09/18/2002 11:00PM

Storm Flag Flying, Whywhywhy not far apart


ELMONT, N.Y. - Anyone who has ever made his own daily track variants knows that some days are easier to figure than others.

After the results were in, the seven dirt races on last Saturday's Belmont card fell into the category of an easy day for deducing track speed. The day's worksheet looked like this:

1st103-99102-102F1 S3
2nd94-100101-101S7 S1
3rd100-99101-101S1 S2
4th103-105108-108S5 S3
5th102-103105-105S3 S2
8th105-106108-108S3 S2
9th109-106109-109Par S3

Easy enough. After some deliberation I settled on "Slow 2" for the pace variant, reasoning that the "S7" came from a maiden race with lightly-raced horses, and wasn't as reliable as other fields of more established runners.

Even a first-grader could see that the final-time variant for the day was a rock-solid Slow 2.

With the variant applied, my final ratings for the Jerome Handicap (8th) were 107-108, and the Ruffian Handicap checked in at 111-108.

Translation: In the pecking order I use, 108-108 is about par for an average-strength, third-level allowance for colts and geldings, and so the Jerome rating looks right.

Even though it is classified as a Grade 2, the field for this year's Jerome contained no graded stakes winners except Boston Common, the front-running winner, whose previous stakes success came in a Grade 3 at six furlongs.

Because of his very short stride and tendency to remain on his left lead in the stretch, I had considered Boston Common vulnerable stretching out to a mile in the Jerome, and was flabbergasted he won so easily - until I remembered handicapping author Mark Cramer's mantra, "The opposite of one profound truth is often another profound truth." In a normal Grade 2 at one mile Boston Common was vulnerable, but his short stride was offset by advantages of class and pace, because he was the lone graded stakes winner and also the lone speed.

Meanwhile, the Ruffian (111-108) had a fast, contested pace that set things up for Mandy's Gold's stretch run. Her best was as good as anyone else in the field going in; all you needed to do was figure out that she would change tactics from a front-running try in the seven-furlong Ballerina to a come-from-behind ambush of You in her first try at 1 1/16 miles.

By comparison, Summer Colony, who is vying with Azeri for divisional supremacy, received a 110-111 for last month's Personal Ensign victory at 1 1/4 miles. Mandy's Gold and those in her wake her on Saturday have some catching up to do.

Now, look at the worksheet for Sunday's card:

1st96-91102-102S6 S11
2nd97-96104-104S7 S8
3rd95-9298-98S3 S3
4th100-100109-109S9 S9
6th96-98102-102S6 S4
8th98-99106-106S8 S7
9th107-105104-104F3 F1
10th90-89101-101S11 S12

Coming up with a variant for Sunday's card took considerably more time than the day before, and indeed this became one of those days when the variant could be "split" multiple times and it still wasn't enough to explain everything.

The track had taken rain in the morning and was sealed and labeled good for the first four races. It was also officially good for races 6-8-9, but was harrowed, and in reality a totally different consistency than earlier in the day.

Moreover, the Matron (6th) and an allowance race (8th) were run under overcast skies, but the Futurity (9th) was run in a driving rainstorm, so conditions changed markedly again. To top things off, the 10th race was run on a sealed track that was by then a sea of ankle-deep slop.

What to do?

I wound up splitting the variant several times, assigning figures based on a grouping of the first four races; the sixth and eighth races; and the 10th race standing alone. The ninth race figure was a total projection.

Races 1-4 were run under similar conditions, and S7-S8 seemed right.

Despite the harrowing, track speed seemed unaffected for races 6 and 8, and a S7-S6 variant was assigned.

But what about the last two races? If the Futurity's raw figs of 107-105 were merely lumped in with the two earlier harrowed-track races the variant would still be "slow something" and Whywhywhy would then be awarded adjusted numbers that made him the fastest 2-year-old in the history of the world, with Pretty Wild less than two lengths behind.

Apparently, the rain served to speed the harrowed track up considerably for the Futurity - but how much? There was no way to gauge it simply on the day's data, but this was a situation where a projection helped to make sense of things.

Whywhywhy's final-time figure in the Sanford had been a 105. In the Hopeful, Pretty Wild had been 1 3/4 lengths behind Sky Mesa's 106, giving him a 104.

Pretty Wild lost by the same margin in the Futurity. Assuming he had run a similar figure to his Hopeful that would give Whywhywhy a 106, which made sense.

The figures for the sloppy tenth race were also a projection, based on the figures that the winner, Flagwave, had earned in a victory against similar claimers at Belmont's spring meet, and by this time the track appeared extremely slow at S11-S12.

The upshot is that even though Storm Flag Flying's Matron time of 1:38.52 was much slower than Whywhywhy's 1:36.33, the difference between them is much less than that. (The Beyers gave Storm Flag Flying a 93 and Whywhywhy a 102, a nine-point difference that equates to about four lengths in a one-turn mile). I gave the Matron a 103-104, and the Futurity a 106-106, a two-length spread. Welcome to the wonderful world of speed figures.