Commentary

The whole iceberg

Updated: August 27, 2007, 5:26 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The best time to talk to a trainer is when you want to talk about training. Talk to an owner about owning. If you want to talk handicapping, talk to yourself.

Some trainers and owners seem to know too much about horses to pick winners consistently.

I had lunch with a trainer of thoroughbreds during a day of races recently. Here's what he knew about horses: everything. An X-ray usually confirmed his suspicious. This was how many strong opinions a horseman seems to have about fellow trainers and owners and riders: one million.

At lunch, the trainer kept saying of horses:

"Look there."

I kept saying:

"Look where?"

"There."

"Where?"

"There!"

"Oh."

Look there:

A muscle that was sore.

A leg that was fractionally crooked.

The hint of a limp.

A jockey who shouldn't be allowed on a donkey.

An owner who had more money than horse sense.

Too old, the horse and the rider.

Too dull, the horse and the connections.

Trainers seem to recall all that they've seen on a track: See that rider? Los Alamitos. Nineteen eighty-four. December 19. Jockey yawned when they opened the gate, cost us a big win.

A unique element of most contemporary sports is that the inmates (the viewers) frequently know more about picking winners than many of the principals. We don't know more than certain NBA (National Betting Association) refs. But honest people, they're like parents with kids on a ball field or on a spelling stage. They don't always see beyond what's theirs. A former NFL coach might know what makes a great pro center. But pick a winner? Fifty-fifty.

It's TV: Experts and professionals are too busy earning a living. We get to see more games and races. It's like the weather on television. The meteorological industry has done such a good job educating us, all I need is Doppler radar on my screen, some bonehead storm chaser nipping at a twister's heels, and calling in with live reports, and a large Jamba Juice. The local meteorologists can go on home.

Trainers know everything about their animals, and most everything about the trainers of the rest of the entries in the gate -- most times, they seem to know more about opposing trainers than the opposing horses. The way all the experiences add up daily, how could there not be an information overload?

Most trainers I know are emotional, even those who appear calm. A nervous tic here, a knot in the jaw there, trainers are usually solid indicators of the state of a horse about to race. More trainer interviews on TV, please. You can't hide trouble. It helps to see which trainer is on her or his toes.

Lots of television experts hang tight with owners and trainers. This could account for picking slumps. Racing and picking make for strange barn-fellows. Connections may know the game, but not who will win.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com