Commentary

Beautiful mistakes

Updated: January 21, 2013, 5:38 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

So there I was, sitting at the computer, watching some races and listening to some people speak beautifully about various horse of the year categories, then proceed to handicap the upcoming sprint on this particular broadcast.

A man and a woman were serving as experts.

The next race was a maiden claiming event at six furlongs.

The woman fancied herself as a post parade expert and spoke knowingly of the way a particular animal "carried his flesh." The male used fine grammar and mentioned that he really liked two of the horses in this race, a first-time starter in the second post position, and a horse with but average speed in the 11-spot. And I thought just wait a second here. Inside an avalanche, near the rail, was not the most advantageous post position for a first-time starter. And toward the outside with average speed, thanks anyhow. And as far as carrying flesh went, that sounded like a description for a European jumping horse. So I made use of this expertise in the best way possible, running lines through every single horse mentioned by the TV pickers, eliminating three that couldn't have outrun my male black and white English springer spaniel, boxing the rest in some dollar bets, and hitting the exacta and tri, thanks people, for being yourselves.

Horse racing has many odd ducks as regulars, all with some charm or redeeming value, because it takes money to hang around.

One of the most puzzling characters to frequent any athletic endeavor is the horse race expert who speaks eloquently and knowingly about the game, but can't pick winners. Tune in any day and there he or she is, explaining exactly why a horse should win. Then it runs sixth. This person is usually a regular on a show at a track or on a racing channel, has a great voice and good clothes, knows all the lingo, and appears to have unlimited access to the best trainers, riders and owners.

The knowledgeable expert says all the right-sounding things when it comes to evaluating training routine and track bias histories. Foreign sires and connections are pronounced perfectly. Lunch was probably taken with a Hall of Fame trainer last week. Everybody at the Eclipse Awards knows them. They know how a race is apt to set up, how a field is due to unfold, which of the riders is hot.

And still they can't pick a winner.

Horse racing is a beautiful activity in its own right, the elements of power and dexterity and danger showing themselves at every turn. But without wagering, horse racing is polo. It is dressage. It's pretty. Now can we go?

The questions hovering over the expert's box at the track is this: How can so many TV and print celebrities watch thousands upon thousands of horse races and still not be able to pick a winner? How can they make the same sucker bets, letting odds set by dunces put them on losers? How can they still think that the farther a horse runs, the better it will close? How can they think that the outside post in a sprint is a bad place for jet speed?

It's probably computer picks doing a lot of the damage.

We have at out disposal a tremendous resource, the race track people who know a lot but can't pick a thing.

There's a lot to be learned from mistakes.

Learning from the mistakes of others is free.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.