Have the jockeys done their homework?

Horse racing is experiencing a bad-ride epidemic. The thoroughbred lane looks like the NBA lane.

Updated: November 5, 2004, 6:45 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Horse racing is experiencing a bad-ride epidemic. The thoroughbred lane looks like the NBA lane. There's a lot of flopping.

From the Breeders Cup races to the late Double at Chicken Feed Downs, jockeys are getting trapped at the rail in five-horse fields and are riding into headlong into impossible fractions.

Here's why: Not all jockeys handicap the races in which they have rides.

Some friends of mine have a horse that runs in middle-priced claiming races and I hung around with them on a recent race-day and kept thinking: Where are the Racing Forms?

Where are the charts? Where's a program? Where's anything?

In many cheap races, little thought seems to be given to the opposition. More thought seems to be given to the fans standing at the rail than the animals going into the starting gate.

Before the races, jockeys rest or try to drop a pound or loosen up. Flip through a magazine maybe.

Between races, there's barely time to change colors.

It's as though one ride fits all.

I once asked a jockey riding a friend's horse about who would offer the toughest competition in this particular race.

The jockey asked me who was in it.

I smiled, like: You're kidding, right?

Talk about inside information. He ran fifth on the favorite, chasing a world-record-type opening fraction on a track that favored closers, confirming that he truly had no idea of the competition.

It's a common occurrence, a jockey coming back to the loser's lane, stunned to have been a part of a six-horse drag race for three furlongs.

Nobody advocates that a jockey study the past performance figures of each race he or she rides to the extent of picking a winner. But just for the heck of it, you might glance at the speed column once in a while. If you see a bunch of 9's and 10's by five and six at the break, guess what, you can go.

A jockey not looking at least briefly at the past performances of the competitors in a race is like a manager not counting pitches in a baseball game. It's like a football team not scouting its chief rival.

I once had to explain a notation in the Racing Form to a jockey. It had to do with a trainer's winning percentage with recent claims.

It's an eerie feeling, a bettor knowing more about an upcoming race than a jockey.

Knowing which jockey routinely read the past performance charts would be as valuable a piece of information as checked.

Hardly anybody reads anymore. People with plenty of time on their hands don't read books. Maybe it's time to put past performances on tape so jockeys can catch up on required information driving to work.

When somebody says, "The horse didn't get a hold of the track," that's probably another way of saying, "The jockey didn't get a hold of a Racing Form."

Write to Jay at jaycronley@go.com