Commentary

Flops

Updated: September 10, 2012, 4:11 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

I stopped by the horse race outlet for a relaxing interlude of some sport and a nutritious juice drink and some nachos and freshly squeezed fake cheese and watched in amazement as a jockey flopped on an animal destined for nature walks.

Flopping started in soccer, as guys with one name would fly backward through the air as though electrocuted, or drop to the pitch as though stunned, and flop around like flounders. Nobody recovers like a soccer flopper, not even a professional wrestler. Flopping for dollars was so successful in soccer that NBA players picked up on the con and began flying backwards through the air at the touch of a little finger, as though in a wind tunnel. Pro basketball flopping has reached such epidemic proportions that bad-acting rules are now possible.

The horse racing equivalent to soccer flopping is when a jockey acts like he was taken out of the race by a misbehaving animal or rider. The quintessential jockey flopper stands suddenly as though he had been coming full speed upon the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Jockey flopping is sometimes seen as a rider trying to make an excuse for poor planning. How could a soccer coach get mad at a mid-right-fielder, or was it a center-rear-defender, when he or she was writhing around like a cobra had struck a kneecap? How could a horse trainer or an owner become irate with a rider who was cut off at the pass just as he or she had been preparing to bust out of a crowded scene? Could a football coach scream at a just-beaten cornerback screeching out in alleged agony?

The flopper in this instance was on something like parade stock. The flopper himself had been on so few horses near the lead, you would have thought that most of his flopping experience had come from trying to bluff his way up from eighth to seventh.

The flopper was at the rail and acted as though he was a stunt man on a cowboy movie set that featured cheap theatrics.

The flopper stood up and slowed his horse, which didn't need much help in that regard.

"They'll take that other one down," somebody said.

The other one was the one I had.

The other one had not appeared to have done a thing out of the ordinary except marvel at the flopper's gall.

If anything, the other one, mine, broke stride slightly. Some drifter on the outside went past. We regained our composure and picked up speed and raced for the finish line, nailing the one who had inherited the lead.

Or so it seemed.

"The outside one won it," somebody said.

"They're taking the inside one down anyway," somebody else said.

If there's one thing people who can't pick anything enjoy more than finding money on the floor of the men's room, it's hoping against somebody who made a good bet.

"Mister Ed flopped," I said. "Nobody is taking anybody down. And my inside horse won."

Most cameras are up the track from the finish line and favor inside horses. Most outside horses that appear to have won a close one didn't.

Sure enough, moments after this fiasco had ended unofficially, red lights began flashing: The flopper had claimed that he had been interfered with, and the Photo light was on.

Jockey claims are like a coach's claim in football, many are wishful thinking. But when a coach claims that the referee has missed a call, and is wrong, he is penalized a time out. And you only get so many football claims per game. In football, the body of judges is often seen pouring over video material up in the booth. In horse racing, who knows what actually happens in the Steward's Den and Spa. The public image of a steward is of some 75-year old guy having a glass of the bubbly and wondering where he left his binoculars and Wall Street Journal.

I once had a beef over a lot of money after a steward's questionable decision, and I waited for the man outside the track simply to find out what he had seen that I hadn't. This was the last time I ever saw STEWARD spray-painted on a parking spot outside the track. He had a nice late-model car by the way. When I asked the Steward why he had taken a particular action, he got on his cell phone and probably dialed somebody in a uniform and turned and walked back to the race track.

In a perfect horse racing world, stewards would be made available for questioning after the races to a responsible press and a mannerly public. In a half-baked and mostly-broke world, the mixing of the stewards and the masses is a pipe dream, with the racing officials probably leaving some venues in disguises after particularly touchy decisions.

Here's what happened this time: The red light for the flopper's folly was left on far too long, giving more losers time to root against me. I bet one drunk fifty that my horse would not be taken down. I had to push this no account out of my face. I told him that since he couldn't handicap horses, at least he had now found something that gave him a five percent chance to win. The bet was upped to a hundred dollars. I bet somebody else forty that I had won the Photo.

Of course the flopper's fantasy was disallowed. Whereas he should have been taken down and sent to night school, he wasn't. And I lost the race by less than a whole nose. I won the hundred side bet on who would or wouldn't be taken down, but the loudmouth only had some of it on him, the surprise there is that he had any of it. I lost $40 I bet on the race, plus $40 with the half-drunk.

"How'd you do at the races?"

"Won twenty."

"Why aren't you in a better mood?"

"The usual."

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.