Listening to the losers

When things go from bad to ugly at the track, Jay has a group of friends he always turns to

Updated: February 15, 2006, 11:42 AM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The gift that keeps on giving is somebody who can't pick winners.

Too often, people who couldn't hit their backsides with a rolled-up Form are avoided as though they were bad luck -- they're talked about, laughed at -- they're popular but are seldom consulted.

Ignoring somebody who can't pick winners is like asking that the names of all jockeys and trainers be removed from your Racing Form and program.

A bad picker can be an asset, a hot tip that is actually worth something.

Here?s an example of what I mean.

Several days ago, I spent six hours at the horse races and was behind $50. It was an afternoon during which winning a bet was hard work, or, in other words, a day at the track like any other. Picking a winner requires a knack, discipline, luck, smarts, and more discipline. To win over the course of a difficult afternoon, you have to demonstrate patience and a satisfaction with small favors. Some days at the gambling house you have to be content with a few bucks of profit. Once you have won big and have taken home thousands of dollars, it's tough to be content to park and walk and spend money on supplies and bad food and gamble for hours on end and quit ahead $19.

It?s why I like bets that involve the picking of winners of more than one race.

The bad psychology of horse-race gambling has to do with wanting more.

I usually feel that bets involving the picking of winners of two or more races takes as much of the bad psychology from horse race gambling as is possible. After playing a Double or a Pick Three through a Pick Six, you have a seat, you win or you lose and then you go home. Trying to pick winners is a positive endeavor. Raking a field for silly seconds or teetering thirds focuses on failure. Trying to pick three winners in a row sounds like better mental health than mucking around in your average Tri.

Successful gambling is built around an edge.

Some people have a magical ability to miss winners.

The other day, down $50, plus this, that and the other, everything was starting to look the same, which is a bad place to be at the horse races, unless you're looking at people.

There, across the room, were three men who had been missing them with remarkable consistency for as long as I had been coming here to bet, eight years, ten. Two guys who couldn't pick a lick were at one table, pouring over the Form, exchanging notes, Lord, all they had to do to win was the opposite of all they had done before; and the other man who loved deep closers off big wins in cheap claiming races was in a corner by himself, same as always.

How can people lose day in and day out and continue to come to the horse races and lose some more?

First of all, they don't bet much. And sometimes they'll hit a few. They'll hit some Quinellas and some places and shows. But when it comes to picking winners, I have a three-year-old male black and white English springer spaniel who could lift a rear leg and hit more first-place finishers on a spread-out Form, guaranteed.

I do not mean to belittle or mock people who are terrible handicappers.

But upon occasion, when one horse looks as lousy as the next eight, it is a waste of a natural resource to let certain opinions go untapped.

You never see anybody go 13-1 or 14-0 in a football pool. But I have seen several 1-13 marks this season, and one 0-14, defying odds of more than 16,000 to miss them all against the point spread.

The people who lose a lot of winners are frequently victims of the obvious.

On this afternoon, the men in the corner mentioned four of them in a nine-horse field. I boxed the other five in a dollar Exacta package. This is a quirky boxing technique to be sure. But I know a retired man who boxes horses without front wraps in cheap claiming races and makes money.

The horse they didn't like ran 1-2-5.

I took home $19 profit.

This experience leaves me feeling like I am capable of winning a lot later.

Sometimes you have to work for gifts.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com