The rite of spring known as March Madness occasions as much teeth-gnashing as did Stravinsky's—and for what? Outside of Vegas, where March Madness is, true to its name, a take-leave-of-your-senses betting bacchanal, all that you, Joe College Hoops Fan, can do is kiss 10 or 20 bucks goodbye on Thursday morning. Fifteen minutes before the day's first tip-off, you will meet the absurdity of this exercise head-on while deciding whether the winner of the winners of the Georgetown-Kentucky and Missouri-USC games can knock off 14th-seeded Utah State, the surefire Cinderella you'd never heard of on Monday. When it's all over, of course, the chump who picked the four No. 1 seeds will chalk his way to the $200. while you'll lament to your pals that if Alcorn State had made the Sweet 16, you'd have climbed up to next-to-last in the pool.
The Kentucky Derby is the perfect sports wager; in essence, it's the gambler's final exam. As many as 20 3-year-olds go postward, ensuring a wide-open race, while the event itself is short, with a finite number of variables. For once, the playing field for railbirds is level: Everybody from the wise guys to the weekend bettors has access to the same comprehensive data, and media scrutiny blows away all the smoke, If you've followed the 3-year-olds from Florida and California, you'll have some visual reference points, but a Derby's-eve cram session with The Daily Racing Form will suffice. (Don't you wish college had been this simple?) Given the same information as every other wannabe in your local betting parlor, how will you come up with a profitable wager? (One tip: Don't follow the sheep to the slaughter: In the last 23 Derbys, favorites have gotten home first only twice.) Get it right, and you could pull four, five figures. Get it wrong, and you can shred your tickets, cuss once and try again in 20 minutes.