Commentary

Wait until this year

Updated: April 18, 2011, 4:08 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

This Kentucky Derby requires special attention. It used to be much harder to lose money on this race.

Here is what I've heard since the favorites started running poorly.

Question: How do you handicap excuses?

Answer: Uncle Mo had a bad stomach, The Factor swallowed his pride -- reasons for a person not to fold on the thought of bidding $1 billion for breeding rights are already flying. And not all the excuses come from the horses or their connections. It is already a common thought among experts that if Nehro had had more distance to run at in Louisiana or Arkansas, he'd have won both races. This illusion has been around horse racing forever, the thought that a closer will automatically make up more space over extra ground. But it's all about time. The longer the distance, the slower the pace, the more the speed is apt to hold. Thinking for horses is anthropomorphism at play. People with losing tickets tend to give excuses more sway than others. Either Uncle Mo was ill or he's healthier at distances shorter than a mile-and-a-quarter. Either The Factor had equipment trouble, or he needs to be loose on casual fractions. Nehro is improving, a big fat meaningful fact.

Q: What's the most common mistake made by expert handicappers?

A: Blaming a horse for winning. This dress-down comes in the form of denouncing a "bad Beyer."

If you like relying on high Beyer numbers and having some beers, go box the top three and see how much fun that is. The Beyer speed figures are meant to create a common racing surface, to pick the fastest horse on a mythical track. Here's what could throw off a Beyer. A yawn. A lunatic in the next gate. A dumb ride. The best Beyer numbers show constant improvement among young horses, not necessarily a top rating.

Here's an example of one currently being blamed for winning, Toby's Corner.

I spotted this horse in some meaningful trouble before the Gotham, meaningful trouble being something that could have kept the horse from victory, not a reverse flop, the overly dramatic rising from the saddle of a jockey who knows he or she is good and beaten.

Then in the Gotham, Toby's Corner ran like I had wagered too much on him and was obliterated by Stay Thirsty who, in turn, ran like gator bait in Florida.

I have the following note next to "You Can't Blame a Winner." Never Get Off a Horse You Really Liked One Before a Bad Race. I have a busy handicapping wall. Anyhow, Toby and I won the Wood. And who can really blame anybody for not liking Florida; staying thirsty my friends.

Q: So who do you like in the Derby?

A: Hang on a second, I have to vote on college football's top ten preseason poll for the 2015 season.

In other words, what's the hurry?

The entire world seems possessed by the need for instant insanity: The Lakers lost a game. Oh no, does that mean they'll trade Bynum, bench Fisher, censure the European, and lower ticket prices? Here's what losing a game to New Orleans meant. Nothing. The NBA season is what, all but the Fourth of July weekend? The players are the Boys of Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring. The only NBA story worth mentioning after the opening weekend is how rotten some of the officiating was, with the botching of a goal tending call in the OKC win, and calling New York's Anthony for an offensive arm-check foul. Lay off the face makeup and call the stinking games, all right, zebras.

It's the same with the Derby, what's the hurry. Pants on Fire will be bet down father than had the case been Shirt on Fire. The horse on the rail will run in the last few. The winner will stalk the field from its middle before making a powerful move around the turn to take the lead. It will probably have had some success at Churchill. It will pay anywhere from $20 on up for the win, the Exacta will be somebody's area code, the tri, somebody's car tag.

Or it'll rain.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.