Commentary

Quarter for your thoughts

Updated: June 7, 2010, 9:55 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Here's what was available to be learned this spring.

A Kentucky Derby fought by 20 horses in the mud says little about the winner. Such a race often turns into little more than a workout for a good horse that narrowly avoids being trampled. Somebody surviving the obstacle course to finish sixth or seventh is apt to have a better future than those finishing up front. Two things happen in Triple Crown races that won't show up again -- 20-horse attacks, and mile-and-a-half marathons. Knock half a dozen gates off the Derby.

"FJ" is a great trouble line -- fired jockey. Jockey firings preceded two impressive Triple Crown wins.

Those enjoying the Belmont exacta or trifecta are indebted to all those who wagered such an amazing amount of money on Ice Box to close 20 lengths against no pace to win, place or show. Such a beat-down could cause many horseplayers to take their mad money to a casino, the beautiful irony here being that slots, the demon game that once threatened horse racing, now helps to support it.

When considering the opinion of a "professional" handicapper, which is a handicapper who gets paid a little something, win or lose, it helps if the reason given for playing a horse makes at least a little sense. Certain old-school handicapping angles came into play this Triple Crown season, layoffs being a negative, for one.

Concerning the search for "value," has there ever, in the great history of all the Triple Crown races, been an exotic wager payoff that didn't have "value?"

Now, about that Belmont song that spooked Make Music for Me and set dogs watching on TV to howling, congrats to the ABC director who went to a commercial about halfway through those wild notes.

Finally, this brief primer on a big piece of summertime Americana pie, quarter horse racing, where, at this moment, people are probably glued to the finish line, asking: Who won?

Quarter horses run a quarter of a mile, more or less. Looking at it in terms of the gridiron -- four-and-a-half football fields sounds like plenty of leg-stretching room. But program in 50 yards of banging at the start, and 50 yards of checking for aches and pains and thanking your lucky stars, a race is over before you can say: Who was second?

Quarter horse race announcers seldom go with, "They're off." "They're running," or "They're racing" is more appropriate, as, when the gate opens, they're like greyhounds, they're gone. Whereas some thoroughbred announcers blotch finishes while trying to interject themselves into the lore with a memorable tagline, quarter horse race announcers sound like auctioneers, it's like trying a play-by-play of dice rolling across the felt.

Here are some approximate tips for some summertime rocket racing.

Quarter horses run to form more than you might guess; true, most might guess they would never run to form.

The start is obviously critical. Always check the history of starts for the horses around the one you like. There's so much trouble in the average quarter horse race, the description "no trouble" would be newsworthy at the end of a past performance line. Malice is grounds for a DQ, what else, I couldn't say.

Layoffs don't matter much, couple of years, few days, work is measured in groups of seconds, here.

Almost ancient jockeys can get the job done. One of the all-time great quarter horse riders is Roy Brooks. He is 68 years of age and was quoted from a hospital bed, as he recovered from a racing fall, saying that he would be back better than ever.

There can be a huge post position bias in quarter horse racing.

Quarter horses cover much of the width of the home stretch. And surfaces vary greatly, inside to outside, with the middle usually being the high ground. I have seen rails so deep due to drainage that the gate was shoved far onto the track, making the 1 post actually about the 3. If you play the 1 or the 10, make sure the horse has hops. The outside post encourages horses to run to daylight, to take a right.

Here's something odd and profitable at many quarter horse events: quinella wagering is available, a proposition that pays off if your horses run first or second in any order. What's charming is that quinellas usually pay more than half of what's posted for an exacta, down-home hospitality at its best.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.