All Hail

Occasionally horse-race handicapping hindsight is 20-200, the game can be that tough.

Such is the case with trying to learn something from the second, third and fourth-place runners at the Preakness, and the fancy exotic payoffs.

Sometimes the general public is not as dizzy as it looks: short-priced horses tend to run well in the second Triple Crown race. After the typical Derby, when the frequent freaky bad luck is the denominator that spells trouble -- from outpost posts to mud wrestling -- a field of 12 in Baltimore seems thin. At the Pimlico stakes race, the best horses often get to run unencumbered.

So in reviewing the handicapping angles of the Preakness, for mistakes in logic or for examples of hard-headedness, the one thought that made sense going in was that the co-favorites were better than the rest. And that is probably giving jockey Calvin Borel slightly more credit than he was due: different racing surface than the Derby, different distance, different track, different field. How could a good, but not great horse, be favored to win another big race in two weeks? Lookin At Lucky was lookin' at the infield in the Derby and still closed a block. Similarly, Dublin almost went into the outfield in Baltimore, and somehow closed to fifth.

So beyond the co-favorites making some sense on the win, and beyond goofball luck with the rest -- lucky 7 come 11, a dog named Jackson, and a Chubby Checker recollection, how do you get to the second finisher? The third? The one after that?

They say second-place finisher First Dude had been looking good in the morning. But I have never trusted "them" much. Other young-horse, big-race vibes that cause me to look elsewhere are long layoffs, fiddling around with front wraps (see Schoolyard Dreams), and winners of only maiden races.

Sometimes you simply have to pay up.

Whereas "they" might have had the $188 exacta with First Dude, there was an easier, less stressful, and nearly as profitable way to come up with 7-11: you could have had all the dudes.

About all any Preakness loser could have wished was that he or she would have played the two best-suited horses, the virtual co-favorites, with the sure thing: All.

Those two over All would have cost $44 and would have paid $188, for a profit of more than $140; waiter, when you get the time, a bottle of the middle-priced stuff.

Some regard the use of the "All" button as being only slightly more artistic than refuse-container diving for discarded tickets. But sometimes playing All is as creative as uncovering a meaningful fraction amongst a field of ordinary numbers. And you don't have to get up at 4 a.m. like "they" do.

Many gigantic exotic payoffs have concluded, All; or even All, All.

Who hasn't seen some nutty All attempts: A leftover ticket at the next table last week read All, two horses, two horses, hitting one for three.

But when a winner or two seem obvious, and all the rest seem similar, what's the worst that can happen to an all or nothing selection. Sometimes knowing that an exacta can't be picked is good handicapping.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.