Racing for dummies

Here's one of your annual year-end stories.

The most significant change that I have noticed this year at the races is the shrinking number of the regular horse player's greatest natural asset, the dummy.

At the local live meet, I sometimes had to use a bag for the winnings. It wasn't a gunnysack. It was a plain brown bag meant for hamburgers from the track grill; if you can call frying everything grilling. I recall, as though it happened yesterday, the night when I tore my right front jeans pocket, trying to get all the twenties inside. It was four or five years back. It used to be easier to make money at the small meets than it was to earn money working honestly.

These live-meet winning opportunities carried over to the simulcast and off-track joints where numerous meets were beamed in from wide spots in the sticks. Walk in at noon Wednesday, or after dark Friday, or Sunday after church, and this was what you could find at the reserved tables, and at the bar, and at the TV carrels, or, during the live races, in the box seats or at the rail: Bad handicappers. Dummies, if you will -- victims of the obvious, repeat offenders.

Before a local or regional live meet was to begin, my friends and I never concerned ourselves with the quality of the horses, or the riding colony, or the possibility of skullduggery. Instead, we worried about the Idiot Colony -- the people with money who came to the races without handicapping skills. The occasional successful $6 win ticket would keep losers coming back like a two-iron shot that stopped six inches from the cup during a round of golf totaling 93 strokes.

My friends and I would win so much, we'd make a conscious effort not to celebrate too loudly, as well-bred maidens at 5-1 romped home by big sky country-type daylight over stuff destined for joy rides for kiddies.

Then one day, they opened an Indian casino and started giving away five bucks cash on Gentleman's Day; then they opened another casino and were making so much that pretty soon they were giving away his and her Corvettes, the gender typed by color; or his and his Corvettes; or hers and hers, whatever; then another casino opened and they gave a way a new house.

After those days just mentioned, the horse players looked around for dummies and discovered that they were at the casinos, where you could check your brains at the door and lost a fortune so much easier than was the case at the race track. Having to think so much before being wiped out at the horse races, it hardly seemed fair. Sit and grin and watch all the pretty people, and listen to the bells ring signifying somebody just won anywhere from $10 to $10,000 on a slot machine (it was $10) Ð what more could a problem gambler ask.

Say that the average dummy has a 1 in 1,000 chance to win $1,000 on a horse race.

This dummy would stand a 1 in 500 chance to win $1,000 on a slot spin.

Dummies are problem gamblers with money.

So smarter people now frequent the horse races, live and remote, in a greater percentage than has ever been the case. Small meet, small pools, all the dummies are punching and grinning at the casino, now you can usually get the money in your pockets. I was in the local simulcast hall the other night and only counted three dummies in non-smoking, four, if you threw in a teller.

That what frequently benefits our sport the most, the slots, has made it tougher to win a bag of money, is fortified irony.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com