An Ear Full of Cider


 ‘Son, no matter how far you travel, or how smart you get always remember this:  Someday, somewhere, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is never broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that the jack of spades will jump out of this deck and squirt cider in your ear. But son, do not bet him, for as sure as you do you are going to get an ear full of cider.’ … Damon Runyon

I ran across this quote recently and it reminded me how dangerous certitude can be.  How often do you hear ‘This horse has no chance.’ ….or ‘This horse will win for fun.’ ?

Every day in the race book, right?

Yes of course singles win when declared to be cinches, and there are occasions when it appears there is no possible way a horse can win and it turns out to be true. It may be that these occurrences lead handicappers to apply that the same label to horses that have a better chance to win, or less of a chance to finish up the street, than is actually true.

Longshots win every day and somewhere, a handicapper has decided that it would be possible. Others see no way it could happen.  The UFO for some is very plausible for others.  It’s a great game and a humbling one but there is no absolute certainty.

Minnesota politics provided an example.

During the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial campaign, Republican candidate Norm Coleman insisted often that a vote for former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura was a wasted vote.  In other words, ‘The Body’ had no chance, or so Norm wanted voters to believe. Some pundits bought in and told the public it was all a ruse. A populist wrestler elected governor? No chance.

Jesse’s election night party was held at Canterbury Park. Early in the evening the looks on the faces of the local media members assigned to covering Ventura told their story. It was as though these reporters had been banished to some outpost far from civilization for no good reason or possibly even as some form of punishment. They too saw no path to victory for Ventura.  But as results began to drift in, and Ventura was leading, it became evident he would win. The mood changed. Canterbury was the place to be.  This story has been told many times by others more qualified, but the point here is that the impossible is never impossible.

“We wasted them with wasted votes,” proclaimed Jesse.  Indeed.

Handicapping of horses and politics is not a perfect science. Assessing the true odds of each entrant might deserve a longer look.


Movie Note:  The Big Short is a must-see movie for all handicappers. Be sure to look for former Canterbury Downs race caller Tony Bentley in a pivotal scene near the conclusion. Bentley has landed roles in a few award winning movies of late including 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club.



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