Commentary

Derby losers

Updated: April 1, 2009, 5:25 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The Masters and the Kentucky Derby: finally some action.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament is fine for what it is, which is an outlet for hambone coaches to mug for the TV cameras, and for officials who couldn't dunk a doughnut in a coffee pot to alter outcomes of games for reasons or rules known only to themselves. Basketball is the only sport where players can be vanquished from the game because of repeated referee incompetence.

In the men's hoop tournament, one zebra's idea of assault can be another's feathery incidental brush.

It's like the stuffed suits get together before the tournament and decide to forget violations like traveling. For purposes of the NCAA men's tournament, "traveling" can be defined as lifting the pivot foot while hopping or dragging the other foot approximately one yard. Tailbacks in the NFL, and college hoop players taking a pass off the pick and roll, have similar initial footwork. Even the continuation rule has reared it dizzy head in the NCAA's, with guys bounding for the hoop and getting credit after having been hacked at around the top of the key.

The Masters is one of the funniest sporting events going, funny, as in ironic: Where are all the average people?

Some might say the Masters takes itself a little too seriously, what with the sounds of birdies, real on the greens, and piped in to the limbs, and the magnificent Butler Cabin, which serves in the off-season as a bunkhouse for wayward youth. Doesn't it? The tone at Augusta is usually so reverent you could hear Rolex bands click together at the Jack Nicholson-type bling-side, green-side seats. You'd think Jim Nantz was introducing the Pope: The Masters, a tradition unlike any other. Oh really? Then quick, who won last year? Friends and relatives of Trevor Immelman got it, he won.

It's only a golf tournament, a fine one at that, surrounded by a somewhat depressed nation.

It's on to the Kentucky Derby to catch up with the regulars.

A month out, it's time to start handicapping the Derby in a serious fashion, throwing out what won't work.

Fake Dirt Winners

Two ways to play these called off the carpet: Use only the very best, or throw them all out of the winning window.

Eliminating the lot is easiest on the mind.

It's starting to look like winning on the fiber is to championship horse racing as arena football is to the Super Bowl. Running on the material stuff has become almost a sport unto itself.

Going artificial has come to epitomize the California style, an attitude based on finesse over physicality, college hoops to thoroughbreds.

Pioneer of the Nile is going to catch a lot of money without having been successful down and dirty.

Deep closers

There are already too many high-quality stalkers running up to this field. No matter the pace, you can seldom pass all the good ones.

Indecision

He's running here.

No, check that, forget New York, he's going to prep in Kentucky. Or Arkansas.

We'll get back to you in the morning with any late developments.

A horse I know fits this pattern in a way, Charitable Man, which outran a stiff breeze in winning big and brassy twice last year. The horse is owned by a local gentleman. Inside scoops from friends have spring Derby preps alleged at tracks near and far.

Usually there's a reason for everything in horse racing.

I like my reasons to be good.

Short fields

You can add Beyer points for full-field performances, subtract them for tea parties.

Defeating five or six, then being surrounded by 19, is risky investing.

A great analyst's line to bet against is: Beat Nobody. You can't blame a horse for winning. Had the competition been quicker, maybe Beat Nobody would have been faster as well.

But running against a few, or running off from half a bunch, is worrisome.

The obvious

The obvious doesn't win a third of the time.

The obvious is that set of the worst favorites, the cheapest and cheesiest favorites, the most recent winners, the no-brainers, the long shots that seem to figure so much, they don't really figure, they're illusions.

Here's the good thing about those rare occasions when the obvious wins and you don't have it.

You don't have to bump with bumpkins, bump knuckles or shoulders or backs or whatever the obvious are bumping these days.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.