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Bad luck begone

Horse race superstitions run differently than most.

Baseball pitchers step over foul lines in hopes of keeping the fastball magic going. Hitters perform disarming rituals with batting gloves, unfastening and fastening them time after time, aimed at recreating the blast that hit halfway up the top deck. Basketball players seem more ritualistic, more other-worldly, as they look above the earth to thank one dearly departed for providing the strength and will used to make a free throw. Football players have been reduced by the rules to goofy handshakes and celebrations that make it look like wasps are after them.

But horse players, all we ask of a superstitious act is for it to help us avoid a disastrous loss like those others.

We're not always acting out for good luck.

Usually we're simply trying to keep nightmares at bay.

Lots of peculiar horse player behavior has to do with the actual viewing of a race: where you watch if from, and how you watch it. For example I will never again watch a live race from a spot along the rail halfway from the top of the stretch to the finish line. This is where I stood the night I had the only live Pick 6 ticket on a last-race photo that had to be enlarged by something like the Hubble telescope to show I was barely second. I will never even walk near that spot. When it comes to the best way to watch a race, that has more to do with handling stress than practicing a phobia. Most trainers can watch entire races. Some owners can't. Watching a race with a lot of money riding on it can be like watching your child play a sport or perform at a recital. I have actually left the building before a race with a big payoff pending.

You can't work a superstition every time at bat or every time to the post.

First off, you have to know what's luck and what's skillful handicapping.

A horse blowing a turn ten lengths in front of yours is luck. Getting moved up in an inquiry is luck.

I have a lucky sweatshirt I have worn once. It contributed to a big Pick 3 win three years ago when I won two inquiries in the brief sequence. It rests on a special rack in the closet, just waiting to be recalled to the front lines. I almost brought it out once last year for a 10-1 horse I liked. But the occasion didn't seem special enough, desperate enough. So I wore an old sweatshirt, bet less, and lost by half-length. You tell me what that means. What I feel is good, knowing the lucky sweatshirt is still up there regenerating itself for that special race day when I will need it the most.

Next to the sweatshirt are three lucky hats, all worn once.

Having a lucky piece of clothing run eighth is depressing; and it must be thrown out immediately.

Trying to keep bad luck away can be similar to searching for good luck through superstition.

There's no such thing as a lucky teller or betting window. But there are unlucky tellers. There's one woman I know whose wagering site is like a window to the Baskerville dog kennel. The last time I was rushed and had to bet there, lights flickered, an ill chill blew, and a spider crawled across the counter. I went zero for the night. I would sooner be shut out in my lucky sweatshirt than send cursed cash through that eerie portal.

The simple presence of certain people can create a tornado-like aura.

They carry the unlucky gene.

A question along the lines of "Who do you like?" can ruin an afternoon. There's one guy I will actually run from to avoid conversation and the almost automatic start of a losing streak.

Predictors of luck at the horse race track often happen accidentally. I have good days or nights after hearing music from a particular group that was played randomly by a station on the car radio. But listening to the same song downloaded or on a CD doesn't work.

At the horse races, good luck is most often the result of a skillful endeavor.

Bad luck is a curse to be dodged.