Commentary

A spot of gaming

Updated: March 27, 2009, 3:36 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

To keep this straight leading up to the Triple Crown races: it's all about gaming at this site. Gaming is not gambling; gaming is similar to gambling, only it's more wholesome.

Gambling can cause an intervention. It's what some people do with the last ten-spot in their pockets. It helped to fund organized crime. Gambling is synonymous with losing.

Gaming sounds sporting. It sounds like chess, like playing the Mario Brothers, it could describe a photo safari. Gambling is for nitwits; gaming is for wits.

"Where have you been for nine hours?"

"Out gaming."

"Well. Next time you might call."

So while other horse reporters and analysts concern themselves with the fancy side of the spring, the owning and breeding elite, the focus here will be about the stockholders, the gamers.

Here are three springtime picking subjects that are worth your price of admission to get here.

1. Smart money
2. Running on the fuzz
3. Expert handicappers

Smart money

The smartest money at the horse races isn't bet; and yet it shows up all across the tote board.

Smart money is considered to be big, or unexpected, chunks of money. Who knows what smart money really is: drunk money, inherited money, divorcee money, depressed money.

But silent smart money often speaks volumes.

Here an example of that.

The other night at Penn National, where the Amish quilters are engaged in intense competition for the leisure buck with the hilariously named Hollywood Casino, a nice horse was up from Florida at justifiably short program odds. Slot machine revenue has made Penn National the place to be for fat allowance purses. Build the slots and they will come through the corn talks. And they did; and they did.

The horse up from Florida was current, appeared healthy, well-bred, well-trained, was in easier than its last couple or three. Yet it drifted from odds of about 7-5 in the program to 4-1 at the ringing of the opening gate, the point being, if a good horse doesn't get bet, the smart money has spoken, has said forget it. The horse didn't run a lick.

Fantasy Horse Racing

Artificial racing surfaces, some in their thin layering resembling lint, have redefined Triple Crown handicapping.

Almost universally speaking, horses coming off fake dirt are being scratched from consideration, as though they had been picked to win by a TV expert; and nothing is more certain to run seventh than a horse tabbed to win by a TV expert.

Some artificial surfaces seem so shallow, you might not think they were turned over with a tractor — somebody just gets a DustBuster and rearranges stuff.

A solid runner on the lint, like Pioneerof the Nile, is thought to be little more than a horse for the discourse, all talk.

Handicap the Experts

When most TV experts make a pick, it's like a scarlet tattoo. It has become something of an epidemic. Few on TV could handicap a race frozen for a minute at the top of the stretch.

While humorous, rotten picks by experts are money.

Picking in public is difficult because you're drawn to the security of the low numbers, the six-to-five and two-to-one ventures. Losing chalk looks unfortunate; losing long shots look dumb.

How does the viewer use bad picks?

Three-horse Exacta boxes offered by sorry handicappers are troublesome, as they sometimes hit one, and on a rare occasion, such as a misguided Steward's inquiry, two.

Simply run a line through the key horse, the horse the lousy handicapper picks to win.

Sometimes when an expert's losing streak begins to near epic proportions, he or she waits until late to give a bad pick, until they're starting to load, as though to throw us off.

A universal improvement to the sport would be to make expert picks mandatory at least ten minutes to the post.