Commentary

Acknowledging pure luck

Updated: June 20, 2011, 3:36 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

When a bad beat occurs on a televised event, the camera zooms in on the loser. Agony is photogenic. Winning is taken for granted.

Remember the photo in ought-seven when the quarter horse stretching out to a half mile for the first time had a big lead at 20-1 and blew the turn by such an extent that people standing along the inside rail actually scattered? The jockey righted the animal before it jumped the railing. And down the stretch they came, the long shot losing in a photo so close, a fly on its nose would have won it.

Who could ever forget the amount of money that something like that cost a person.

Remember the wins? The race last year when you won the three-way photo? Vaguely. The race last month you won by a pucker to collect a Double of one-something? Sort of. The close winner last week? Almost. The big lucky hit last night? It wasn't that lucky.

Four nights ago at Churchill, I played jockey Greta Kuntzweiler on a horse that would have to find a way to lose, Greta's meet record being something like two for almost an eternity, a couple of wins for 70-some tries. So off we go at 6-1, it would have been 4-1 with a male rider, Greta doing a tremendous job of getting the horse out of the gate in the six furlong race, and stalking the lead from an up-close third or fourth position. So much for the win. The race was over. Now for the Exacta. Some dog at around 45-1 had the lead until Greta passed it halfway down the lane. Then the 45-1 pretender had second and had it and had it, almost to the wire, when one of two I had played in Exactas came from the shadows to create a photo impossible to judge from that horrible simulcast angle about 20 yards short of the finish line. Why races are recorded from a point short of the finish line is nobody's guess. From this angle, the inside horse always seems the winner. But we got up on the outside by a fraction of a fraction of an inch.

The Exact paid $70.

The difference in $0 and $70 was barely visible to the eye on the clear photo finish image.

That's a big swing, $0 or $70.

And that, the collecting, would have been that, were it not for the IRS audits and the orders to write down all wagers. Documenting bets, besides being legal, and therapeutic, is educational. Bad bets stand out like a sore head. So a couple of years ago, I started a notebook category for close calls, photo finishes, mostly, races whose outcomes were decided by a head or less, finishes that could have gone either way, disqualifications included.

The horse player probably thinks that he or she loses roughly 97 percent, give or take a point, of close calls.

For luck to even out, you have to be involved 24-7, like a coach or a manager.

So far this year, I am running at about 75 percent winners on races up for grabs until the last oof.

I would have guessed 50-50 at best.

That's because horse players take bad luck personally.

Good luck is something we have coming, something we deserve.

Many races are won for a reason other than breeding or a Beyer, great connections, or because we're due. That reason is pure luck, a bob, a flinch, an inch.

Horse players, brilliant at bemoaning nasty losses, don't do a good job of acknowledging good pure luck.

Here's how's that's done.

You admit it.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.