Routine upsets

Big payoffs are a horse racing staple, a $50 winner at Mountaineer, a $70 runner at Finger Lakes, an $80 upset in Jersey, the gigantic numbers have been rolling in since somebody French came up with pari-mutuel wagering in the eighteen hundreds.

Yet with each $66.60 payoff comes the notion that it was the devil's work. Upsets leave handicappers speechless, clueless, and angry, as though hoodwinked, as though impossible $90 winners only happen against you.

And still they come, $71.20 on Four Wheels at Charles Town, $81.60 on Indian Icon at Arlington, both the most recent Sunday.

Big payoffs don't always come from thin air, from beyond left field, from a needle, or from the sticks. It's not only the casino sidekick tracks routinely turning out the big numbers. Yesterday, two $30-plus winners came across at Belmont.

Upsets that seem impossible come from very real places.

Finding big winning numbers requires a sarcastic sense of humor and a small bankroll.

Here's where the monster payoff has lived forever.

First-time starters: Super-fast works are more apt to be a negative than anything. I have seen training races for thoroughbreds during which jockeys race the animals for all they're worth, which turns out to be less than before the training race started.

Works at longer distances prior to routes tend to be more revealing than hops.

First-time starts versus average horses work best.

Unexpected speed: Some horses need a race.

Some horses need six, seven races.

A horse with sorry form that suddenly flashes speed before failing is worth a dollar or two.

Flashed speed after a layoff can be a sign of something like an improved diet, which is a nice way of putting debatable training technique.

Bad horses that have to get the lead sometimes like it up there.

Relatively healthy non-winners of two running in the mud with a record of something like 1-30: Lousy horses need worse horses to win, plus help from an element or two.

One for a bunch animals are automatic throw-outs among most handicappers. But upon occasion you can find a sound older horse that's one for three or four score going against some younger lightly raced horses with physical trouble. I once caught a $100 winner that was 1-37 and swooped a bunch of wobblers in a monsoon. Routes seem gentler than springs on older bones.

Layoffs: Winners off a good while are not as surprising as was the case when old school rules were in play.

Hidden works can now replicate competition.

Lost jockey: About as bad a trouble line as a handicapper can find, this one automatically adds about 10 points to the last odds reading just because.

If the horse had a chance last time, and the flipped jockey gets back on, it's a green light at the ATM and then at the windows.

Bad analysis: Horse race handicapping is so difficult, people at the track will believe most anything.

The ill-advised expert opinion that drives odds up the most has to do with successful horses that do not appear to be up to the competition, maiden winners against stakes race vets, for example, claiming horses against allowance runners.

Here's something to keep in mind while looking at 30-1 odds.

You can't blame a horse for winning.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.