Commentary

A second job

Updated: August 19, 2013, 3:21 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Horse racing comes down to picking winners.

It's not the quicker-paced gambles that chase people away from the horse races. You want to lose faster? It's not the price of admission. It's not the quality of the product. It's not a lack of coverage. It's not the danger. It's not the two-bite diets imposed on the jockeys. It's not the nasty house skim. It's not an absence of excitement. It's not the occasional crook.

Here's what makes the Cowboys plus two points versus the Redskins look appealing, here's what makes even the diabolical slots look like cherry Sundays: It's hard to win at horse racing.

That's on an average day.

On a lousy day, the best thing you might have going for you is what health you have.

Bad days at the horse races are caused by freaky winners.

Bad days at the horse races are caused by freaky winners. Here's who has those 40-1 shots that nobody normal could find, even betting with somebody else's money: People down a fortune. People who won't hit another big one for months. People who punch the "all" button. People who play numbers and names based on personal histories.

Has finding winners suddenly become more difficult?

Or has the average horse player been trapped by a spinoff of instant gratification, instant need? Winning two hundred won't help. Winning two thousand might help a little. Outside of going to work in a bolts and nuts factory and going in with 17 co-workers and hitting a $300 million lottery, there's a grind involved with developing wagering skulls.

The only easy way to big money is nutty luck.

How can the experts who wrote the books on the games of horse racing analyzing and handicapping not pick winners? And there you are out there with a beer and a Form, watching a 40-1 fantasy keep the lead all the way around.

Maybe the so-called experts need more money as well.

You don't see any books called, "How to Make One Hundred Bucks at the Horse Races."

Here's a bestseller: "How to Get Even."

Here are some thoughts about getting even.

You have to handle impossible 40-1 winners in one of two ways. You have to luck onto one. Or you have to absorb the loss, thinking of it like another tariff or a lost billfold. The occasional impossible winner is simply the price you pay to get at the dumb money. Impossible winners show up less frequently in great races at big-time tracks. But there's a catch. At those showplaces, many races look like eight-horse photos waiting to happen.

It's natural to write off big payoffs as impossible winners. But plenty of cheap long shots actually show faint signs of life upon further review. The best way to catch an unlikely winner is by playing the right ticket. It's amazing how many dogs you can collar on a 50-cent Pick 4 ticket. Did you know that lots of people play lots of short priced horses on 50-cent Pick 4 tickets? It's true. It's why we play the game.

The best way to restore a semblance of reasonableness to the game is by focusing on one track. All tracks and their inhabitants create personalities and trends. By playing the multiple-win tickets, the doubles and pick-3s and 4s, and by searching for clues to victory among the same yahoos and soft rails and betting tendencies, you can begin to understand, or even read, their minds. The fewer minds the better. And there's this proven handicapping aid that is guaranteed to limit close calls, if you're any good.

Bet more.

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