03/04/2004 12:00AM

For the finest in trainer stats, keep your own


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Whatever your favorite area of expertise in the greatest game played outdoors, last week's Handicapping Expo in Las Vegas had something for horseplayers of all persuasions.

Never has so much information been available to so many, and that is particularly true where trainer stats are concerned. Several seasons back, Daily Racing Form added trainer stats underneath the past performances for all horses. At last week's Expo, attendees got a sneak peek at DRF's Formulator 4.0 software, which will allow users to manipulate and break down trainer stats at the click of a mouse.

Or players could surf over to Bob Selvin's turfday.com website for user friendly look-ups of every trainer-jockey combo since 1995, best and worst lists in dozens of categories graded by a bell curve, and betting value averages.

You can download the Thoro-graph performance ratings, which recently upgraded its trainer stats.

And of course, there's always the by now familiar and well-respected "[Name the track] Handicapper," available online, or as spiral-bound books published by Jim Mazur's Progressive Handicapping Co. for most every major race meet.

So how come most of us are still staring dumbfounded at the simulcast monitors after the majority of races are run? Shouldn't we be winning more, or at least losing less, than we did back in handicapping's dark ages?

Overall, that just hasn't happened. Favorites win now at exactly the same rate they did when Seabiscuit was running, which is to say even the sharpest knives in the drawer should plan on being wrong about two-thirds of the time.

From a theoretical standpoint, an overall view of trainer statistics was put in the keenest perspective for me by Mark Cramer in "Kinky Handicapping," when he wrote:

". . . Too much data, too many computer printouts, too much information to sort will weigh down upon that part of the mind that should be liberated for agile thought. There is a difference between cutting corners to save time and effort, which will surely lead to disaster, and being selective about which information you use. In the realm of trainers, there is so much overkill, that buried under mounds of stats the horseplayer misses those one or two bits of elegant information that translate into a big score."

The key words there are "elegant information," and it is vital to make the distinction between data and information. For speed handicappers, a raw six-furlong time of 1:11 is a piece of data. When it is adjusted into a speed figure with the aid of a track variant based on class par times and/or an educated projection, it becomes information.

Similarly, when raw statistics show that trainer Juice Jones has gone 10 for 40 in route races, that is data. When additional research shows that one of his routers is 8 for 10, and the rest are a mere 2 for 30, that is information.

The best and surest way to obtain those "elegant" bits of insight is to do research yourself, and from a practical standpoint the best procedure for doing it was outlined by Steve Davidowitz in his classic "Betting Thoroughbreds."

You don't even have to be computer literate, because the basic skills required are the ones you learned in kindergarten, which entail cutting and pasting the actual DRF past performances of a trainer's winners (and runners-up at good prices, if you wish).

That's the big secret, deceptively simple but full of potential. The method will always unearth nuggets of information because, let's face it, only a small percentage of horseplayers are ever going to bother with it, much less stick with the routine for the long haul.

You don't have to be maniacal about it and keep track of every trainer in the nation. Pick a handful who have impressed you at your circuit, and perhaps on the national scene, and undertake a detailed study of how they develop young horses and maneuver them into spots. Underneath the past performances, simply note the date of the win, the class and distance, the mutuel payoff, and anything else that seemed noteworthy.

I promise you will be amazed at the live horses at big prices that come running out of that precious loose-leaf notebook, even from the designer barns the media watches closely.

There's no higher-profile guy than Bobby Frankel, for example, but he continues to fool most of us when he ships horses around into seemingly ambitious spots. Peace Rules turf-to-dirt in last year's Louisiana Derby at $20.80; the Chilean import Wild Spirit first time in the United States, in last May's Shuvee Handicap at $22.40, first time out in five months; more recently, Miss Coronado off a maiden win on Santa Anita turf, winning last month's Davona Dale at $18.80 on dirt at Gulfstream Park.

If prices like that can be had from a trainer who wins the Eclipse Award every year, just imagine the price-getting potential for the less-well-known trainers, which is just about everybody else. Whether they are aware of it or not, most trainers develop long-time patterns, seasonal patterns, and short-term patterns that can be exploited by maverick researchers willing to spend a little time and effort.

Why shouldn't one of them be you?