<
>

In horse racing, do cheaters ever prosper?

Here's a good question: What is a handicapper supposed to do about cheaters and fixes?

Everybody knows what a handicapper is. A handicapper is a gambler with an inheritance and a Coach briefcase.

According to releases from people concerned about crooked sporting events, about 35 percent of college athletes recently surveyed had bet on games of one type or another, and five percent of the players admitted anonymously to having tried to influence the score of a contest in which he played. If the five percent number is anywhere close to the truth, this is a scandal that should close down college sports until somebody can figure out what to do about Internet gambling, where a star player can sit in the privacy of his athletic dorm room and bet his brains out, which shouldn't take long.

Given the evil spell inherently cast by off-shore, or mid-air, or whatever you want to call Internet gambling, the casual football and basketball fan is apt to see a couple of point spreads being fixed per season, the monster fan who watches everything that moves, who knows, maybe a dozen.

There is currently national legislation being considered that would outlaw Internet gambling, a decent idea, but one that would seem to be unenforceable unless you didn't mind the cops kicking down doors and confiscating computers on hunches.

As long as all bets wind up on the tote board, dragging horse racing into a law against Internet gambling would be a mistake because in horse racing, gambling pays the bills, not the bookmakers.

So how can the team sports handicapper protect him or herself from the crooked college punk betting on the computer for or against the team for which he plays?

There's no way, it's like a five percent surcharge.

With horses, crookedness can be occasionally handicapped; and there's nothing more fun than to beat a bandit.

When it comes to horse racing, there's a fine and sometimes checkered, or erratic, line that separates thoughtful training from highway robbery.

Your horse needs a race? Why, how perceptive of you to recognize that. You could be on your way to the training Hall of Fame.

Training up to a race is not considered to be skullduggery.

But if a quarterback needs a game, he usually gets the training in practice.

People up to no good at the races cannot remain invisible because money reflects: the intent to deceive shows up in the past performances or on the tote board.

Here are two keys to handicapping the inexplicable.

One, freakish improvement can be contagious. This is to say that if one terrible horse gets better for no apparent reason, another from the same barn could be a candidate to lap its Beyer.

Two, unscrupulous people are greedy.

It's doubtful that a party of six would meet out behind the woodshed to choreograph an order of finish: You hang sixth, you duck inside at the quarter pole, you accidentally drop the reins and we'll all hit the Super 10-9-8-7, cold as caviar.

All the average race track con man or woman usually knows is that his or her horse is probably going to run better than any handicapper could ever figure. What's funny is when two potential swindlers try to put unlikely horses over in the same race and run themselves back into the pack.

People out to rook us bet to win and they bet Exotics. To catch one of these fliers out of the rough, you have to watch the board for bets on horses that don't compute.

Horses that somebody is trying to put over run second a lot, which is another reason to love this sport.

One day last week, I bet $20 to place on a horse that was a legitimate 30-1 program number. It left the gate at 8-1 and showed speed, no pun intended. The horse led for 5.9 of six furlongs, finishing second.

I won more than $60, another case of frontier justice.