11/21/2003 12:00AM

Asmussen's supposed slump really a mirage


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Through Thursday, trainer Steve Asmussen had won with just 4 of 52 starters at the Churchill meet. That 8 percent win rate is less than half of the 17 percent winners he had here a year ago, and it is nearly two-thirds lower than his 22 percent winners at all tracks since Jan. 1, 2000.

What is Asmussen doing wrong? Should handicappers avoid betting on his horses during this apparent slump? A closer look at his numbers sheds some light on the situation.

Asmussen shows 6,095 starters since the beginning of 2000. From that group, 3,301 finished in the money. That works out to 54 percent. Last year at this meet, Asmussen ran 75 horses at Churchill. A total of 40 finished first, second, or third. That's 53 percent.

So how bad are Asmussen's overall numbers at this meet? Actually, they aren't bad at all. In fact, they are right in line with the good results he has achieved over recent years. Although he has not been winning nearly as often as usual at this meet, Asmussen's horses are still consistently running good, competitive races. In fact, 28 horses in the money from 52 starters is the same 54 percent as his long-term rate, and it is 1 point higher than his numbers here last year.

The difference is in the distribution of those finishes. Rather than 17 percent of his horses finishing second, 27 percent have been second at this meet. That is a 10 point switch. Instead of 15 percent finishing third, 19 percent have been third at this fall meet. That is a 4-point difference. Subtract the 14 percent of his horses at this meet who have settled for second and third from his usual 22 percent winners, and Asmussen is left with just 8 percent winners from 54 percent in the money.

When dice players suffer through a drought and lose 10 or 15 straight decisions on the pass line in a casino, it would be foolish to blame the dice, or the people who toss them. Over the long run the streaks even out, and the numbers come close to meeting normal expectations. While there is much more skill involved in training race horses, the fact remains that luck, or the lack thereof, can have a big impact on short-term results. If most of Asmussen's horses were finishing off the board, there might be legitimate reason for concern. But that hasn't been the case. Asmussen is just experiencing a short-term streak of what horseplayers like to refer to as "seconditis." It shouldn't be long before his win rate returns to normal.

Meanwhile, Asmussen's winners might pay better prices than they usually do during the last few days of this meet, since most bettors shy away from "cold" trainers.

Inside the numbers: Jockeys

Jockey John McKee continues to be a good longshot rider. He has won with 18 of 147 mounts at this meet at an overlaid $18.87 average win price. His fans have received $2.31 for each $2 bet. If he had won with a disproportionately high number of his mounts, with few of them finishing second or third, those numbers might not hold up for very long, but that has not been the case. The good news for McKee supporters is that he shows 18 winners, 18 seconds, and 22 thirds from those mounts. He has simply been getting lots of run from his horses at overlaid odds.

Meet leader Pat Day continues to win at an unusually high rate, just a shade below 31 percent. You might guess that his fans have been making money, but Day's mounts are actually producing a 16 percent loss with a $1.68 return for every $2 bet. How is that possible? Day's winners have been very chalky with an average payoff of $5.47 each. He would have to win with nearly 37 percent of his mounts to break even with payoffs that low.

Calvin Borel has been hot at this meet. He has ridden 20 winners from 117 mounts, at an average payoff of $14.56 that has produced a $2.49 ROI. The catch is that the distribution is relatively high in the win slot at 17 percent, and relatively low for second with just 12 runner-up finishes, or 10 percent. That is the opposite of "seconditis," and it also figures to level off.

For the year, after subtracting his results at this meet, Borel has ridden the same number of winners as second-place finishers at 122 each. I expect his current hot streak to soon end and for his numbers to return to a more normal range.