Commentary

Cleaning house

Updated: October 6, 2008, 7:06 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The Breeders' Cup goes Oct. 24 and 25 at Santa Anita and offers a welcome relief from the shysters, dopers, whiners and complainers who populate other sports.

Time was, the horse race track was a shadowy place where characters of a dubious nature gathered to try to hoodwink somebody before they could be skinned, themselves.

Even as recently as the Soprano run, when Tony went to the track, you wondered who was going to wind up pushing up cacti.

But such is the case no more, at least, not entirely.

We -- we in this case representing our favored sport of horse racing, and horse race handicapping -- have, for sure during Breeders' Cup time, gone uptown, gone righteous, gone Hollywood, gone greenish, gone legit, gone mild, and are thinking about going to Kansas City with what we win at the windows. Steroids, begone! Give us the holidays, and we'll have the whip thing worked out; this time next year, jockeys could be urging horses onward with feather dusters. This year's Breeders' Cup will be contested on Whatchamacallit Turf, an artificial surface that is hoped to have a mind of its own when it comes to fairness and safeness. What's next? Stay tuned. Perhaps one day somebody will throw some crumbs at the horse players. It's a dream worth having.

As college football picks a winner through an elitist and biased coronation, and as the goal of the Ultimate Fighting Championship seems to be in smashing a poor schmuck's eyeballs back into his brain, and as officiating in football reaches epically horrific proportions (but no interviews allowed!), and as the NBA returns to regular season play after what amounts to a long weekend off, horse racing settles its issues fair and square, ovally speaking.

The 2008 Breeders' Cup has been divided into a two-day situation to give horse players the opportunity to win twice as much money as is normally the case, with female horses putting up the big numbers Friday, the males the next day.

Going into this Cup, some have had great difficulty picking not only the winners of turf races, but also anything else coming across on the grass. Odds on grass races are not written in chalk, somebody blows them in smoke. The turf has a way of bringing world-class horses to a common point about 100 yards from the finish line. From there, it's anybody's guess. Stop a Breeders' Cup turf race as they straighten out for the run home and it's even money you still couldn't hit the Exacta given a three-horse box. Turf tri payoffs of a thousand bucks, what happened, the favorites run one-two?

Good, old American dirt, or better still, mud, has always been the skillful handicapper's winning ticket home from the Breeders' Cup. Rain tends to dumb down the average handicapper. Last year at the Monsoon at Monmouth, I hit so many that I almost felt guilty, but not quite.

But this time, with wild and crazy grass being the easiest handicapping surface, many think that payoffs will make previous Breeders' Cup IRS-window payoffs seem lightweight by comparison.

Whatchamacallit Turf is said to remind the handicapper of a turf race wager made when he or she has had way too much to drink: sometimes you can't believe your eyes or your pocketbook.

Complicating matters this fall, the Americans have been defeating the great European horses on grass, while the horses from overseas have been adapting well to pretend dirt.

I am studying make-believe dirt races intently, and though I am unable at the moment to hit the broad side of a barn from the inside, will keep you posted of insight, should any develop.

As far as cleaning up horse racing goes, some took it literally and got rid of the actual dirt.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.