Commentary

Summertime fun

With the heat of summer comes the fun of handicapping at the smaller tracks

Updated: June 17, 2013, 4:04 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Some horse players take a break after the Triple Crown races.

To the more adventurous, the Triple Crown races were a break. Now it's time to get back to work to what amounts to a part-time job, to handicapping horse races where the jewels don't shine: It's time to grind out some money at smaller track racing.

The time between the Triple Crown races and the Breeder's Cup might be called Plodding or Weaving across America.

These aren't the dog days of summer. They're the underdog days of summer where players might not know what will show up on the tote board, even after a race has started.

Smaller track racing is a stable named for the elderly relative who passed on and left somebody the start-up money. It's fair-type racing, bring an aluminum chair racing. It's earthy, beer-belly racing. Give the jockey a leg up and three aspirin.

These aren't the dog days of summer. They're the underdog days of summer where players might not know what will show up on the tote board, even after a race has started.

Home wagering has revolutionized summertime horse action.

All you lose sitting in front of computers at home are guaranteed bad picks from simulcast characters, otherwise known as atmosphere. What you gain is a cornucopia of knowledge such as where a potential sinkhole on the track is apt to be.

At mainstream tracks, the impossible only happens several times per race card. At smaller tracks, the impossible runs in stable clusters: If one horrific race horse can win at big odds, so might the next three or four from the same barn and cast of characters.

The key to summertime racing fun is patience. It's why retired people do so well wagering on horses. For them, it's either studying the racing territory or Shakespeare in the park. At smaller tracks in the underdog days of summer, sometimes you sit quietly through days of racing without making a bet, waiting for something to leap or wobble off the Form at you.

The single most shocking aspect of smaller track racing is the utter inadequacy of certain rides around wide ovals in the road. Like the local TV people, there's usually a good reason why local riders are local. It's not always because they love the people and the puppy dogs and the climate. Sometimes local people are local because of the level of skill on display. Not all local jockeys have stopwatches in their heads. Some might have only throbbing pain in their heads.

Sometimes at a mixed and mixed up summertime meet, you will see quarter horses and thoroughbreds compete in the same race, usually a four-furlong event. There's nothing quite like watching a quarter horse attempt a left turn for the first time. It's like trying to turn a dragster.

A smaller track race is not over until the tote board says it's over.

Here's something I saw on a smaller race track in the summertime. It was a race for Arabians. An Arabian has a distinguished arched head, like the chess piece, and a tail carried high. The race was a test of endurance, round and round the track. Arabians as I know them aren't what you would call quick. An Arabian in this race, the one on which I had a wager, had something like a 15 to 20-length lead. And then it turned for home and simply stopped. The race description line in the past performances would have read: "Stopped. Really. Then started up again." After the horse stopped, the jockey tried all manner of urging short of getting off and pulling the animal down the stretch, which sounds illegal. The maneuver that got the horse running again was a hopping-forward movement by the jockey that seemed to irritate the animal so much that it began ambling once more toward the finish where, five yards from pay dirt, it was passed by one going at about the speed of a Tennessee Walker.

Saratoga and Del Mar memories come more reserved.