Marking a Racing Form, marking past performances, is part ritual, part necessity.
Some edited Forms and past performances look like what an offensive coordinator brings to the sidelines of an NFL game, color-coded charts of reds and yellows and greens and blues, with each tone alerting the handicapper to something thought in calmer times.
The need to be able to recall a saner moment is real.
My markings are on the simple side, red and black with the occasional earth tone, black underlined bits for facts worth focus, and red for beware, or be aware; red, for pieces of material that could mean good money one way or another, money saved, or money earned.
Chaos precedes many races.
Even if it's quiet, you can start hearing voices, echoes from lost opportunities. Two minutes to the post, you're talking to yourself, wondering if that is smart money or stupid money. Colorful notes can refocus trying times.
Sometimes you wind up with a smudged palate, with notes over notes. Is that an aqua highlight, meaning check off-track record, or is that the brown circle, meaning strong dirt improvement?
So there I was at the simulcast joint the other evening with my annotated Form, breaking the number one rule when it comes to maintaining the right frame of mind, don't talk. Somebody one over asked who I liked in the Eclipse awards. I said I was less into awards than the double at Delta. Awards, while nice, couldn't cover dinner. And they were usually flawed. Take the NFL MVP. First, the TV hacks gave it to Michael Vick. Then when it was revealed that running quarterbacks in pro football had a full-health expectancy of five weeks, they gave it to Tom Brady, whose team hasn't won a real game since Spy Gate. The only true MVP is the defensive back for the Jets, Darrelle Revis, who could cover a hummingbird.
I excused myself from further awards talk, looked at a race in the Form, made some bets, and watched a 30-something-to-1 horse burst forth from the gate, assume an uncontested lead over some befuddled jocks from the sticks, and win easy-you-hadn't-pleased, paying right at $66 for the romp around.
A common reaction following many races off the beaten paths is: What the heck just happened?
And so our common sense winter handicapping brush-up session continues.
I went back to my Form and notes in search of clues to the stolen race.
In most races that produce crazy winners, which is to say, horses ignored by victims of the obvious at the windows, there is usually a little something to like. Incomprehensible winners account for such a small percentage of upsets, who cares, it's almost like an extra tax you occasionally pay for the right to have some fun.
I had marked, in non-skid red ink, the number 2 by the horse that paid $66.
Moreover, I had played it second in four $5 bets, third in three.
This raises the question: How could anybody who professes to be a decent handicapper bet an inexpensive 32-1 horse second but not first?
The horse showed halfway decent speed in its last few, on an off track in one instance, from obscure post positions a couple of times. And now it was in against horses that seemed to really enjoy standing in the gate. I had underlined in black ink the fairly quick starts by the 32-1 horse. It was 15-1 in the morning line. I had checked that in mauve. A red question mark was by the horse's name. And there I sat watching it win for $66 as I collected $75 worse than nothing, some no-good tickets for the IRS.
How can we let this happen?
How can we see something in a horse that suggests it could win at a big price, and not play it? Or play it second but not first?
How can so many high dollar horses marked on our past performances go without being bet? With money in our pockets?
It's all about time.
We're too rushed. If somebody doesn't do it for us, we rush ourselves. I spent 30 minutes on that race. Had I spent an hour, I would still be buying rounds. More time, fewer races, that's the best ticket. What's the hurry anyway, the impossible races will always be there.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.