06/13/2002 11:00PM

McPeek's Belmont math better than mine

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When all of the dust settled, the Belmont turned out to be a math test. Trainer Kenny McPeek, frustrated by an unwelcome lesson in subtraction when Harlan's Holiday was removed from his barn in a surprising move in the days leading up to the race, gave his fellow trainers a lesson in addition on Belmont Day.

McPeek noted that Sarava had gained two lengths on a 32.08-second come-home time during his victory in the 1 1/16-mile Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard, estimated how much time he might need to cover the additional 7/16 of a mile, and guessed that Sarava might be fast enough to win the Belmont.

If Bob Baffert had done the same type of math with War Emblem's come-home time in the Preakness, he wouldn't have been nearly as confident as he was about his chances of winning a 1 1/2-mile race with the likelihood of a contested pace. It turns out that War Emblem covered his last 3/16 of a mile in 20.14 seconds in that race, an average of 13.43 seconds per furlong. That isn't the stuff that 6-5 Belmont favorites, or Triple Crown champions are made of.

If Niall O' Callaghan had noted that Wiseman's Ferry had run his first six furlongs in the 1 1/8-mile Lone Star Derby in 1:10.08, an average of 11.68 per furlong, and compared that with his deceleration during the last three furlongs in 39.84, an average of 13.28 per furlong, he might have opted for a shorter race, rather than watching Wiseman's Ferry lose by more than 50 lengths.

My own math could have used some improvement as well. I used a simple strategy to bet the Belmont. I threw War Emblem out of my trifectas completely, and boxed the next six horses I liked in the same order I had listed them in my analysis of the race in the paper. I used Magic Weisner, Proud Citizen, Perfect Drift, Medaglia d'Oro, Sarava, and Like a Hero.

I chose to save money by not including seventh pick Sunday Break. I finished first, second, and fourth. Magic Weisner checked in one length behind third-place finisher Sunday Break. In trifecta wagering, one plus two plus four pays zero. The next time I believe that a heavy favorite stands a good chance of finishing out of the money in a large field, I won't be a cheapskate. I'll dig a little deeper into my pocket, and will include the wiseguy 8-1 contender who might prevent me from profiting from an otherwise good opinion on the race.

The other thing I learned is that my friends and my wife react very differently when told that I almost won $12,604 on the Belmont.

The typical friend's reaction emphasizes reassurance, and consolation, along the lines of "Nice try, that was a good bet."

My wife has an entirely different philosophy. By her reasoning, when I almost make a big score but don't, I have in effect deprived her of the half of the winnings I could have shared with her. According to her math, I lost $120 on the trifecta, and I now owe her $6,302.