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!

10 thoughts on “What George Carlin Knew About Tournament Play

  1. I loved George Carlin and the freeway joke was one of my favs. Another was his thoughts on women against abortion. If you are a Carlin fan you know the punch line.


  2. I love the analogy: a) They don’t know more than them and b) They don’t know less than them. Personally, I would rather oppose the person who knows nothing and gets lucky once in a while than a top handicapper. In the long run it is better odds for me.


  3. Eric, thanks for the George Carlin reference. I met him years ago when I lived in L.A.. He was scheduled to do an on-campus concert at S.C. and I ran into him at a health food store off Vermont in Hollywood. He had a serious way about him, no jokes or rude comments. I said, “Hi. I enjoy your albums.” He said, “Thanks, pal.” Then, he was gone. This was during the time he had recorded his “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television” album.

    So, in the spirit of George and your blog mentioning him, I came up with a take-off of his “Seven Dirty Words” bit. I’ve listed the “Seven Excuses or Phrases You Should Never Say at a Tournament”…unless you want to get laughed out of the ballroom.

    1) Shoulda, coulda, woulda – As in, “I woulda had that horse if the rider hadn’t come in 2lbs over.”

    2) I changed my mind – As in, “I liked a $44 horse all day up to the time I changed my mind.”

    3) The jock is a low % rider – Said right after he boots in a $56 horse.

    4) That horse wasn’t bred to go long – Said right after he wins at a mile and a quarter.

    5) I got a tip from a guy who knows the trainer – The horse ran 6th, trainer bet the winner.

    6) The Jock always signals his buddy in the grandstand when he’s gonna win. I musta missed it.

    7) Hey, that horse’s great grandsire won the 1946 Suffolk Downs Hdcp. He was a cinch.

    I’ve used all of these and about 200 more. I always swear I’m never gonna play in another tournament. An hour later, I’m downloading the PP’s for the next scheduled contest. Best of luck.


  4. Eric , Well said ! Tournaments are no walk in the woods, and if you listen and talk with other players…one does learn. And most of the time you have to zig and zag and find the right balance of a semi favorite and long shot.Sometimes it’s not all about the stats, it could be your gut! I enjoy the your Blog , and look forward to seeing you in LV next year. I may not qualify , but will be there to root on my friends.
    SR Vegas


  5. My only annoyance has nothing to do with on line contests but with live on site tournaments. Years ago was to find out the tournament allowed professional handicappers or network TV horseracing analysts to play for free when I was paying $300.00 to play. Is any of that going on because I wouldn’t want to hear I won an entry into a contest at a track through Horse Tourneys only to find out some are playing for free because of their “name recognition.”


    • Robert – I think there might have been a little bit of that when tournaments were in their infancy many years ago and tracks felt the need to try and promote their new events, but I have not heard of something like that happening in ages. Would definitely not be something that should be allowed, no matter the names involved and something I personally would have a huge problem with if we were sending qualifiers their way. If you either hear or suspect of something like that and the tournament in question is a qualifier to the NHC, BCBC or some other major, that should definitely be brought to the attention of management of those major events. At the very least it’s probably a violation of the code of ethics. -McKay


  6. Pingback: Opinion: Even A Veteran Horseplayer Can Learn Things From A ‘Rookie’ – HorsePlayUSA

  7. Has there really been a tournament winner by picking a single program number for all races? know some one who picks the horses that have four white stockings, horse names that start with letters C or J (must be 3 In same race ) or if they have a pretty tail, he’s been doing it for over 40 years!.


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