The chase is on

When a horse you liked at morning-line odds of 4-1 approaches the starting gate at 20-1, you're apt to think: Oh no.

You think: I would have loved it at maybe 5-1, but not 15-1.

You think: I was wrong.

Then you think: I need to re-think this race.

When a horse you liked at 4-1 moves to the post at 4-5, you think: Oh no.

You think: I only brought $400.

You think: At an odds-on price, maybe I should look for value. For readers new to this space, a value horse is defined as one that goes off at a fat price, and with good reason, because to win, better horses have to forfeit. A search for value among the bluebloods is a loser's lament. A value horse is like a value date, it's cheap and doesn't last.

Being chased off a winner by odds is bad business -- it's negative, it's mindless, it should make a person think about taking up needlepoint.

Of the recently completed Florida Derby, a friend of mine said before the race that he couldn't put Smooth Air in with his packet of high-dollar exactas because the price was too long on the horse; which is why so many horseplayers keep their thoughts to themselves. They could be quoted. Smooth Air finished second at a big price as Brown bagged it, there's your value, the exacta.

The point of this piece is show how often odds greatly influence not only how much a person is about to bet, but on whom, and with what wagering device. What's remarkable about odds dictating strategy is the fact that we're not talking here about a casino game where percentages are chiseled in stone (headstones?). Horse racing is an interpretive endeavor wherein judgment is the key.

So what's a horse handicapper to do when numbers set by a preponderance of losers (the public), begin to outweigh actual performance numbers put down by the horses themselves?

Next time you start wondering if you should get off a horse you like simply because it's 20-1 instead of 8-1, put down your handicapping materials a moment and take a look around: there's the house painter who should be working, fresh beige flecks on his shirt; there are the drunks; the retirees playing off the program; the lawyers on long lunches; the multi-millionaires without a care in the world (in here). They are the standard setters at the races, the odds-makers, bartender, another keg over there, please.

It's not only you against the field of horses -- it's sometimes also you against a field of bettors. You're going to let a collection of gamblers out of left field manage your money?

Playing the horses is handicapping.

Playing the numbers is a lottery.

Odds should chase a handicapper, sure enough -- odds should chase you onto horses you like, not off.

If you like something at 5-1, and it winds up at 20-1, bet $2 more. If you like something at 3-1, and it goes to the post at 3-5, bet $2 or more using it in the exotics.

I once let some yahoos and rail buzzards chase me off a 50-1 horse that won with a smile and thought, never again, even if I lose all 50-1 plays hereafter.

Limited budgets are made for slots. You can have a ton of fun before losing $20 on slot machines. You can have no fun with twenty or thirty bucks at the horse races.

To get around such perils as odds set by dumbbells, earn more, it's that complicated.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.