog days of summer

Horse racing is not about wanting to shove somebody because they don't agree with your horse of the year choice. Getting emotional about horse of the year competition is not horse racing. Some horses of the year barely even race. Horse of the year stuff at the industry level is about breeding. Inside the rail, welling up about horses of the year issues can be about mental hiccups.

Horse racing is not about scenery, the mountains beyond Santa Anita, Crosby's surf, Belmont's ghosts, upstate New York's rustic chic, Churchill's living architectural art.

Gambling is about anything that prepares you to succeed, the siren lights of Vegas after you have escaped LA, a great memory refreshed by an overdue sighting of an old racetrack grandstand, a song, a mood.

Horse racing is not about hats. It's not about commemorative glasses. It's not about giveaway totes. It's not about an entry or exit-level concert. Horse racing is not about esoteric writings, a search for a simpler joy. It's not about the way we were. It's not about slots. After "Luck," it might never again be about fictional show business. Horse racing is not about bluegrass and black fences and bored rich people. It's not about infields or jockey clubs.

Right now, today, this morning and afternoon, on this side of the rail, horse racing is about picking winners.

During the underdog days of summer, here are ten things to think about so you can stay around the game long enough to contemplate things like Claiming Horse of the Year, Bugler of the Year, Inheritor of the Year, Drop Dead View of the Year.

1. Forget deep closers versus a quality field at longer distances. The angle is probably the opposite of what most handicappers think: The truth is, the farther you go, the less you are apt to close.

2. Beware of changes to and from fake dirt, particularly the first time. There are reasons why horses avoid real dirt.

3. Off tracks matter a great deal; discount most wins or dismal performances.

4. Give legitimate trouble its due: Union Rags.

5. Read bad handicappers. We are in something of a national handicapping crisis. Self-proclaimed experts are spraying around losers like the Big East does in football. Fundamentally bad handicappers seldom change their costly ways and are as telling a bad gambling tic as are the shakes.

6. Multiple-pick bets, pick 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s, make good sense. It's where the can't-lose, odds-on favorites go to thrive.

7. All winners have value. Pick horses, not odds set by numbskulls.

8. Value uncontested speed. It's like uncontested beauty.

9. Use the bookies as slump busters. If you can't pick one of 12 horses and want to try picking one of two football teams, always go with the point spreads aimed at suckers. If a number looks funny, side with the people who set it.

10. Do homework. Who needs simulcast bathrooms. Wagering sites on the Internet frequently give you cash to join, and offer free live racing video to all the tracks. Even if your home state thinks internet horse race wagering is the devil's doing, you can subscribe to a service for a nominal fee and simply watch the races and learn the nuances of the track and the antics of certain riders. Unless you don't really want to win.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.