Commentary

Animal house

Updated: May 16, 2011, 4:23 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Lots of handicapping weasels came from this Kentucky Derby woodpile.

Little around the racetrack is more unpleasant than when somebody says the he or she had the winner without having said that he or she was going to play the winner. Racetrack manners dictate that you can't have had it afterward unless you had mentioned to racetrack friends that you were going to play if beforehand.

So many people have said that they had Animal Kingdom at the Derby, it's a wonder it didn't pay $12.

Saying you had it after having never mentioned that you were looking at it, you want to be congratulated for sneaking around? It's like a bad practical joke. I'm not saying that the people who said they had Animal Kingdom are lying. But most said they had the Derby winner just the way they had said that they had the horse at Evangeline that paid $180 to win. And most who said they had the Derby winner are over there playing a maiden claimer at Charles Town right now, putting the last of any alleged Animal Kingdom dollars on Grumpy to win at 3-5.

First time dirt at the Kentucky Derby is a guess, pure and simple, a good guess sometimes, but a wish more than a conclusion. It's doubtful many weasels who had the winner also had the exacta because once you start guessing, it can be difficult to come back to what resembles handicapping logic. Guesses are frequently strung together. A good weasel box would have been first time dirt, first time America, first time west of the La Brea Tar Pits, first time in with fast horses.

It's oftentimes easier, which is to say more consistent, to go at a race the other way around, to start with what could pass for sound handicapping logic, then mix in some guesses in exacta boxes. I cashed one Derby exacta ticket by playing five exacta box guesses with my top two picks in the race, Nehro and Dialed In. The bets cost $60, the return more than five times that. True, Nehro appeared to be running up Pike's Peak there toward the end and was fortunate to hang second. I'm not giving anything back though.

The Derby win on Animal Kingdom only paid five times more than the place on Nehro. I found an exacta with the top two to be much easier to get to than a straight win bet on AK.

At last count, people I know say that they won more than $30,000 on Animal Kingdom. I spoke with a number of these people before the race. All seem to come upon the winner late in the day. And they couldn't call anybody with such an outrageous tout for fear of being embarrassed. Several said that they had been tipped the winner from an expert handicapper. Others simply saw the magical light.

Every horse joint in the world has weasel-type individuals who say they had the big winner.

My guess is those winning the most were probably the ones who needed the money the least.

Facts can be hard to come by after big payouts.

Here's all I know for sure.

  • The exotic pools are well stocked.
  • Exacta boxes are where good guesses go to flower.

    Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.