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Downbeat

The Bad Beat Hall of Fame has a new headliner. It's not a Mt. Rushmore figurehead. It's the Pike's Peak of Bad Beats. It's number one on the big list of sports horrors.

A bad beat occurs when your team or your horse or your favorite individual loses because of something that seemed to have escaped from the Syfy Channel to get you. A bad beat takes bad luck to a new level. It feels like punishment. It's the opposite of what Richard Dreyfuss felt when he was winning so much at the horse race track in the movie Let It Ride, he thought the Lord really liked him.

Great good luck is too often considered by the player to be yet another example of superior handicapping. How many half-inch victories come immediately to mind? You deserved those, right? But near misses as a result of other-worldly occurrences remain memories for life.

Ground zero for bad beats can be found at poker games and horse races.


Here's an example of a pretty bad beat. I once had a legal wager on a football game and needed only a short field goal near the end of the contest to secure the victory and the cash. The kick was a glorified extra point. The game was rated pick-em or even. I was down one point at the time of the simple kick. Everything about the field goal appeared to begin well, perfect snap, coordinated hold, secure footing for the kicker, solid contact. The football appeared to leave the kicker's foot and proceed closer to the right goal post than was absolutely necessary. But the camera angle wasn't from directly behind the action. The possibility that the kick wasn't going to be dead-center became a reality when a single fan wearing the defending team's colors stood and raised both hands over his head. This guy was halfway up the stands, right between the goal posts. Obviously good kicks are celebrated early. When a kick might be off, home team fans tilt their heads in a desired direction. As this kick moved toward the history books, many leaned away from the right goal post. Which the football hit halfway up. It spun inward and then hit the crossbar and appeared to skip across it before falling short of the intended three points and the money by the minutest of margins. Replays indicated that the short field goal had missed spinning through the inside of right goal post by about an inch, and had missed bouncing over the crossbar by another inch.

Ground zero for bad beats can be found at poker games and horse races.

Poker bad beats are all about numbers, which will even out if the first few don't kill you. Horse race bad beats are creepier because they involve animals and opinions. Some horse race bad beats are self-induced, playing a closer stretching out to a longer distance, for example. Why fairly smart people continue to think that longer distances will benefit deep closers is anybody's guess. It's like they're asking to lose the photo by an inch.

Possibly the worst beat in the history of all sports occurred over the weekend at Gulfstream Park in Florida when a horse was disqualified by the stewards, invalidating a single pick six ticket winner of some $2 million. I don't about you, but I once pulled a TV monitor from its mooring over a debatable disqualification that cost me $300. Who knows who had the ticket, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, or two dozen millionaires: losing a couple of million on a judgment call is enough to make horse players everywhere send flowers.

The way most judgment calls in sports work is the officials leave their whistles in their pockets late in the big games. Barring a free for all, the officials let the participants settle the issue. A foul in the last minute of a championship college or pro basketball game would probably be followed by an arrest for assault. The disqualification at Gulfstream, which has a reputation for fast flags, happened down the home stretch on the final race of the Pick Six sequence. Most horse players would prefer that if a foul wasn't obvious during a race, let it ride.

Here's what's wrong with judgment calls in any sport: Secrecy.

Officials and umps and referees and stewards probably get out of the buildings faster than Elvis ever did. When is the last time you heard an official in any sport hold a press conference to explain a debatable call? Thirty years later upon his or her entry into a retirement home?

Even though judgment calls require discussion, sports officials and referees are granted more privacy than CIA operatives. Horse players probably think they're the only victims who don't deserve specific answers.

At the very least, horse race tracks everywhere should observe a moment of silence on Feb. 22's to come to commemorate Bad Beat Day.