In the short period of time since the 50 cents minimum bet has been offered by NYRA on the pick 4, I have been alive several times into the last leg. This had been a rarity in my handicapping life at the larger denomination and my mind raced with ways to spend those large will-pays while waiting for the last race to go off. My natural inclination was to start figuring out how I would like to be paid: hundreds (sometimes hard to cash), twenties (too bulky, fifties (bad luck) which made it that much harder when I lost these wagers. But there are ways of coping with, and understanding, the psychic pain associated with losing on the last leg of a multi-race wager. To explain these complicated feelings I have taken a page from pop psychology and developed my own 5 stages of grief after losing the last leg of a pick four.
Denial – A crushing defeat is a crushing defeat, but the fact is that I cannot believe what I have just seen, usually on a small TV monitor at a simulcast facility. This disbelief is nothing more than a protective coating that helps me move on to next race. But when my fellow cigar chomper, who professed mild interest in the winner, tells me he only had “a few bucks on ‘im”, I cannot deny the sight of visible steam coming out of my ears. Where’s my blood pressure medication!?
Anger – At the new 50 cents minimum I should be able to toss in a couple of “maybes” here and there. But my bankroll is smaller after playing Calder, which looked like a monsoon had landed on track and I had no business betting in the first place. My anger is directed at my lack of handicapping discipline. Because I have my own golden rule: “Do not run up and bet a simo race until you’ve covered all the races you spent the morning figuring out” and I can’t follow it.
Bargaining – This is where I start asking for help from the racing powers: just this once please put up the inquiry or objection sign. Just this once make it so that I put the wrong horse onto the ticket and that would be the number that won the race or maybe I’ll scratch into the post time favorite. This type of bargaining works both ways: usually my end of the bargain is a pledge of 10% of future winnings to a horse charity or the promise that I will never again yell repeatedly at anyone near by “I crushed that number” after hitting a long shot winner.
Depression – This is the darkness before the light of acceptance. The storm cloud in my head is repeating: I will ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS make the wrong bet. Of course I know this is not true, I try to keep in mind the Derby tri I hit this year and the late pick 4 at Belmont that paid handsomely, even for two bits. Then there is always the “happy” trip to the ATM, like a cherry on top of a crumby day at the track.
Acceptance – I really enjoy betting the NYRA pick 4; it’s a challenge and a thrill to be alive into that last leg, it’s even better when I have the occasional win. I’ve been playing horses for a long time but there is a learning curve for me with the Pick 4. When I’m alive into the last leg, I’ve taken to covering a few other horses with win bets. I’m slowly figuring it out, but it’s more than that. I have a stack of pick 4 tickets at home. I’ve always tossed losing tickets right away but I can’t bring myself to get rid of these little mementos of how the racing played out. They’re reminders of the action, the strategy, the fun of being in the game.