Updated: August 13, 2012, 5:52 PM ETBy Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com
Perry Mason had a habit of seeing the light at the last moment.He would leave the red herrings and gray mares to the impulsive, and would make his judgments late in the pre-race ritual, sometimes when they were all nearly in the starting gate. Like the one for whom he had been nicknamed, Perry Mason was a good listener. This was a valuable learning and wagering tool, as the great majority of those at the horse races had an invaluable knack, losing consistently. Sometimes he would bet so late, he had a deal worked out with a favorite teller whereby he could call out a bet from a good distance away and still get it registered, having pre-tipped the ticket-puncher for the service. You learned from this guy of the extreme values of two things, dyed in the cheap Polyester losers, for one, and the advisability of watering as late as possible, for the other. I saw Perry Mason chased off horses he loved by race track irregulars who couldn't correctly predict the replay. He believed that the only reason to bet early was if you were about to be hauled off to jail. He won money by listening to losers. Bud either loved to bet drunk, or he had to. He drank more than Budweiser. The more he drank, the more he wagered. Drinking gave him the courage to see and bet long shots. He hit some. But after nailing a big one, he would bet a fat part of the profit on the next race, be it a live quarter horse race featuring maiden mummies, or a cheap claiming race at Timbuktu Downs. Had somebody sat on Bud after he hit a nice payoff, he would have saved a fortune; but maybe he didn't want to do that. Horse used the race track or simulcast joint the way Jackie Gleason used a pool table: to hustle. Rather than pick against a full field, Horse, as in the basketball game H-o-r-s-e, would go one-on-one, cross-betting with players who didn't believe that handicapping beyond the obvious was a skill. Cross-betting involves two people going head to head in picking winners or making bets. Through cross-betting against chokers, it was possible to earn great sums of money without picking a winner: you ran third, he or she ran fourth, you win. All you had to do was beat a sucker. Doc handicapped off the program. Period. Sometimes. He specialized in diagnosing inexpensive claiming races with the eyeball method, looking for, and avoiding, horses with front wraps. To Doc, front wraps, particularly first time front wraps, was like a neon light on the saddlecloth that said: Not 100 percent healthy. He was fond of boxing cheap horses without wrappings. He won regularly. True, front wraps aren't always aimed at holding a horse together for a few furlongs. Possibly, in the sneaky claim game, front wraps could be used for effect. But Doc was a parade fan nonetheless. Pinocchio always had the winner. The $5 double? Had it. The $5,000 tri? Had it. He had so many winners (after ticket cashing time), it was hard to figure why he always wore the same corduroy jacket, even when it was steaming outside. A lack of live racing action, outside of the spa scene, has greatly reduced the population of race track characters, that, and death, taxes, rehab and home wagering giveaways. Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.