Commentary

Quarter for your thoughts

Updated: July 8, 2013, 3:47 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Sometimes you have to handicap a quarter horse race to get at a Daily Double or a Pick 3 that involves thoroughbreds.

For some reason at mixed breed meets in the summer, quarter horse and thoroughbred races are alternated.

In most major markets, quarter horse racing is considered to be a level below a $5,000 thoroughbred claiming event.

In most major markets, quarter horse racing is considered to be a level below a $5,000 thoroughbred claiming event. It's thought by many to be a remote field where trainers like Mr. Lukas started, shaved and showered, and moved on to thoroughbreds. It's thought to be a country cousin to metro racing.

But quarter horse winners don't pay off with wooden nickels and seem to bring to the windows oddities like more short-money favorites and long shot winners than their thoroughbred counterparts. When quarter horses don't run to form, it often happens in a big way, $2.80 to win here, $82 to win there.

There's a family-style feel to quarter horse racing  put the aluminum folding chairs in the back and let's go win a State Fair trophy. At any gathering of quarter horse racers, you see a lot of owner-trainer-hot walker-nursemaid, triple-slash outfits. Tight jeans, cowboy hats and big belt buckles are standard apparel.

Certain handicapping elements carry over from thoroughbreds to quarter horses.

Bias matters. In quarter horse races, bias usually has to do with the rail and outermost gate. A few years back, the outside quarter horse slot at Remington Park in Oklahoma City was like trying to run through the LaBrea Tar Pits. Fourths and Fifths at Remington readily translated into big firsts most elsewhere else. A program and a beer was all you needed. The rail can be so deep and restrictive at some quarter horse sites, the gate has to be moved out a few yards.

Angles to help eliminate thought are sought at the quarter horse races, same as is the case with all gambles. Playing the horses in the gates next to a fast breaker would seem to make some sense in the hope that the neighboring animals might benefit from a rocket's wake in the exacta payoff. Avoiding a short-price horse next to a bucking bronco has merit.

Since they all looked wired, and who wouldn't, having to start running hard as the gate opens, I have no tips on post parade body language except to say that if a trainer wins with one that can't win, underline his or her name and see what happens with the next dog.

Suffice it to say, the start of a quarter horse race is of the utmost importance. Making up a length is a very big deal. Some quarter horses don't come close to running a quarter of a mile. Some run 250 or 300 yards, the horse equivalent of a drag race. The start of a 300-yard race looks like a race to the breeding suite.

Running once a week in the insane heat of the summer is routine, as attendants wait at the finish with hoses and buckets of water.

Some things that you think should matter at a quarter horse race, don't.

Running right back is one. Running once a week in the insane heat of the summer is routine, as attendants wait at the finish with hoses and buckets of water. That one ran five days ago? So?

Trouble is different at the quarter horse races. There's a lot of flopping among the thoroughbreds, jockeys without a chance to win standing up and howling foul. Here's what will get a quarter horse taken down: biting, trampling, kicking, stomping, stampeding and running perpendicular to the racing surface. Bumping? Grinding? Forget about it.

Really old jockeys sometimes win races, people into their 50's and even 60's. Hanging on must be easier than it looks.

Imagine trying to call a quarter horse race: "They're off. Rocket Bar Cash Jet broke slowly from the rail, the rest of them are lumped together, I quit."

Here are the two most prominent quarter horse calls.

"They're off, here they come, you lose."

"They're off, here they come, it's a photo."

Knock the cobwebs off the binoculars, it's the best way to watch a quarter horse race: Focus on your horse in the gate and say a little prayer.