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Derby questions (and answers)

The Derby usually sets people to talking to themselves.

Here are some tough questions I just asked myself.

Q - What's up with all the fake dirt?

A - When it comes to mixing and matching surfaces and results, it can be hard to argue this from a handicapping perspective: Fake dirt is to major championship horse racing as miniature golf is to the PGA tour.

One recent report indicates that certain artificial racing surfaces are about the same as dirt when it comes to injuries. And the tracks that can afford synthetic tracks don't have all that many $4,000 claiming races that dominate the cards, one point being that cheap horses are more frequently associated with accident potential.

After what happened to the artificial surface champs at Lake Monmouth at the Breeder's Cup in the fall - nothing good happened - this is one way to handle all the fake dirt contenders: Put the best of the lot on top of a ticket or two, and brush aside the rest.

Q - How's that Derby futures ticket of which you were so proud?

A - It's around here somewhere.

First, it was in the safe. Next, it was folded twice and used to keep a glass door on a cabinet from rattling.

Here it is, already in with the tax-expense receipts.

It is a ticket on Denis of Cork, enthusiastically purchased before the horse was put on a detour less traveled to the Derby. When I bought the ticket, Denis was set to breeze through the invigorating Arkansas spa treatment, which in recent years seemed to give Oaklawn Park winners a running start in the Derby. Now, my ticket has been rerouted through less relaxing points east; stockholders with futures tickets get no votes when it comes to policy.

Q - What's wrong with California horses?

A - It must be something in the bubble bath.

The best ones in recent years have come east after having been coddle by short fields and room temperatures.

The best California horses would be well advised to leave early.

Q - How do you handicap the Derby?

A - 1. Eliminate front-runners.
2. Eliminate deep closers.
3. Seriously consider eliminating the favorite.
4. Same with what's too lightly raced.
5. Highlight stalkers.
6. Seek improvers from among those.

Q - How might you change the TV Derby coverage?

A - It's usually pretty solid because horse players are less full of themselves than most TV talent.

An updating of celebrity sightings couldn't hurt. Nothing against Nick Lachey, but about the only time I see him is at Churchill each spring. There for a while, I thought he had to have been doing a music video at the track. Maybe feature somebody whose job description didn't include Divorce.

Also, and this is probably too far-fetched, I'd love to see a TV feature about the G-secret, lean in, I'll whisper, you know, gambling.

Q - What would a Triple Crown winner do for the psyche of America?

A - Don't get your hopes up about Pryo turning around the stock market.

Breeding so dominates the horsy mindset that a contender with a fast Derby work could be sent directly to the mating suite that night.

Twenty horses in the Derby, training young horses to run through their body development, fear, all of that plus luck makes a Triple Crown winner in horse racing as unlikely as a Triple Crown winner in baseball.

Q - How far are we from seeing slot machines at the rail at Churchill?

A - Don't roll your blueblood eyes too far back in your head - nobody thought they'd see casino-raising where barn-raising once took place. But the Hollywood Casino just opened in Amish country in Pennsylvania.

The future of racing seems to depend on either horse players or slot players.

Q - Is the Derby one of those places you should go before you die?

A - Yes.

But all good horse players go to heaven.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.