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When being right is oh so wrong

The worst thing that could happen to a horse player is not:

Losing another photo finish.

Misplacing a good ticket.

Betting the wrong number.

Losing because of a bad ride.

Losing because of cheaters.

The worst thing that can happen to a horse player is to be right about a race, about a long shot, and make the wrong bet and not get paid.

Being right and not getting paid is not a money-management problem, it's a dumb problem.

Being right and not getting paid is why so many people sit around a race track or simulcast venue with The Look on their faces. The Look is divided into equal parts of: disbelief, confusion, sadness, anger and dazedness. It is an unblinking trance-like look that says: I just liked a horse that went off at 45-1 and won by six and I bet $75 on it in exotic bets and didn't collect one dime.

The only occurrence away from horse racing where you see anything similar to The Look is when your ex-wife marries a billionaire.

So far as I can tell, the problem with getting paid on long shots has to do with Exactas and Trifectas; more money is lost hooking long shots to Exactas and triples in a week than the President probably spends in a month.

Picking third is not handicapping. Handicapping is a positive mindset aimed at picking winners. Trying to pick third is a proposition bet along the lines of getting odds of 17-1 that the next pitch in the Yankee game is a fly ball out to right field, or getting 25-1 that the first penalty in the Super Bowl is clipping. Trying to pick third is like playing low-ball poker where the worst hand wins and the players look like they're sucking lemons.

We must observe this rule: If you like a long shot, you have to make a win bet. Or a place bet. That way, the next time your favorite $90 horse crosses the finish line in front, you won't have to say, "Oh no."

My worst handicapping moment ever occurred when I loved a $100 horse and didn't collect on it, finding a $100 horse being the gold medal standard of thoroughbred racing, Wilt dipping in 100 in Hershey, Pa., that kind of landmark. The race was run in a monsoon. I told a number of people in the simulcast joint that I liked the $100 horse and was laughed at. Mud flying, who could tell what was second, even the announcer was lost. One horse player congratulating another horse player is not a common sight at the races. You made money and I didn't, who's comfortable with that. People in this simulcast building moved by my seat in a solemn but respectful procession almost like something out of one of the Godfathers: Congratulations, you no-good, miserable so and so.

Is there a worse feeling than rifling through an inch-high stack of pari-mutuel tickets, hoping against what stands to reason that somehow you arranged your beloved $100 horse with the two mutts running second and third? No, there is no worse feeling than losing on a winner.

"Congratulations," they said that night.

"For nothing," I thought.

I made $100 worth of bets on a horse that paid $100 and did not redeem a single wager.

Too many handicappers take a long shot and wrap it up in exotic bets in an attempt to make a killing; but hitting a long shot winner IS a killing.

Once you have bet a long shot to win, and have bet a long shot in a pick 3, 4 or 6, which is another way of picking winners, then I guess you can spend a few dollars on picking losers -- Exactas and triples.

Here is what my research indicates that frequently finishes third: That which stumbles, staggers, wobbles, shimmies, drifts, wanders, flounders and falters.

As decent horses sometimes take a race off, the worst gravitates to third.

Lest we all forget, this endeavor is about picking winners, not picking a peck of pickled peppers.