Commentary

Beat this

Updated: July 28, 2008, 5:23 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Mention bad beats and everybody thinks cards, poker -- a third deuce beating your twin spires (aces) and kings -- or perhaps an extra point hitting an upright and bounding off with a second left in the game.

But horse racing is the sacred breeding ground of bad beats.

At cards, losing a 90 percent chance for a win is considered to be a serious challenge to one's sanity. But only at the horse races can a 100 percent chance of winning wind up in the garbage can. A recurring feature of a game of Texas Hold 'Em is the "race," which is similar to the card contest War, when kids flip over pasteboards, highest number wins. At the horse races, sometimes the best doesn't even come close.

In the field of exotic wagering, there are four kinds of beats, in increasing order of intensity: bad (or unlucky) beat; physically harmful (or life-shortening) beat; impossible beat; religious beat.

A comparison of bad card and horse beats puts the suffering in perspective.

Bad card beats can happen to anybody.

Bad horse beats happen only to you.

There is no subjectivity to a bad card beat, it's just numbers.

A bad horse beat can occur as a result of a judgment call from a steward who reminds you of one of those ice skating judges they threw out of the Olympics.

A bad card beat is bad luck.

A bad horse beat is bad karma.

You can gird yourself for a bad card beat.

Bad horse beats can come out of a rainbow.

Bad card beats are about odds.

Bad horse beats are about brains.

Bad card beats combine to form a cottage industry -- on the TV tournaments, there are frequently bad-beat feature stories.

Bad horse beats, you only seem to hear about right here.

There should be a clearing house where stories of tragic losses can be shared because sharing is the first step toward moving ahead to square one.

I'll put my worst horse beat up against any. The only card-game equivalent I can think of would be losing to a drunk's inside draw to a straight flush to beat my straight flush by one number.

My bad, bad, bad horse beat involved key elements of any gambling disaster: great handicapping, perfect money management, apparent wonderful good luck turning to spoiled buttermilk, mid-swallow.

What happened was I hit a big tri that became official, and still lost.

Here's how that can be done.

I purchased a fifty-odd-dollar ticket on a machine and checked all the numbers. You should do that every time, no matter the whining or complaining from those behind in line. Most of those anxious for you to get out of the way so they can make a bet will wager $2 on the favorite to place. I will only hurry up for somebody betting more than I am; sometimes.

All the numbers on this machine-produced ticket were as I had meant for them to be.

This was no easy win, what is, involving three horses. I had the favorite with wacky speed third only on this ticket. Goofy speed always quits, the trick is to guess where, and in what sort of proximity to whom. And therein fell the drama, as the favorite dropped to fourth and then surged back to the show position. Surge might be an exaggeration. Trotted could be closer to the truth. It's amazing how many cheap favorites run their guts out to get third and foul up really gigantic tickets. The reason is, cheap favorites are usually an inch or two better than cheap also-rans.

I had both first-two finishers either way on the tri ticket, and they came to the wire as though almost joined at the hip, a pleasant thing to think about: Do I win big or do I win huge?

When I went to collect, it was like the last scene of the Sopranos. You look up to see your worst fears three feet away. I had bought the ticket for the wrong track. On this machine, the screen reverts back to the track last played, the local track, in this case. I had verified all the numbers, but not all the names.

The local race on which the tri ticket was based had not yet gone.

Cash it? Of course not, it was time for a game of Pony Lottery.

My ticket would have paid basically the pool; it lost, easily.

They say it all evens out, the bad beats and lucky miracles. The bad beats seem to lead the way. So what if you're 98 when the scales finally rock level?

Wallow in the lucky wins, that's the message here.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.