Commentary

Back to Basics

Updated: November 10, 2009, 11:17 AM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

At first, it was hard to distinguish some of the trainers from the person there to pitchfork up the horse manure.

Sometimes it's useful to observe the body language of trainers. Likely losers slump around the paddock, going through the motions, pick up a check, get a triple bacon cheeseburger with extra mayo; get a cool one, or more. Somebody with a chance to win is attentive.

The body language of the man in question said: These jeans must have shrunk again.

He had a huge belly.

How must he have gotten his boots on?

Don't ask, don't listen.

This was, in fact, a trainer.

He wasn't able to bend over too far to give the jockey a leg up, causing the rider, a man who should have gotten a senior discount of three or four pounds, to seem to make a face and rub at a pain in his calf.

Silks were not pastels, they were faded.

Camera work on simulcast races is neither artistic nor informational. In the post parades, sometimes you're lucky to get a look at a jockey's ankles, to say nothing of a horse's knees. An average post parade simulcast camera shot is of the backsides of ten horses riding up the track. Occasionally the camera work during the post parade is reminiscent of a boat whose driver took a moment away from the wheel for personal time; occasionally the camera pans one way and then the other without slowing down much. Sometimes the local track camera operator, possibly just promoted from Racing Form vendor or corndog seller, can't find a horse in the post parade, that's right, sometimes it's like a game of Where's Man 'O Waldo?

Watching the numbers on this particular tote board required an open mind. Normal odds fluctuations bounce from even to 6-5, from 3-1 to 7-2. Here, one sweep of the board might rock a number from 20-1 to 4-5. Morning lines lack only a hook and sinker. Morning hook, line and sinker program odds, they're more like bait than a projection of the manner in which the public will tilt. And sometimes at the tiny places, the primary "public wagering interest" is a table comprised of four drunks.

And suddenly, all across the land, they're off; or most of them are, anyhow. Some are way off. Some stumble, some wobble, some seem to break toward the odor of fresh candied apples. And all of a sudden, everybody is shouting. Poor people have put $20 to place on the third choice and are yelling for it to please, please get up. Lawyers have bet $50 exacta boxes and are yelling for the chalk. Tellers have bet the same as good handicappers did a minute ago and are yelling under their breaths because they're not supposed to wager on the job.

On this occasion, a jockey used his whip when you least expected it, during the approximate middle of a race.

Coming down the stretch, the horses appeared to be scattering for fall break.

What won?

I didn't bet the race and didn't notice. But that's okay. There will be another dozen or two races just like it shortly. It's racing after the Breeder's Cup, real racing.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.