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Systematically favored outcomes

Any horse player with a brain has to accept the gift of that which he or she can control at the betting windows.

Many gamblers act like empty beer cups being kicked around out by the rail. They're there for the ride. They may be scholars and professionals by morn; post-time, they become stooges. A sucker's occasional win comes by an inch. But there are 10-length wagering victories that go begging. Here's what goes unclaimed more than old umbrellas: the blessing of a bias.

Talk about looking a gift horse in the backside: A racetrack bias is like a tip from nature.

A number of biases can come into play.

One is a length bias - the length of the race can frame the likely winner's running style.

People who have seen 25 Derbies, 20 Darbies, 15 Cups and 10,000 claiming races still think insane speed short, and a closing style, long, are just the tickets. The laws of pace and space suggest almost the opposite. Closers seldom close. They pass. Great early speed, even at a handful of furlongs, depends on the company it keeps, and the lay of the land.

This year's Kentucky Derby will not be won from up front or at the back. The length of the Derby - the size of the field and the quality of the competition - will cause the race to be won by any of half a dozen stalkers. Unless it rains. Rain changes everything. Some trainers won't let their horses sing in the rain, let alone run. Or walk. Yet a track-condition bias is seldom accurately reflected on the tote board.

Another wagering advantage worth noting is the Redneck Bias, where, primarily in the sticks, women are ignored because daddy ignored them. Many yahoos think women belong in a knitting circle, not a winner's circle. Numerous good 'ol overfed boys would sooner wager on an illegal alien than on a woman jockey. This bias can put money in a normal handicapper's pocket.

The most discussed track bias has to do with the condition of racing surface itself. That many racetracks have difference circumferences and surfaces and climates gave purpose to the famous Beyer numbers, which attempt to give hope to a handicapper looking at a race involving 12 horses coming from 12 different tracks off 12 different-sized races. Some handicappers discount all track biases that don't float. Here's why. It requires extra thought.

Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish a speed or a rail bias from, say, a big shot of vitamins. But when plodders from different barns suddenly begin winning on the lead, one after the other, don't just sit there.

Certain speed-favoring biases are not so much works in progress as they are natural conditions. Speed favoring could be printed on the program covers of a California track or two.

A racing surface bias has mostly to do with the homestretch and comes as a reaction to the weather, and drainage, or to a groundskeeper's hand. The depth and consistency of real dirt can vary greatly across the track. At the sorrier places, sometimes you can see a jockey ride around soft spots in the road home.

The reality of a persistent track bias is a very good reason to stop sneering and learn a little something about quarter-horse racing.

A quarter-horse race usually goes something like this: They're off, here they come, you lose.

The most commonly asked question at a quarter-horse race is: Who won?

But a quarter-horse track bias can be based on contour and can last a season. I have seen the rail so deep and slow at one track that the gate was moved five yards toward the middle. A quarter-horse bias against the outside post positions used to exist, and still might, at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. It was like the middle was uphill. A horse running eighth from the eighth gate spot at Remington would go somewhere else versus the same and win without a picture.

I can recall a rail bias at Penn National when you could have played the Hee Haw Donkey in the number one gate position and stood a fighting chance. There's no debating a gate position bias; same for a surface.

If a bias beats you, you can't complain, which is no fun.