Commentary

Long gone

Updated: November 11, 2013, 4:50 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

By definition, long shots are almost comical in their past performances.

Hitting a $40 exacta brings you back to the game for a week. Hitting a 10-1 winner brings you back a month. Hitting a long shot brings you back for years.

Whats great about trying to find a long shot is you dont need to bet much.

I still recall my first $100 horse. It occurred at a small track. Small tracks are where impossibilities go to sharpen their games. A friend of mine had some cheap claiming horses and got to pal around with the local trainers, a group of fried-food gobbling, grammar-bending rascals who had more predictable form than their horses. My friend went into the cheap claiming industry like something of a bumpkin and came out like a lord of Flatbush; a tough racket, entry-level horse racing. One day at the races, my friend said we should play a horse that looked something like the one that Lee Marvin sat in Cat Ballou. Lee Marvin and his horse were drunks in that movie. The most famous picture from the film is of Marvin on the horse, the both of them leaning against a building. The horse that my friend said we needed to bet had live eyes, the rest was rough around the edges. His most recent loss had been measured in football fields. He hadnt won in months. But a horse with worse form had won a week ago for the same trainer, and at a higher price. My friends handicapping point was that cheap claiming long shots often cropped up more than once in the same barns. A nice way of putting it was certain training habits could be contagious.

This one sped from the gate as though promised a month off and got so far ahead, the kid jockey, having never been so lucky, had trouble staying on the horses back and neck.

At most tracks, a common cheer is, Come on baby.

At this place, it was, Dont fall off.

The horse that couldnt win, won, proving that things that make no sense are not automatic handicapping negatives.

Horses are only a part of the long shot deal.

Whats great about trying to find a long shot is you dont need to bet much.

Everybody knows youll probably lose what you made on the $40 exacta payoff.

Long shot money is sacred. Its like the first dollar a person earned at a new business.

To get some of the long shot money, it helps to attend the live races. One of the best long shot tips I have ever gotten was sent a few weeks ago by a handicapper who noticed a change in the physical form of certain trainers. When trainers who usually looked like something the cat dragged out came to the races scrubbed and ironed and looking sharp, it could mean that they were ready for their close-ups in the winners circle. So next time at the paddock, look for over-dressed trainers. Most trainers are pretty lousy handicappers. But they do know when their horses are ready to run much faster than last time.

Long shot winners always follow change.

The biggest winner over Breeders Cup weekend occurred in the marathon and involved a change in countries and racing surfaces, as a horse from England won over dirt. Change that requires a big expense, like shipping a horse halfway around the world, is always worth a long shot players dollar.

The long shot players lament is: I cant believe I put so much stock in the recent results.

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