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In the full-time quest to attract new fans to horse racing, with new fans seemingly defined as young fans, a key element of the task would be eliminating what's off-putting about the sport.

What's the worst thing about horse racing when it comes to filling a lovely spring afternoon?


Bad pickers can scare off business.

Anybody looking at what the TV handicappers did to the Derby prep races in Florida and Louisiana over the weekend would run for a keno clerk.

You can't lose your backside and then feel like staying around to pick up some culture. With all the free totes they give away, what are you going to put in them besides leftover hot dogs after an expert picker puts you on the favorite and the long shot comes in? Here's what a potential horse player has to think after a typical day at the races: If that professional picker has seen thousands of races and can't pick a lick, how could I?

Rotten "expert" handicapping runs rampant. The TV pickers seem to care more about what they look like than what they say. Few if any go over bad picks, which is where you can learn how to keep such a thing from happening again. It's just on to the next one like local weekend weather characters.

The TV handicapping of the Florida and Louisiana Derbies over the weekend was enough to send a possible fan and gambler to a state fair game like pitching pennies at flat plates. As post time neared in the Florida race, all anybody could talk about on TV was El Padrino and what a bargain he was at 4-1 or 3-1, even though he appeared to have been exhausted after his last race in Louisiana. (P.S: Louisiana racing isn't exactly the bastion of champions.) Even the smart money came on El Padrino, smart money being defined as late money, bets that wouldn't be canceled. El Padrino ran like all but the experts and the suckers expected him to run, leisurely.

After the race, all the professional handicapper talked about was how Union Rags had been the best in the race. Yeah. Well. Maybe. That's the third time Union Rags has been all over the race track. Perhaps now he thinks fiddling around and running late is the way the sport is supposed to work. The ride Saturday was pretty terrible, back there with the riffraff. Put him in a 20-horse game of roughhouse and who knows. Rags to riches? Not like Saturday.

With the professional handicapping of the Louisiana Derby on Sunday, heaven help any new fan wandering into that mess. Since El Padrino had run flat as an old pancake, the experts figured that Mark Valeski would be even staler in New Orleans. Nobody had even heard of the 109-1 winner. But perhaps they had heard of "All." The exacta wager 1-All or All-1, using Valeski over and under what appeared to be a bunch of claimers, paid around $500.

The other day on HRTV, the experts picked four horses in a grass race. None of them finished in the top four, which until then had seemed impossible.

Here's the anatomy of a bad pick.

Being swayed by the obvious: Even when the obvious wins, it's probably not worth it.

Laziness: TV pickers love inside information from trainers. When is the last time a trainer picked anything?

Lack of money: If you can't bet enough to cover what you like, hit the slots. This isn't a bargain hunter's game.

Fear: Most would rather lose on a 7-5 shot than a 20-1 horse.

Playing too many tracks: One is often plenty.

Playing "betting races": A "betting race" is one that can't be handicapped by a logical person with solid handicapping skills. Nobody in his or her right mind has, in recorded horse race-wagering history, hit an exacta in a "betting race." Searching for "value" in a "betting race" is the fast track to depression.

Playing too many races: Passing, and watching, is educational.

A final word about "Luck": It was pretty much pseudo-intellectual slop, a few moments of revealing behind-the-scenes realism lost in metaphoric hell.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.