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A thinking problem

The national picking crisis continues.

Thinking too much is the No. 1 cause of all the miscalculations in horse racing. Lots of people couldn't wait to bet against Creative Cause at Santa Anita on Saturday, preferring instead the antics of a maiden winner, period. This isn't hindsight. This is almost a rule: Take the third place Grade 1 runner over a fast maiden winner.

Creative Cause has issues, one of which could be aboard. A race back, he got in trouble in a mini field, and in the San Felipe, he almost tried both rails, swinging wider than an ice road trucker before coming on home the best. You can just about count the number of maiden winners who defeat Grade 1 boarders on your thumbs.

Both recent Kentucky Derby prep races came with a betting strategy nuance that I am writing about now: lay off the exactas. Exacta bets add up fast. When you box three, you can't use more than one short price. Breaking even when the favorites run 1-2 is no fun. And the big tickets feature crazy horses.

This is a difficult stretch for many handicappers because it's the time of the year when you sit down with last season's notes and losing tickets and attempt to learn from some of the most rotten bets ever to grace the bottom of one of the shoeboxes marked "IRS Evidence." Going back over the $75 win bet on the $7,500 claimer that went off at 6-1 and barely finished on the same side of the track as the winner was a reminder of how the last race on a card appeals to only those down for the day.

The reason you go over stacks of bad bets is to see if something ominously habit forming is out there, charming your money into submission. It's true that all races are different. But some people bet most of them the same way.

Here's where the majority of my losing bets came from last year: crazy seconds in exactas. True, sometimes losing puts you in the mindset to win. But there's absolutely no need to get beat by 25 more horses that have absolutely no chance to run second.

The statistics for the last taxable year indicate that I am far more apt to pick a 10-1 winner than I am to get a 10-1 horse second. Illogical sounding, but simply put, I can pick winners better when they go somewhere besides with exactas. And I have the tickets to prove it, winners on pick threes and fours, losers on exacta-crazy seconds. When playing an exacta comes at the exclusion of making a pick three or four bet, the horse player must get his or her head out of the losers, the possible runners-up, and focus on picking firsts.

So who hits the $160 exactas? The temporarily lucky, and those skillful with the "All" button.

Crazy exacta seconds ruin more mythical bankrolls of TV pickers than any other bet. These professional handicappers can be heard to whimper truthfully as they go off the air, "But I'm still alive in the pick three."

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Here's an update on the weekly HBO horse race series "Luck" that stars Dustin Hoffman as the cold-hearted mobster with a sweet spot for his horse, and Nick Nolte as the grizzled trainer who sounds like Joe Cocker.

There are only so many seedy things that can happen on the dark side of a race track.

Between the cons and beatings, cue the love interests.

It's purely for the horse race junkie, this one, and it's probably what they enjoy most: something predictable.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.