Commentary

Horses look better than pickers

Updated: June 5, 2010, 9:44 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Thus concludes the great national handicapping disaster, at least until the Breeders' Cup at Churchill in the fall.

As preached here before, there are few riskier bets than a deep, last-to-first-type closer at a mile and a half against a good field. There are simply too many decent horses to get around and seldom a freaky pace to run at. Yet Ice Box was almost the even-money favorite. The lesson from the Kentucky Derby is that it meant almost nothing -- too many horses, too much water. Ice Box will need insane fractions for his next win.

Another late-wagering key to the race was something frequently endorsed on this screen: when somebody says "value," run. Or, move the horse from first to second or third. Most of what you heard on the TV coverage of the Belmont Stakes was what a great "value" First Dude was. Without that, and without Interactif making First Dude hustle too fast, he could have won. There's this in needlepoint over the picking desk: All Winners Have Value. Not to brag much -- picking is so hard, anybody close to correct gets to at least wave -- but anybody boxing my four picks are probably feeling a little better than they were before the keys to the city were given to Ice Box and First Dude.

Another jockey firing seemed to come in handy, didn't it, with Mike Smith landing on Drosselmeyer?

So in reviewing the Triple Crown races, it turns out the horses weren't quite as bad as the handicappers. The first three horses in New York, plus Lookin At Lucky and Eskendereya, look real enough.

So where does horse racing go from here? According to many members of the big-city press, horse racing is in dire circumstances. But that's only because world change often arrives unnoticed by big-city politicians. With slots, big-city racing will be fine. Out here at Woebgone Downs, all the trainers have thin bellies, all the horses are healthy, all the riders have their teeth, and because of slot machine revenues, the fields are full, and what might have been pets are routinely running for $30,000.

What of the Triple Crown slump? Might training better be an option?

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.