Commentary

Seriously

Updated: January 14, 2008, 4:36 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The unfunny and unentertaining side to horse racing is when you go broke gambling.

You probably won't hear anything at the Eclipse Awards next week about losing your shirts and shorts at the races. The only mention of getting skinned is as an afterthought sometimes seen at the back of a racing program, something like: If you're losing your funds and your mind gambling, call this number for assistance.

Gamblers Anonymous doesn't seem to be one of the more cinematic rehabs. Nobody on "Masterpiece Theater" meets at Gamblers Anonymous and weds. I once wrote a movie scene about a Gamblers Anonymous meeting being robbed, and it was tossed aside for being just too depressing.

As the deadline approaches for deciding whether to put the income tax money on a Derby future book pick, this seems as good a time as any to review the psychology of betting on horses.

Picking winners consistently is something of a creative endeavor. You have to decide on whom to bet, and how much to put down. So do wagering decisions come from being talented or experienced? The answer is probably a little of both. As successful hitters need a good eye to deal with the curveball, so too do the best handicappers have an eye for the small circle of winners. Any pinhead can memorize poker odds. The interpretation of the numbers is the knack that wins. Same with horse racing: Some people are better than others at picking winners because of the way they think.

As is the case with other acts wherein a creative spirit is rewarded, you don't have to come to horse racing all blessed. You can learn to get a little creative. It's like writing and reporting. Writing is somewhat natural. You can learn to report well. And you can learn to win at the horse races.

First, you quit losing.

It has been my experience to note (and note) that people with gambling problems seldom lose it all on one game. Most losers are triple threats at least, football, horses, casinos, then it's on to the night. So if all you do is lose at horse racing, the possibility exists that you are lousier at picking winners than you are self-destructive.

Here are some suggestions about how you might stop losing:

1. Stop betting so much. See, already you're not losing as much as was previously the case. Spreading around a little money in hopes of winning a lot is handicapping; betting a ton on chalky propositions is gambling.

2. Stop making the same mistakes. Here's how:

3. Make notes. Record every bet, thoughts as well. You're less likely to repeat mistakes if you're aware of them. Also, good times have patterns. Writing your business down is appreciated by everybody from the IRS to shrinks.

4. Handicap races without betting, just watch. You see races much differently, depending on whether you have bet. With $100 on a favorite that loses, you're apt to see a conspiracy; just watching a race to learn, incompetence is more obvious. The Eclipse Award for the horseplayer of the year will be presented to the one who goes to the races more often and bets less.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com