What George Carlin Knew About Tournament Play

As the classic George Carlin joke goes, “Have you ever noticed that anyone on the highway driving slower than you is an idiot? And anyone driving faster than you is a MANIAC?”

I was reminded of this recently while reading certain responses to some of my recent blogs.

(Incindentally, we publish most but not all of the responses that come in. The few that don’t make it onto the page tend to be either comments made anonymously or ones that we find mean spirited or otherwise unfair. That’s not to say we won’t or don’t allow criticism. But those are much more likely to make the cut if you criticize–constructively–us rather than, say, one of your fellow players. And also if you attach your name to the post. Some may not agree with our informal policy but, hey, we never claimed to be the Columbia School of Journalism around here!)

Getting back to what reminded me of the Carlin joke…

Some recent blog comments (anonymous ones) have been critical of tournament players who:

a) have owned horses


b) made all their picks by program numbers alone

The small number of folks who don’t like it when someone with an ownership background wins a tourney typically convey the notion that these people have sources out there who give them an unfair advantage compared to normal “unconnected” handicappers.

Those who get frustrated when someone wins by picking the #4 horse in every race tend to say that such wins are less deserved because clearly no handicapping was involved.

If George Carlin were still alive, he might say that certain handicappers are fine with other people winning tournaments as long as:

a) They don’t know more than them.


b) They don’t know less than them.

It may be hard to relate to other types of tournament players, but they do make the contest world go ’round. And they can be very helpful to us.

The more I play tournaments—and the more time I spend around tournament players—the more I realize that other players know more than I do. A lot more.

But at the same time, that realization and that exposure to them has also helped make me a better player.

Being an owner also helped make me a better player.

Mind you, my dalliance with ownership was limited to a few years in the late 1990s. On balance, I found that betting the horses was almost as fun as owning them—and way, way cheaper.

But learning why horses might be entered in one spot versus another…and learning how and why horses don’t always perform to 100% of their optimal abilities…certainly has helped lead me to some longshot wins and helped me avoid some bad favorites. These lessons had nothing to do with inside information and everything to do with every day barn or racing office doings.

But anyone who thinks owning horses instantly makes one a winning bettor or successful contest player should try owning a horse sometime. The amount of self-doubt among those who, in theory, should be predisposed to bullishness is incredible. This can stem from everything from minor ailments to poor eating habits to a race coming up tougher than expected…and everything in between. And then will come the day when everything falls into place and you really, really like your horse.

There’s a good chance someone else in the race really, really likes his horse too.

You just never know. And while the ownership experience can certainly enhance one’s handicapping skills, it’s far from a magic potion. (If it were, I suppose I would still own.) Sometimes handicappers give too much credit to how much other people know and too little credit to how much they, themselves, know.

I personally believe that tournament players are–almost without exception–among the top 20% of horseplayers to be found out there. This is because contest players learn mighty fast that 2-1 won’t get it done, and this forces them to open their eyes (and minds) to longer priced horses than were once outside their comfort zones.

The following may seem mean spirited (and I suppose, therefore, wouldn’t be allowed as a HorseTourneys blog comment!) but I think an awful lot of people who are critical of tournament play and dismiss it all as a series of stabfests do so in part because they believe that any winner that pays more than 6-1 or 7-1 is an implausible, un-have-able longshot. (I’ve found that some public handicappers, among others, seem to fall into this category.)

People who are hopelessly wedded to first-, second- or third-choices (as I was during my early days as a handicapper) are absolutely making the right move staying away from tournaments.

Of course, I certainly do wish they played in tournaments—specifically the ones that I play—but then again, I also kind of like it when my contest opponents pick horses solely by their program number. I sure wish there were more of those!