The late, great “Spy” magazine once ran an article titled “Hey, My Kid Could Do That.”
They got a bunch of New York City elementary school kids, gave them some supplies and asked them to create some abstract and minimalist sculptures and paintings by copying the work of people like Jackson Pollock.
Then they put the stuff together in a realistic gallery, opened it to the public and secretly recorded some of the commentary. Some people spotted the amateurism, but many did not, and were properly deceived.
Two months ago, I was one of those kids.
We’re running a three-part series on page A1 starting today featuring three guys who pick horses in the paper, Mark Cusano and Bill Heller of the Gazette, and Dave Litfin of the Daily Racing Form.
Having been a, let’s say, enthusiastic horse racing bettor for over 20 years, I had a little bit of a feel for what a professional handicapper’s job entails.
Spend an hour or so talking to these guys about their art, though, and you realize that whatever “system” you think you have is only scratching the surface.
Or better yet, grab a Racing Form and attempt to do their job, actually pick a full card and get it published as your newspaper’s authoritative racing voice from on high, like I did in the middle of May, when Heller took his son to the Preakness and needed some masochist to fill in for him for two days.
I could not do this for a living.
It’s not even about the pressure of putting your intellect and credibility on the line, out there for all to judge. Sure, I didn’t want to embarrass myself or my paper by getting skunked, but I know my limitations, and I didn’t have any great expectation of success.
That said, I tried as hard as I could. I’ve handicapped entire cards before for my own wagering purposes, like when the Breeders’ Cup or Travers Day comes up, but I can’t imagine doing it year-round, or even for the duration of the Saratoga Race Course meet.
There’s a little bit of anxiety about the fact that people are betting their hard-earned cash in a certain direction based on your opinion. But I was OK with that, because I took my assignment seriously and really wanted to do well, just to satisfy my competitive streak. I couldn’t be accused of tanking.
The hard part was grinding through every race. I spent three hours both days, and much of the time was used to agonize over these cheap, indiscernible races, races that I would never bet in a million years and would simply skip right over. But you can’t do that when you’re a public handicapper. I treated every race like it was the Kentucky Derby.
Then, the next day, I had things to do, but spent the entire afternoon watching the whole card and rooting like a lunatic for my picks to win, even though, except for two or three races that I bet, I had no monetary investment at all.
Oh, how’d I do? Thought you’d never ask.
Five-for-10, both days.
I didn’t have a winner that paid more than $4.80 the first day, and two exactas I hit paid a whopping $31.80 (not terrible) and $18.60 (so sue me).
On the second day, my Best Long Shot, Break Point, came flying home in the second race and paid $27.80. Yeehaw. Then, in the fifth, my cold trifecta of Summer Patriot-Good Request-Champagne Squall paid $107.50. Just for laughs, Casey’s Tribe won the 10th for me and paid $7.40, completing a 10-for-20 weekend.
Fooled ’em again.