Little about trying to pick a winner is easy, even raising a glass.

Finding the right mix of alcohol and gambling requires discipline, and therefore would seem to be an attainable goal for most horse players. Without rules, you're a new horse player; regulars need standards to endure. New horse players take note. This game isn't about random chance or all that many percentages. This is about logic, deduction, and blind luck.

All things considered -- like war, toxicity among the food crops, dangerously low-cut jeans worn by food-servers, David Caruso's nuttier-by-the-week emoting on "CSI: Miami," Paula Abdul's rolling eyeballs, El Nino, La-La Land, and Dr. Gregory House never having been sued -- all that considered, this isn't a bad time to be a fun-lover. Recently, reasonable amounts of coffee, chocolate and wine have been endorsed by medical people, and not men and women with far-away island degrees, either. Coffee, chocolate and wine, now there's a brunch.

One way to look at life is nothing is absolute, causes and cures among the puzzles. When it comes to the mind -- like standing in the middle of a field and choosing whether to go left and home to the spouse, or right and to the pub -- cures are probably as varied as the causes. One step, 12 steps, a hop, a skip and a jump; whatever gets you where you need to be.

They don't serve free drinks of alcohol at some gambling joints for nothing. They never
serve free drinks at the horse races, I like to think because they're worried we'll stop at
two free drinks and wager responsibly and order the chef salad, chef or no chef.

Here's something I put together about responsible drinking and wagering.

One glass of wine, one beer, or one average mixed drink: Mildly relaxing, no appreciable change in handicapping skills.

Two drinks: You've never been sharper. Alert. Witty. Bold, yet practical. Charming. Up-beat. Lucky-like. Fresh. Fit-like. Romantic.

Three drinks: A downward slide toward irresponsibility and abuse begins and spins quickly out of control.

I used to have more than two drinks at the races until the fateful day at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., when a cowboy took off his cowboy boot and hit me over the head with the back-side of the heel. Fortunately (for me), he had driven to the track and wasn't wearing spurs.

There was a difference of opinion about handicapping technique.

It should have been clear that no good could ever come from a stranger taking off his cowboy boot during an argument. I vaguely recall having expected something to have been in the boot.

This altercation reminds me of the story of the smuggler at the border. Every day, week after month after year, a man showed up at the border with saddle bags full of trinkets for tourists on his donkey. The border guard knew the man was taking something illegal across the border. Each day, he turned the saddle bags inside out; each time, no narcotics or contraband were discovered. Had the donkey X-rayed: nothing. And each day, the man with the bags on the burro would proceed across the border, smiling, bowing, waving.

Then one morning, the border guard told the man with the donkey and all the bags that he was going to retire and move far away. And he had to know what, if anything, was being smuggled across the country line. It was driving the guard crazy. He knew there was something illegal going on, he could feel it in his bones. He promised the little man immunity. What was he smuggling?

"Donkeys," the man said.

It was similar with the boot. It wasn't anything in the boot, it was the boot itself, the
obvious, doing the damage.

It turned out to be one of those odd break-even days you find at the horse races where the overhead is worrisome. The $400 I won kept me in stitches, went to a doctor.

Most horse players have probably won some money while a little drunk. It's debatable whether alcohol might occasionally increase winnings ten percent. There's no debating that drinking too much always doubles losses.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com