08/13/2007 2:20PM

Hot and Cold


A couple of people have written to say I was testy or worse with fellow panelist Jim Mazur at Sunday's Siro's seminar. I thought it was all in good fun, and Jim is the one of nicest guys on the planet, so I'm sorry if it came off that way. And hats off to him for tabbing Classic Pack ($29.60) as his "West Point Pick of the Day" on Sunday's card. While I realize I'm in a minority on the issue in dispute, I will dogmatically continue to insist that a "Who's Hot/Who's Not" approach to handicapping can be a dangerous path if followed blindly.

I flared up after hearing one handicapper after another say in recent days that all of Todd Pletcher's horses are automatic bet-againsts because he's winning at closer to 15 than his usual 25 percent at the meeting, or that excellent trainers such as Tom Albertrani and Shug McGaughey were "unplayable" until they won their first race up here (which they both promptly did) and similar hot-n-cold trainer angles. This is a game of opinions and we're all allowed to have different ones. Mine is that this kind of short-term analysis is completely misleading the vast majority of the time.

You will find winning and losing streaks in the course of any trainer's year and these are almost always a matter of random distribution rather than a trainer either laboring under a supernatural hex or suddenly discovering or forgetting how to train. If anything, I think you are probably supposed to go exactly the other way: A guy who's temporarily winning a lot probably has his horses ready to win some races at the right level and will find it harder to repeat when those horses step up next time out. A guy in a slump is still eligible for those conditions, and may even drop his horses a little below where they belong just to get back into the win column.

Also, whatever value you think you're gaining with an opinion that someone's running "hot" is likely to be neutralized by the lemming mentality of bettors, who routinely overbet anyone who seems to be on a good roll.

It can also be dangerous to ascribe every winner to a clever training move as opposed to sheer luck. Example: On Friday, Mike Hernandez won with a first-time starter and many hailed the victory as a brilliant put-over by an old-school longshot specialist. He is a very good trainer, but there's a big problem with the theory he had suddenly caught fire or done something canny: The race he won could have been timed with a sundial, receiving a winning Beyer Speed Figure of 45, the lowest in at least five years here for any 2-year-old race. It was a race with five other first-timers and two who had already proved they had zero ability. The most heavily-bet of the firsters was scratched at the gate. None of the others, including the winner, was any good, and if the Mike Hernandez firster had run in any of the dozens of other races for New York-bred 2-year-olds in this or any recent year, he probably would have finished off the board. Instead, he will be cited for years as evidence of his trainer's prowess at cleverly preparing ready-to-win firsters, and some bettors will be playing all his horses now that he's hot.

Those poor misguided souls, of course, scored out Sunday -- when Classic Pack, trained by Mike Hernandez, won the West Point at $29.60.