Betting by the book

This question accompanying any gambling-secrets book is: If you're so smart, why share?

Updated: April 26, 2005, 12:50 AM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The first thing a horseplayer asks him or herself when a book like "Six Secrets of Successful Bettors" comes along is which is the best play, spending $25 for the tome written by Frank R. Scatoni and Peter Thomas Fornatale and published by the Daily Racing Form Press, or playing a 2-3 Exacta box at Evangeline?

This question accompanying any gambling-secrets book is: If you're so smart, why share?

The answer is: Touting is easier than picking.

It's why average writers teach English lit.

This is one of the rare occasions when I feel comfortable touting the tout. The book has what the suckers call "value," what the graduates call "literary integrity," what the gambling masses need most: common sense.

The format of "Six Secrets" is the writers pick a hot horse racing angle and let some of the best gamblers in the business flail away. The result carries with it a behind-the-scenes wink of authenticity. It's as though you've eavesdropped on The Boys of Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall (and one woman, card player Clonie Gowen, no photo included for some reason). The backroom-type tone that prevails throughout the book shaped by the world's best bettors is: Damn, picking winners at the horse races is hard.

Like the actual horse races themselves, you can learn as much from a gambler's goofy strategy as you can from what's profound. It's so reassuring to read that in certain situations, you yourself will know a whole lot more than your average world-class bettor.

Speaking of nutty, a Vegas gambler offers this opinion about the controversial search for "value" in a horse race: "Obviously, everything depends on the odds."

This character seems to have played one too many Keeno game or has been betting the horses with his spouse's inheritance. As my Uncle Bus taught me long ago, all winners have value.

The dynamics of horse race betting seem to be rapidly changing -- heads up, there comes a $2 million place bet on the three horse at Aqueduct -- so it's reassuring to reacquaint oneself with theorists and hustlers and literary stylists Beyer (Andrew) and Crist (Steven). You can almost see them divulging their secrets, 2005-style, wearing white v-neck sweaters with navy trim, Old School with a byte. Their reflections on the state of the contemporary horse racing game bring race track atmosphere to the page.

Crist says you can't play with scared money.

Beyer says larceny at the races can be irrelevant; locate it, use it.

Horse player Gerry Okenuff says if most people do it at the race track, it's wrong.

As you can see, what I've already reprinted here is worth the price of the book.

One trend I don't mind is the emergence of monster wagering where computer gangs bet untold millions on the races every day. The smaller tracks that I enjoy most would seem to be a fairly safe harbor in a betting hurricane. Also, Beyer says the crooks at tiny tracks might not even be able to afford to fancy drugs alleged in certain metropolitan settings.

"Six Secrets begins with this terrifying premise: About one percent of people who bet on horses win!

The book is about finding an edge.

How do you pick a winner?

How did DiMaggio hit the curveball?

To find the horse handicapping secrets in "Six Secrets," you don't have to stare at an oil painting of Saratoga, it's not as hard to figure as the "Da Vinci Code." The betting secrets are numbered for handy referral and have probably been around forever in one form or another, Get Your Head Out being one eternal horse handicapping secret simplified and paraphrased here.