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A quarter for your thoughts

Here's a possible slump buster: Quarter Horse racing.

Many horse players think Quarter Horse racing is barely above a bet on jai-alai; that it's nothing more than the rural stepchild of the Thoroughbred sport; that it's like trying to handicap a game at the Fair where a mouse runs at holes in a board; that's it's an entry-level job to the industry.

But having lived in Quarter Horse country for most of my life, I can tell you that a Quarter Horse event is a real race that can be handicapped by somebody with picking skills. A Quarter Horse race is as fun to handicap as you are good at it. It speaks a similar language to thoroughbred racing, just in shorter breaths.

What is Quarter Horse country?

America.

You won't find them running 440 yards at Ascot for anything but an umbrella.

Quarter Horses were used to open the country to land claims and to run cattle. Then somebody said my horse is faster than your horse and a sport was born.

Handicapping a Quarter Horse race is no more difficult than picking one of those five-horse thoroughbred stakes races in New York or LA.

The sport is a gigantic business, the number one supplier of animals to Mom and Pop Stables across America, mostly in the heartland. At the track in my city in the summer, they run split meets. The first five races are for thoroughbreds, the last five for quarter horses, pick your passion.

Once you have seen a quarter horse quinella pay three fourths of a quarter horse exacta, the sport suddenly becomes more interesting.

My famous impression of a quarter horse call has been changed from: They're off, here they come, you lose. To: They're off, here they come, it's a photo.

Here are 14 things about Quarter Horse racing that can help speed the time through the summer to football and Breeders' Cup seasons.

1. The start is most everything.

Gate late, you're not only beaten, you could be beaten up.

It's like a bad start in a 100-meter track event.

2. Old people can ride.

Fifty and 60-year old jockeys win races all the time. How can such a thing happen?

There's not much time to get tired.

3. Post positions matter.

A lot. Track bias at quarter horse races is often pronounced.

They run down the stretch of the track, where the rail is often deader and deeper because that's where water drains. The outside has been unused. The middle is the highest and fastest point. Oftentimes Quarter Horse gates are pushed away from the rail to give animals down there a better chance. Horses running decently against a severe bias somewhere else can come to your house and rock the tote with big winning payouts versus the same runners.

4. Quarter horses can run right back.

A week is a fairly normal running cycle at a meet. If a horse misses the break, it could probably come back later on the same card.

5. There's the suck-along theory.

Any horse next to a traditionally fast breaker can find room for perhaps the first time in ages. Sometimes an average horse can be sucked along by the winner to a surprise second or third-place finish.

6. Wear denim or shorts.

It's a casual sport.

7. Dust the cobwebs off the binoculars.

Focus on your horse in the gate. It takes about one second to know if your horse has a chance.

8. Quarter horses run to current form.

For such a hectic activity, even a claiming drop of five hundred bucks can preclude improvement.

9. The names of the horses leave a little something to be desired.

Lots of horses are actually named based on bloodlines, not to impress a beer-drinking buddy.

There are lots of Jets and Rockets, Bars and Dashes.

10. Don't be scared off by all the owner-trainer credentials.

A single horse often constitutes a stable.

11. Quarter horses run for gigantic sums of money.

The purse for the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs is $3 million, half of which goes go to the winner. The Kentucky Derby purse is $2 million.

12. The outside post is interesting.

It's usually an all or nothing spot. Horses often break toward daylight, which in this case is sideways.

13. Big-time trouble can sometimes be handicapped.

Horses are routinely sideswiped at the start of the race.

Huge payoffs come from wipeouts of short-priced horses. At some quarter horse tracks, the tote board might look like the marquee at the Hot l Baltimore, with lights burned out on the inquiry sign.

Disqualifications happen less frequently than you might expect.

Concussion protocol for the rider or racer are often required for a DQ.

14. Quinellas.

A quinella is an old fashioned low-dollar wager still found at some tracks. It is aimed at picking the first two horses in any either order.

Quinellas should pay half the exacta.

But some days you might see a quinella pay $15 and the exacta pay $20.

Bet twenty bucks and collect $150 or bet $40 on and exact box and collect $200.

Or bet a $40 quinella and collect $300.

Why does an occasional payoff like this happen?

Dumb luck.