Commentary

Literacy among sports

Updated: August 18, 2009, 2:04 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Not to brag, but I have the best readers of all of the games, connected by the drama gene in the following ways: We hate cheaters and believe they should be put on public display in only their under drawers and gator boots after having been paraded around the track behind the grader; we believe penalties on horse race crooks should be quadrupled and apply to their family members as well; we can't believe so many jockeys could have so little going on inside their heads; we can't stand fancy pickers who don't own up to their own losses; we can't tolerate the sight or sound of anybody who touts one thing and claims to have won money on another; we sometimes wonder about the stewards in the replay suite; we play stupid favorites trying to get even; we listen to too many idiots; we have trouble sitting on our money; we're due; and as regular horse race handicappers, you are far and away the most intelligent fans in the sporting world, as all the dummies have moved on to the slot machines.

The literacy and wit and humor that exist among horse players are unmatched in all other sports or gambles. Geeky odds and percentages aside, poker usually comes down to, "Uh, let's see, all in." Then cards are flashed and smacked down like Junior playing War, biggest wins. Blackjack is memorizing your counting keys. I know all the presidents and all the state capitals, big deal, pass the grilled cheese. Memorizing isn't intelligence, memorizing is memorizing, it's genetic, it's a prodigy playing Mozart upside down and then leaving his or her Rolex on the keyboard.

Intelligence is the creative application of memory toward a solution. That's horse race handicapping.

I write this, novels, screenplays (I know, I know, I should have my head examined for that), a general interest newspaper column, and a football handicapping bit, I have taught college English (we're in trouble, people), and I can state, unequivocally and without further review, that regular horse players are the funniest and brightest of all the responders I've known.

In praise of horse race regulars, being a regular is the key; you have to be smart to have hung around for an extended period of time. Fools are gone with the paper cups.

Even the horse race people on TV come across as a lot sharper than, say, their counterparts covering football or basketball. College basketball, hey baby, how's that for a cesspool. The current system of one-and-undone encourages morons to loiter a year at campus corner before hitting the NBA. The Louisville coach makes the Bada Bing seem like a family establishment by comparison. The former Baylor coach tried to cover up a crime. The former Iowa State coach got drunk with coeds. True, most TV horse race people can't pick beans. But they're clever and articulate and that, along with giving you a horse to run a line through, counts.

Look at books. Horse race literature is more eloquent than not.

Even when horse race people come after a writer, it's done with a certain sense of style. Handicappers known as value hunters don't like me so much. A value hunter would rather run fourth on a 20-1 shot than win by 10 on an even-money charge. I have written that all winners have value. So how can value hunters afford to carry their message from one year to the next? They're on TV and get paid no matter who wins. Most critical messages from horse players have a way with words if not always logic.

So here's to the horse players who deserve all the credit they can get.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.