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The boxer

Some days, those running behind at the horse races might have you think they're up against more than the odds.

Yesterday alone, half a dozen horse players suggested to me that they had been on the wrong side of some chicanery; and I don't listen much.

Were some market research to be done, the chief concern among regular horseplayers would probably be the fear of betting into some uneven training, to put it mildly. For as long as I have been going to the horse races, live or on the screens, nobody has asked what they could do to make my stay more enjoyable; so I doubt we will have to concern ourselves with horse race track market research anytime soon. Once at Lone Star, two employees asked me how I was doing. That's as close to horse race market research as I've ever been.

Getting back to what some envision as the dark side of the back side, if conspiracy theories exit concerning who killed Princess Diana, or why some people in Congress voted a certain way, then you won't have to get too deep into a beer to see something fishy about a $5,000 claimer winning formlessly. What's easier, from a human nature perspective, saying, of a big loss: "I'm an idiot." Or: "I was robbed."

Old school cheating was where nine jockeys and six owners and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse got together to arrange the order of finish, one through six, with the favorite finishing after that, to collect the entire wagering pool. Anymore, the horse player's major worry is, as is the contemporary case with the ball sports, performance enhancing drugs.

I did a little market research on my own and found that 100 percent of horseplayers feel that the penalties at the track don't fit the fouls. Some trainer is suspended for a month? Thanks anyway. But may I please have the money I bet back? People who break the rules with horses are treated like drunk drivers. After a number of warnings, you could be in for a fair amount of grief, and a training film.

Needs a race; needs a big dose of vitamins. Picking a winner seems to get harder every day.

So what's a horse player to do?

You can't see cheaters between the lines of every race in the Form. You can't act like you're playing bingo at the Church Social, either.

Here's who doesn't give a thought to what might happen behind the barns on occasion: somebody rich.

The rest of us have to watch closely the tote board and body languages.

Just because somebody chooses to take liberties with the rules doesn't mean it'll work. And even if it does, there might be a way to turn a dollar your way.

Betting horses is all about the way you deal with favorites. Great favorites belong on Pick 6 tickets. Bad favorites make for a betting race. I have fiddled around some, looking at the percentages of cheap claiming favorites that win. Guess what. It's not a third. It's less.

Feeling good about throwing out an odds-on favorite is one of the most rewarding aspects of horse race handicapping. It's a start, you say? Not always. Sometimes after you toss a favorite, you can proceed smartly to the collection window.

The worst time to observe an impossible win is when you have wagered on another horse in the race; the best time to see an impossible horse win is in the Form, with the miracle horse being 4-5 its next start, right there in front of you.

One of my favorite throw-outs is an inexpensive horse coming from a big-time track to a small-time track. An automatic throw-out is an impossible horse winning at long odds, then coming back as the favorite. One day recently, there was just such a pretty picture: the even-cash favorite was off an easy win and, in my estimation, couldn't duplicate the feat with a 100-yard running head start. Fishy horses seldom bite twice.

So here's what I did. There were eight horses in the race. I threw out the favorite and boxed the rest of the field.

The so-called favorite might have beaten one horse, but not by much.

The Exacta was around $300, and was almost lots more.

Some people might roll their eyes at the boxing of great herds of animals. But sometimes you have to use your mind to get to the "All," or "All The Rest" buttons.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com