Commentary

What luck

Updated: March 29, 2010, 4:16 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Here's what's so rewarding about horse racing: When it comes to picking winners, nobody in the spotlight knows anything.

This is a particularly enriching state of affairs during the Triple Crown season: horse race experts on the tube, winos, what's the difference when it comes to trying to find a winner.

You watch golf on television and, outside of putting from 75 yards out in the British, you can't do any of the other stuff. Who can hit a tennis ball between his legs and not need a medical break. Who can dunk. Who can go all in for $750,000. Who can do what Jack Bauer does, which is get stun-gunned, lashed, slashed, hooked, gouged, raked, and cross-checked, all in the first quarter hour, before springing into a hand-stand at the halfway point of a "24" episode, and kicking off the ears of an alleged spy, with 24 now standing for the number of times per season that Jack-outside-the-box briefly flat-lines. Who can take human growth hormones. Who can spell unusable words. Who can follow the puck on TV. Who can drive 190. Who can dance like a star.

Who among us can do anything that approximates the top performance of any nationally featured activity?

Well, actually, we can; horse race handicappers can.

We can pick winners at least as well as any of the "so-called" experts, "so-called" by the viewers and readers.

Everything you need to know about a horse race is on the page, in the past performances. Insider trading, inside info, is bozo business. The eyes have it over the ears: Trust what you see, not tenth-hand unwashed gossip.

In general, national handicappers of any sport stink.

Teams are not bracket-busters in the NCAA hoop tournament, TV experts are. Kansas, which tends to play the same no matter the score, and Kentucky, which couldn't hit the broad side of the band, were favored to reach the finals on almost half the contest brackets. That's because so many TV experts said it had to be. Team sports experts are lucky to hit 50 percent winners with the point spread in the picture. There is the misconception that, concerning team sports, the point spread makes every game a 50-50 proposition. That only applies to decent handicappers. The primary value of the Vegas point spread is to attract suckers to the strongly obvious play, which loses 60 to 70 percent of the time. Sports books win far more than half the time, so much for 50-50.

Horse race experts are off and wobbling in twenty-ten. In the Derby prep races just held in New Orleans and Kentucky — Turfway Park, where bluegrass and fake purplish dirt come together to make a purist say, "What the …?" — a person didn't need binoculars to find the expert selections on the track. You needed a telescope. Drosselmeyer seemed the best of last weekend's lot, running third with a nose for trouble in New Orleans. Collecting peanuts won't get him into the big Derby.

How can anybody watch 20,000 horse races and still not be able to hit his or her backside with a mirror and a rolled-up Form?

A so-called expert handicapper can't pass on a big race.

It's hard to pick a winner of an important race when all the horses are mostly healthy. Looking for a winner is like looking for a good golf swing. Everything makes sense during practice; then you resort to what's easiest.

Picking a long shot and running 10th can be embarrassing.

How can you pick up on a good handicapper? His or her favorites win a lot. And his or her long shots run well.

Here's an email saver: How can I be so cocky about the endeavor of picking winners?

Having hit some recent Triple Crown races, and far more than anybody's share of Breeder's Cup winners, I get a grace period of two years worth of losers; okay, fine, a year and a half.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.