Managing what's left of your money

Updated: November 5, 2005, 6:09 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

After the Breeders Cup, who couldn't stand some sound money management technique.

The Breeders Cup is less about horse handicapping and more about numerology. Gambling is about finding an edge. The Breeders Cup is about throwing out the horses from the coast farthest away, then playing what's left with your home area code. Handicapping the average Breeders Cup race is like betting big the first hand of blackjack out of a shoe. It's fun. There's a lot of luck involved.

After a full day of Merv Griffin and perfectly bred horses, a real horse handicapper cannot wait to get to a $5,000 claiming race.

Playing the Breeders Cup lottery and then opening the Form to Great Lakes is like swinging a weighted bat in the on-deck circle: suddenly, horses wear tape, jockeys limp, trainers spit tobacco; suddenly, the game makes sense again.

Usually, money management talk has to do with taking cash out of one pocket and putting it into a shoe, figuratively speaking -- it's about proceeding guardedly. The very phrase money management suggests frugality. If you asked 100 horse players to match money management with an appropriate definition, the survey would say:

Proceed with caution, 60 percent.

Stick with a budget, 30 percent.

Never heard of the phrase, 10 percent.

I have an idea that the most graphic examples of lousy money management take place at the bottom of the wagering spectrum.

Who among us hasn't seen somebody who almost hit a $5,000 Superfecta? Most of us have seen somebody who almost hit a big Superfecta today. Near-miss talk isn't like had-the-long-shot talk, where any evidence had vanished by the time you heard it. Near-miss talk can be backed up with tickets. An absolutely amazing true-fact angle of near misses on an exotic wagering ticket is that the close calls are measured in inches. Horse players don't miss a $5,000 Super by a length and a half. They miss the high-dollar multi-horse exotic payoffs by hairs.

I have, on this very day, seen approximately $150 worth of $1 and $2 Tri and Super tickets wagered over five races which, but for several average-sized human feet worth of difference, would have paid more than $50,000.

A friend of mine made these bets and, on three Supers, one of which would have paid him more than $15,000, had all four horses that paid off, but in the incorrect order.

On one Tri ticket, he had a $50 winner on top, then the next two reversed on a two-buck ticket.

Taken in the context in which the bets were made, which was within a four-hour period, these close-call losing tickets belong framed and under glass in the Horse Race Wagering Chamber of Unequalled Tragedy.

I have never seen so many cheap tickets that came so close to paying so much.

They were arranged in a neat row for my viewing and consideration, and would be saved as receipts in case the IRS decided to say hey. Any auditor seeing these tickets next to the official order of finishes and payoffs would close the case there and then.

Coming within inches of a lot of money is not an isolated event at the horse races. But it's a malady for which there is a simple cure, a quick fix: Bet more.

If you can't give yourself a reasonable chance to win, don't bet. After looking at my friend's Super tickets, I would submit that a good rule of thumb is that if you can't afford to box your four Super horses, buy a scratch-off lottery ticket at the gas station instead.