Commentary

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Updated: January 23, 2008, 5:44 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

On Jan. 19, 2008, the thoroughbred race track at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., produced the following win prices on the nine-race card:

$20.00.
$100.80.
$31.80.
$16.80.
$27.60.
$14.00.
$7.00.
$38.80.
$51.20.

Seldom-used lights on the tote board shone brightly.

Prices like this happen for very predictable reasons, the chief reason being: Early in a meet, with horses converging from all directions, and with workout and layoff patterns best described as quirky, and with a track bias up in the air, the wagering public couldn't hit itself in the backside with rolled-up past performances. If you're uncomfortable with going directly to a long shot in the Form, at least do yourself a favor by avoiding fake favorites.

And if you simply can't bring yourself to put five bucks, real money, on a 30-1 shot, enter a handicapping tournament and see if that will improve your courage.

You can find a horse-handicapping tournament at many tracks and simulcast venues, the central theme being, the most play money wins the real money. True, usually you have to put up actual money to enter. But there's a big difference in handing over a hundred-dollar bill, and in writing 100 on a card or a computer screen.

Handicapping tournaments are so popular, how-to books are written about them. Here's how-to: Get your head out of the chalk and into the clouds. Going by the handicapping tournaments I have entered, winners have long shots in common.

How do you get to a $50 or $100 horse from here?

1. Keep your personality out of it.

Conservative people have a tough time playing 1-for-50 non-winners of two; or even 10-1 horses that figure.

If you can't overcome your nature, buy stock.

2. Note improving horses.

Even a tiny up-tick in a Beyer, say, from a 1 to 4, can mean better times are coming.

3. Watch for Trainers Gone Wild videos.

Inexplicable winners generally run in groups from the same stable.

4. Have an open mind when looking for excuses.

I once found (or invented) excuses for the last eight races lost by a $5,000 claimer, which then won for $60.

5. Embrace a track bias.

Check all How-To horse racing books out of the library, and bet the $25 you would have risked on a purchase of the tome.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com

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