Commentary

We're so sorry

Updated: February 18, 2008, 5:51 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Attention horseplayers. Please go stand over in the smoky corner by the mold and mildew. Now, if the rest of the gamblers will follow me, we'll have a complimentary lunch surrounded by champagne and junior suites, free for the weekend.

That's us, the unattended, the unfortunate, the chilled -- the horseplayer.

Somehow over the course of the evolution of the wager, horseplayers have turned into pansies, marshmallows, sad sacks, wimps, milquetoasts; Mr. Cellophane, as the song from "Chicago," goes, walk right by me, see right through me; and nobody even knows our names.

Park where?

Way the devil over there, behind the horse barns?

Pay how much?

Five bucks?

With no security cameras.

No lighting?

No drainage?

And once inside, pay how much for general admission?

Pay how much for a program?

Sit at a TV screen that last saw Windex how many months ago?

Put your feet on a floor mopped when?

Use a restroom with a light or two out?

Which steward made that lousy judgment?

Touch a wagering machine screen with multiple stains on it?

The ATM machine is busted?

Watch my language or you'll what, you'll call a sheriff's deputy?

OK.

You know about the only thing horseplayers get free? Maybe a tote. Maybe a Beach Boy (singular) concert some Sunday in the infield. And advice is free.

No matter how badly we're treated, we won't write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper. We won't call a political representative or the Better Business Bureau. We just slink off and sit quietly so management can get fatter off us.

Speaking of newspapers, some of them actually refuse to run entries and results from local or nearby horse race tracks. These are the same newspapers that run big stories and results about stuff like bowling, and the Daytona 500, which isn't even a sport. The definition of a sport is something that cannot be won during a time out. When an actual sport transpires, participants rest after time has been called. At matters like the Daytona 500, you can make up enormous deficits during a time out. The first three-quarter span of the Daytona 500 is similar to the first three-quarter segment of a game in the NBA matching Seattle and Sacramento. Ho-hum. All you have to do to stay in contention at Daytona is hang back and cruise for an hour and a half. The last thirty minutes, Bumper Car Derby starts. Set your alarm for the last 10 laps. This time at Daytona, one car pushed another car to victory! Tag-team car wrestling, you have to love the last quarter hour of a NASCAR rumble.

Why are horseplayers treated like second-class gamblers?

Probably because we'll take it.

What is to be done about it?

1. Complain.

2. Give the offender no money.

3. Give the offender as little money as possible.

Once after a steward made a decision that appeared debatable and cost me plenty, I asked for the pleasure or displeasure of the man's company for a moment. First, I went to track management. Track management being in his or her office, being available to customers, during a live meet? You must be joshing. Track management must have been in a private place. Like up in the penthouse with the stewards, sipping tea and crumpets. Next I asked track security for a moment with the steward who might have cost me a bundle. Though this security didn't appear to know what a steward was, I was given the standard loyal horseplayer response, keep moving pal, if you want to stay in the joint. I went so far as to search for a back staircase up to the steward's lair, finding only locked doors.

Stewards don't park out behind the goats. Stewards park a hop, skip and a pirouette from a private employees-only door. On this occasion I waited half the night for the steward to show. Somebody must have heard that I wanted to write a big story about his goofy call; somebody must have given him a ride home because he never showed at his fancy parking spot. Guess what. The next meet, the steward's private spot had been moved and where ever it was, it was offered incognito.

If somebody won't publish what I deserve to see, I might call an advertiser and say that I will now shop elsewhere.

At some places where horseplayers are treated with particular insignificance, I might get a stick and fish around for a used program rather than pay $2 or $3 for a cheaply mimeographed issue, even with a grand in my pocket.

We must do our part to improve the breed.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.