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Go figure

What figures will I use this spring? What ratings, rankings, what system?

Let me answer it this way.

Any mention of a thoroughbred de-coder brings back memories of the Horse Race Analyzer, which was one of the first computer-type devices used to pick at winners.

The Analyzer was about the size of a couple of blackboard erasers laid end to end, and it existed on batteries, eating them whole, it sometimes seemed. Cell phones, at that time, were not that far removed from what soldiers on the front lines used at Normandy to call in air support. The Horse Race Analyzer was considered a fancy piece to brandish in any Jockey Club. But the buttons were tiny, and it could take an hour to program a race that left you with the chalk, which you might have been able to find on your own.

The search for a system with which to swing the odds to a player's favor has been a priority since the cavemen ran out the first three-card monte game; take that, Geico. I have a very nice three-card monte system. Here it is. Three-card monte is a con game where the prospective sucker is asked to follow, and bet, on one of three pasteboards turned face-down, find the queen of spades, for example. What you do on a big money hand is eliminate the most obvious card. Because it's never the most obvious card. With the odds now at 50-50, you win if you've been living more properly than the punk dealer. If the scammer is right-handed, the object card is most apt to be on his right side, it's human nature. Chiselers have human natures, too.

Cards -- blackjack and poker -- lend themselves to systems; dice, also.

So why shouldn't horse racing?

The information that $50 winners hide in is about the same as when the Horse Race Analyzer was around. Figures, or power ratings, are based on speed, pace, class; then add health and human considerations. The best card angles are based on patience. Wait 200 hands, 500, then make a big bet. Waiting through 500 horse races could change your relationship status. So many horse plays are forced. Even when the numbers are exactly right: the jockey is being divorced, the horse has a headache, the trainer is under investigation, the dirt has shifted.

The last time I saw a Horse Race Analyzer made for a good photo op. Two of them were in the window of a pawn shop up the street from a race track. That photo is on my wall, along with some great shots of me in winners' circles. When I hit a big one at a small meet, sometimes I get in the picture. Some connections can use the company. In a winners' circle in the rain where I had one that paid more than $100, the trainer and a guest, and the steed and I, were the only ones in the shot, the winning horse seeming to wonder, with a big eyeball, who I was.

It is my contention that picking winners consistently is a creative endeavor.

This makes all sets of figures, and all pages of computer ratings, research -- starting points, not conclusions. Numbers can tell you where to bet approximately how much; who, that's for the birds.

Some sly angles work more often than not. Here are two of them. Many handicappers are scared away when a horse moves off course on its own as it nears the wire. Drifting means they're tired. But lugging in frequently means they're attempting to run out of their skins; and just might next time. Concerning body language, horses that shake their heads up and down, who cares. Horses that shake their heads repeatedly from side to side, you can have them.

Creative skills come from environment or blood.

It is doubtful a prodigy, age 7, could pick the features at Mountaineer with any consistency.

Horse players must learn to be creative, which can be accomplished by watching races without wagering, or while betting minimally; or by studying figures and power ratings, and by studying people, to see what won, and why.

Betting can get in the way of learning.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com