Commentary

All aboard

Updated: July 21, 2008, 6:22 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Like a seat in front of the Twilight Zone, the ALL button can be your ticket to another dimension.

The ALL button: it can be the trap door of horse racing; the room behind the fake wall in the attic. Play them all and you are transported to a nervous world of chalky nightmares and high-dollar tickets. Play them all and step across the threshold where nothing is as it seemed two minutes ago. The ALL button: Hit it and you're in a zone where 2-5 claiming favorites win photo finishes with three 20-1 shots. The All Button Matrix, welcome to the world where long shots turn to jelly.

The great allure of the ALL button is to put yourself in horse racing's garden spot, the place where you can't lose, the blackjack double-down with you holding eleven to the dealer's five-spot, it's lining a two-iron to within the leather on a big-money Nassau, it's being within a field goal toward winning the over-under number at the half.

Horse racing heaven is to have two ten-dollar winners and the ALL button on a pick three, or a $30 winner with them all on a rolling double.

The ALL button is like the glass over a fire alarm  it is to be used only in cases of emergency.

What's worse: Playing seven of ten horses in a race, and having one you left out beat you? Or playing them all only to have the chalk waltz?

There's a stigma to the ALL button. It's what the drunken lawyers come to play. The ALL strategy is seldom a topic of conversation. It's usually made to a machine in the corner. It's the one big winning ticket you probably wouldn't flash: Favorite, all, all (with the trust fund money), aren't I a genius?

Yet anything that brings you to a conclusion, even if it is confusion, is actual handicapping. If you can't pick a winner, that's more astute than fishing in brackish waters for a value.

There are very few horse races in which any of them appear capable of actually winning. To include three or four horses of the hopeless variety on your ticket, just because you lack confidence, is stupid. If you don't care for short or long horses, play the middle group. Yet missing by three quarters of an inch on a four-figure tri can cause a person to misapply the ALL tool. Don't forget kids, most races are a little different from one another.

The availability of the ALL button can turn a person nutty.

Just last evening, I sat down at a table at the simulcast joint and flipped through a stack of losing tickets left behind by somebody who hard probably moved on to the hard stuff. You think you've made some wacky bets. Get this: Numerous losing bets had been registered at this seat by somebody using the ALL button second in a bunch of $1 trifectas. Four horses, ALL, three horses. One horse, ALL, two horses. I, of course, moved immediately! This desk needed to be sterilized and sanitized by Jinx Busters, the chair destroyed.

So don't automatically scrape aside losing tickets as you take a seat. The losing tickets of another can be very entertaining. Maybe you'll see that you aren't as strange as previously thought, comparatively, anyhow.

Pick second?

All right; and right after we do that, let's do 20 one-armed push-ups.

What could be harder than singling second?

Picking seventh?

Singling second brings creepy analysis to mind. The person had been thinking: Basically, I stink. I can't pick winners. Plus, I am frightfully unlucky. Since I get robbed more than any player on earth, what I'll do now is allow for the evilness that lurks nearby, I'll assume the one I love will get checked and will run second.

The problem is, bad handicappers can't simulate anything, because simulating is handicapping.

Here's one of those unique forms of pain found only at the horse races: singling second, only to have it win, which is like remembering much later that you left your wallet in the men's room.

When do you touch them ALL?

If, on an exotic ticket, you're going to play all but two or three, listen, include everybody. This isn't the bargain basement at Filene's in Boston. This is gambling.

It takes money to stay fairly sane.

Short fields full of competitive runners make the best ALL tickets.

What does it feel like having two double-figure winners and ALL of them pending?

It's like steak and beans on a September evening at the Tetons.

It's a lobster sandwich in Nova Scotia.

It's the Frogmore Stew at the Steamer in Beaufort, S.C.

It's tasty.

A good golf shot brings you back for three more rounds. A big ALL-aided ticket brings you back for three more years, at least.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.