Commentary

Spring fever

Updated: April 7, 2008, 5:48 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

It happens every spring, but not once a spring; it happens daily, or thereabouts, throughout the season.

Luck is in the air. People fall hard for winners of the Derby prep races. Didn't Tale of Ekati close stylishly in the Wood (even though War Pass was in the soup); Wasn't Big Brown a rush of fresh air in Florida (even though those daring to run on the lead at Churchill will have roadrunners for company); and wasn't Colonel John a ray of sunshine from that state out West that used to sent a contender to Kentucky now and again, California racing, that's the blast from the past (even though John ran over what might appear to some to be a combination of corn flakes and fan belts).

It's as though all those other Kentucky Derbies where you played the early speed or deep closers, then had to pay for a fast food dinner with pocket change, never happened. It's as though this time the rocket speed will carry; or this time, a swooping horse will be able to move from 17th to first.

Playing a favorite in a 20-horse field is the wagering equivalent of telling the guy with the ball at the roulette wheel to let your big winnings ride.

When 20 thoroughbreds run, it's less like handicapping the horses and more like plotting a road rally: at a particular point, box those four and you might win.

Here's another seasonal occurrence gone overboard, TV ratings -- TV sports ratings, overall, horse racing ratings, on the nose.

TV sports ratings are flawed. Here's why. When it comes to ratings, all TV shows are considered together -- sit-coms, drama, slop (biased cable news), junk (reality shows that don't feature talent), nonsense (CSI: Miami), garbage (new game shows), and sports.

People don't go to a studio to see sit-coms being over-acted. But people do go, in large number, to sporting events. Millions of fans go to games, matches, and races, and not a single one of them gets a TV rating credit. Moreover, when you support your favorite sport, it is punished in the public eye because you're not watching at home.

If TV sports ratings are down, there's a good reason for that: We're at the event!

Commercial TVs aren't rated -- television sets in sports bars and simulcast venues, and even gigantic arenas, where untold thousands watch without their favored sport being credited; computers aren't rated, either.

Nothing gets the short end of the rating book like horse racing. This isn't the Westminster poodle group we're watching. We're watching our money run around the track. Pari-mutuel gambling is the essence of horse racing. Only a small percentage of horse race enthusiasts sit at home, twiddling their thumbs, enjoying the fancy hats and the attractiveness of the jockey's spouses. People who don't have a Derby bet rate TV shows. The rest of us are at the track, unrated. Most tracks are packed Triple Crown days, most simulcast and off-track joints are down to standing room.

What percentage of people who love horse racing have joined the action at one track or another on the big rating days? Eighty percent? Ninety?

And anymore, even when you're dealing with shows you can't watch in person, fiction material, I seldom watch with pleasure. Most TV is so bad, I watch to loathe. Yes, I know, this isn't healthy. But watching David Caruso pump his shades in Miami and utter dialogue like, "We'll see who has the last gaff," well, it beats bathing the English springer spaniels. Now that "CSI: Miami" has run out of ideas, somebody will put the character Horatio Caine in a chest and feed him to the bonefish, and I'll be there when it happens.

Concerning the Derby, let's all breathe deeply and meet back here in a week or so.

Concerning advertising targets on TV, though unrated by the impractical services, we're watching the horse races in great numbers from all around the town and, being gamblers, plan to have money to buy all sorts of products.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.