Giving others a run for their money

Nobody is mouthier than a sports writer on television. It's one for the shrinks.

Updated: May 25, 2004, 3:29 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Nobody is mouthier than a sports writer on television. It's one for the shrinks. Television must look like easy pickings with all the dumb pretty people on the screen, that has to be it.

Media blabbermouths have been predicting the downfall of horse racing since the last Triple Crown winner in 1978.

Guess what: Horse racing is the hottest sport going.

Television ratings are up substantially. Name another sport where that's the case. There seems to be one. Poker.

The amount of money bet on horses is up.

It's no wonder horse racing is at the top of its game.

Look at the competition.

College football: lacks structure. According to dismayed sources close to college football, the game will be lowered to a farcical level this year as strength of schedule will be eliminated from the power structure. Want to pay $400 to take the family to a home game to see Southeast Western State? The new power in college football will be, you better sit down, THE COACHES' POLL! Who would you figure the average coach finds highly rated? You're exactly right: the next opponent, Northwest Eastern Tech.

Pro football: Too much turnover. Players coach coaches.

Pro basketball: A player could start a family and see the child born, all in the same season!

College basketball: High school kids are proving the NBA isn't that big a deal, diluting the college game all the while.

Baseball: There's a better drug policy in prison.

Hockey: Moment of silence.

Golf: Doesn't count outside of majors.

NASCAR: Winners sometimes finish during a timeout.

Tennis: Rackets made of Kryptonite.

Not to detract from the warm glow of racing in its current euphoric state, but it is important that the horse player keep in mind at all times the fact that there are people out there trying to take our money while using unpleasant tactics. Twice this week as people have celebrated the rise of the thoroughbred to national prominence, I have been taken by rascals. Then I woke up and got them the third time.

Who are they?

They are the people who know more about their horses than I do, that's who they are.

It's the shaded area of horse racing.

It is common knowledge that horses don't like certain tracks.

Well, trainers might not like certain tracks, either.

There are two groupings of smart money at the track. There is smart money bet by gamblers, which is in effect uneducated money. What could a big gambler know better than a little gambler? How to marry rich, that's about it. This kind of dumb money went on Imperialism in the Preakness.

The other kind of smart money comes from owners and trainers of a particular horse. And this isn't so much smart money as it is Martha Stewart money.

This kind of smart money can be educational.

At small tracks, Martha Stewart money, which is to say money looking to get out, is easy to spot.

But you have to pay attention, as bets can be canceled and apparent brainy money can vanish in an instant.

Another problem with finding sneaky money is the incompetence with which morning lines are set. A 20-1 shot can go off at odds-on without a connection having bet a dime.

Here's all a trainer or an owner can know: A particular horse is apt to run better than the odds dictate.

What a trainer or an owner doesn't know is how all the other horses in the races will run. It is ironic that knowledgeable money can be on two or three horses in the same race.

It shows up on the board when somebody tries to put a horse over.

And they usually run second.

Hallelujah.

And amen.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@go.com