Each season just before the spring, I like to take a moment to reflect upon my best race ever in hopes of getting in the right frame of mind for the Derby and $4,000 claiming seasons; if it happened once, something similar has to be out there.
Every horseplayer has a best race.
See if yours is competitive.
My most memorable betting race took place at Will Rogers Downs, which is my kind of track. To get there traveling from the east, you go through the middle of nowhere and take the first right. To be more precise, Will Rogers Downs is on the far side of an Oklahoma community named Claremore, just off the Will Rogers Turnpike. Will Rogers was a statesman and a humorist who said he never met a man he didn't like; or, evidently, a horse or a turnpike.
Will Rogers Downs was not off the beaten path. It used to be the beaten path. Forget jockeys -- sometimes the guys on the track graders didn't want to ride.
But now the Cherokees own Will Rogers Downs, and every horse player knows what means: a stampede of slot machines is a featured attraction. The racing surface has been turned over and cleared of horse shoes and hubcaps, and a fresh spring meet approaches.
I am frequently asked how I can waste my time playing inexpensive races in the sticks.
One answer is that 5-1 on a $4,000 claiming winner can pay more than 5-1 on the Kentucky Derby winner.
Here are 10 reasons why I'd sooner go cheap.
1. The competition. Some places, the Racing Form is a rare site. Most people looking at low-dollar races at small tracks are terrible handicappers.
2. More angles. I know a man who boxes cheap claimers without front wraps, and wins money doing it.
3. Odds of 5-1 can pay $14. At some tracks, odds change after a race begins. Short horses get shorter, longer odds wind up paying more than you expected.
4. Everybody knows the crooks.
5. Privacy. Who wants to jabber about a 1-for-30 horse.
6. Beyer speed figures. I have played races where a 3 Beyer looked like a standout.
7. Tip sheets. One question a person must ponder before paying for advice is: If the seller is so smart, why isn't he or she simply betting?
Tout sheets at the smaller tracks are actually pretty good; being there every day, you learn the lay of the soil.
8. Most claiming races can be handicapped inside 10 minutes.
9. Funny money stands out.
10. Color; all the above.
My most amazing race ever took place at Will Rogers Downs before the Indians took over, back between track bankruptcies, a mile race for non-winners of two. The one I liked had actual horse race breeding and was running against pets. My horse had been off half a year or so; but its lineage was such that its grandmother could have beaten this bunch.
The horse went off at 1-1, a steal, ask anybody sneaky.
I bet everything I had and could borrow and watched in amazement as the horse blew three turns on a two-turn race. Neither the jockey nor I knew if we should jump. The horse blew the first turn twice, going and coming; then it somehow carried enough momentum to the final turn to blow it as well. Turning for the wire was where the jockey almost hit both rails.
The horse came to a complete stop halfway home, then started up again and won by two!
Survivors, top that.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org