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Questions of value

What I hear most are questions about value, and questions about race tracks of a small or medium scope.

The track-size questions take one basic form.

Why would anybody in his right mind play a race track in the sticks?

Here's why. The average race track of lesser stature has more edges than an octagon to offer the horse player. What you have to do is pay attention on a consistent basis and be able to watch horse races without betting. If you can't find somebody to bet that you can watch a race without betting, try breathing deeply.

Playing a big stakes race on television is frequently like betting hard on the first hand off the deck in blackjack. It's a gamble. Counting cards provides the 21 player with an edge. Counting races at a track of average means is the horse-playing equivalent of the aforementioned winning blackjack strategy. At the tracks where the infield might look like a used tractor lot, if you're patient, losing can be difficult.

The first time through the Form on a race at a track whose surface might resemble the beaten path that the track is just off, I eliminate horses that can't win; can't as in, shouldn't; shouldn't as in, please don't anybody mess with me tonight. At one of the top-level races over the clover, it frequently appears that only the stewards on advice from the track veterinarian can separate one from the field. At a small track, there are trainers who could not lead a dog to a fire hydrant. There are riders with phobias. There are rails soft as peat bogs. There are horses taped so tightly, their eyes bulge. Sometimes you can eliminate half the field with a high rate of probability like that.

Here's what I found the night before last in a $10,000 claiming race, which could have been the feature of the card.

A horse with stalking speed had run in a similar race five back, leaving the gate at odds of 3-1, and arriving at the finish line at odds of 3-1. This is not always the case in some haunts. The horse ran a halfway decent third. Its next four were as follows: Mud, soundly defeated. Rail, buried, soundly defeated. Slight drop-down, then another off track at 10-1, walloped. Outside post, 15-1, slow in leaving, thrashed.

Night before last, same distance, dry going, middle of the gate, same jockey, dull field: 20-1.

We lose by a head.

Still and all, I almost have enough money this week.

Questions of value:

Q - Most times when I turn on a nationally televised race, I hear one of the expert handicappers say that he or she is searching for value. What exactly does that mean?

A - This is a valuable handicapping aid, one that should never be ignored. When you hear a TV expert find a 'value' in the upcoming race, take a black pen and run a line through the horse's name, eliminating it from consideration. I used to use Magic Markers to black-out TV 'value' picks, but the ink seeped through the Form. Horses that win and pay a price are not 'values.' Good handicappers don't know what a horse is apt to pay until it has been tabbed as a winner. A 'value' horse is a stretch, it's what you play when you're down a bundle.

Q - What, in your opinion, is a good value, anyway?

A - Anything that wins. If a 100 percent return on your investment isn't enough, and if you're betting five bucks, it probably isn't, then you're going to have to hook an undervalued winner to a Pick 3 or Pick 4 or more. Or watch a 'value' run fifth.

Q - If you like two horses the same, and one is 1-1, and the other is 10-1, shouldn't you play the one that offered the best value?

A - If you can't play them both, go home.

Q - For your information, wise guy, there are handicapping systems based on making wagers on the best values in a particular race.

A - Being alone with your thoughts is so unacceptable to some people, they try to take the instinctive and creative elements out of handicapping and reduce the game to a set of impersonal numbers.

Thing is, each race is different.