06/25/2002 11:00PM

It helps to mix hard facts with opinions

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COLUMBIA, Md. - If you're trying to paint the full picture in your handicapping, you will inevitably run up against the tension between trips and speed figures - between the visual and the statistical, between subjective judgment and objective arithmetic. The fascinations and frustration are endless. Here are a few recent case studies:

The simplest case: Sonata Cosmos was an easy call. On June 22 at Belmont Park she was the top figure in the field. But she had earned that 93 turf Beyer when she had an easy lead in her previous race. Now she faced a tougher group and would have to chase another speed horse.

Unfortunately, nobody was fooled by the big figure. Sonata Cosmos opened on the board at 21-1 and closed at 12-1. She didn't run too badly, finishing fifth, 2 1/4 lengths behind. Predictably, her Beyer dropped to 85.

Tough trips and bounces: In the same race with Sonata Cosmos was a horse named Ready. Her figures were remarkably consistent: 86-86-88-86-85-88. She had earned the most recent 88 after a very tough trip on June 1. In that race, running behind a slow pace, Ready was hung out four wide the entire turn and still finished only a half-length back.

Did that tough trip mark her out for a big bet next time? Or did that tough trip (along with the big figure) set her up for a bounce? Considering that she had just run a big race in the same company, the bettors seemed to be opting for the bounce scenario, making her a high 5-1 through almost the entire wagering. Their caution proved correct, as Ready sat a good trip near the hedge but could only manage a fourth-place finish, 1 3/4 lengths behind. Her Beyer dropped to 86 - a bigger decline than it looks, considering the contrasting trips she had in those two starts.

Can the Beyer gap be closed?: A New-York-bred grass filly named Easter Liturgy had run a modest 67 winning her maiden. But her trip was visually very impressive: She rushed up to chase the pace into the first turn, with her jockey nearly falling off around the turn, and she continued to draw off easily without much urging to the wire, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. She appeared capable of much better. One of Easter Liturgy's opponents in her next race was a filly named Solar Blues. She had run a Beyer of 80 in her previous start against allowance runners. But her trip had been the easiest, rail-running journey. She did not appear capable of running any better, and would probably run worse. So, could Easter Liturgy improve enough to close the 13-point gap with Solar Blues?

Easter Liturgy broke a bit slow, but sat a good pocket trip, finishing third at 18-1. Solar Blues had another absolutely perfect rail-skimming trip, and finished second at 7-5. Easter Liturgy's speed figure improved from 67 to 76. Solar Blues went from an 80 to a 79. Easter Liturgy almost caught up, but not quite. The value, however, was clearly with Easter Liturgy.

It's extrapolation: In trying to get some idea of what Beyer Speed Figure a horse is capable of running today, you often have to dig deep into that horse's past performances. Such a difficult case was 3-year-old Dr. Can Do in the first race at Belmont on June 19. His most recent race on May 26 was better than it looked; he only earned a 62 Beyer, but had dueled on the outside through a solid pace at one mile - not his best distance. Now he was turning back to seven furlongs. But most of his Beyers were in the low- to mid-70's. Could Dr. Can Do run that fast again?

Back on March 27 at Gulfstream Park he had recorded a 75 Beyer when he was allowed to sit just off the pace at 6 1/2 furlongs. In his next race on April 10 he dueled the entire trip at 1 1/16 miles (a 63 Beyer), followed by a very wide trip on May 11 at Monmouth at six furlongs (a 64 Beyer). That 75 figure was buried four races back, but with a more patient ride, better racing luck, and at a much better distance, he looked like he could very well get back to that number.

Dr. Can Do did just that. He ran a 76. Unfortunately, that didn't guarantee a win. One of the two speed horses failed to break, so Dr. Can Do was forced to chase a lone speed the whole way around. He couldn't catch him, but finished a strong second, only one length back at odds of 4-1.

Not much profit, but a neat bit of analysis and research.