01/28/2005 1:00AM

These acts look tough to follow


ARCADIA, Calif. - It's tough to say goodbye, especially when the ride has been so sweet. Just ask Michael Paulson, or Ken Davis.

Paulson's run with Azeri has ended with her third straight championship season - as noted in the special Eclipse Awards section of today's Daily Racing Form. As the son of Azeri's breeder, the late Allen Paulson, Michael Paulson took special pride in referring to Azeri as "One last tribute to my father's great breeding efforts and commitment to racing."

In his role as executor of the Allen Paulson Living Trust, Paulson has been saying goodbye to a lot of his father's horses. The mandate of the trust is to liquidate all Thoroughbred holdings - while making every effort to maximize their value - within 10 years of the elder Paulson's death, which occurred in July of 2000. Michael Paulson said that the trust started with 240 horses and is now down to 65-70.

Given the prices being paid for top broodmares these days, Azeri's value is astronomical. Since she is scheduled to be bred to Storm Cat (who else?), Paulson was asked if there was a chance the trust might put her up for sale to show a quick return.

"She's a major asset of the trust, so it could happen, although not in the foreseeable future," Paulson said. "She's also like part of the family. It would be very emotional, and pretty tough to sell her."

It was also pretty tough to hear that Ken Davis has left the building. Never heard of him? Then you probably aren't a racing secretary, an assistant racing secretary, a racing office clerk, a clocker, a steward, a racetrack publicist, or an editor, reporter, columnist, or advertising manager working for Daily Racing Form, or a fan with a question calling up the paper on a whim. To that group, Davis is a superstar.

For the past 27 years, Davis has been at the heart of Daily Racing Form's statistical department, first as assistant editor, then statistical editor, then most recently the director of quality control. During that period of time, the world of racing changed dramatically in terms of its record-keeping, going from isolated pockets of data pulled together one day at a time, to today's industrywide database that serves scores of tracks and a vast simulcast network.

When Davis went to work for the Los Angeles office of Daily Racing Form in September of 1977, gas was cheap, big hair ruled, and disco was king. Past performances? Prehistoric.

"What didn't they have compared to today?" Davis mused. "Let's see . . . no jockeys, no program numbers, no fractional times, no Beyer numbers - but there were speed ratings - no jockey stats, no trainer stats, no breakdown for dirt and turf. Workouts? Three, maybe four for the first-timers.

"There were no stakes names - the Santa Anita Handicap would have been 'HcpS' - no Bute or Lasix, and in the smaller West Coast edition there was no 3-and-up arrow, and no room for a short comment."

How did anyone ever pick a winner?

More than a mere number-cruncher, though, Davis brought a friendly face and an unruffled demeanor to the daily struggle to assemble the information and get it correct. It helped that he had done time as a data entry processor for Security Pacific Bank in Glendale, not too far from Santa Anita Park. More importantly, though, Davis always has been a consumer of racing's product.

"I worked the graveyard shift, till 8 in the morning, which meant my big decision for the day was going to the track, playing golf, or sitting by the pool," Davis said on Thursday. "Golf went away pretty fast. I'm fair-skinned, so the pool was out. I ended up going to the races on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday."

So why not Thursday or Friday?

"Well, I didn't want people to think I was a degenerate," Davis replied.

As it turned out, this borderline racetrack degenerate was an institution in the making. As a regular fan, he rubbed elbows with insiders and headline names - "I'll never forget the first time I watched a replay standing next to Mel Stute," Davis recalled - until one day he spied an ad in the Form for a job opening, as assistant to the statistical editor.

"I've always been convinced that spending time at the track gave me a leg up on the job," Davis said. "That helped me forge relationships."

As technology changed, so did the ownership of Daily Racing Form. Davis went from Los Angeles to Phoenix, and then on to Manhattan in 2000, where he has enjoyed life as a transplant, renting an apartment in Brooklyn and taking the subway to work. He has made regular trips West to visit hearth, home, and his wife, Pat, in Arizona. Ben Davis, their 23-year-old son, is a budding professional singer living and working in L.A.

"Unlike Los Angeles, or Phoenix, you're not trapped in your car in New York," Davis noted. "It's great just to be out among people, even if those people don't really talk to each other."

At the age of 55, with a head like a computer mainframe and three decades of racing experience, Davis figures to have more to contribute to the sport. Friday was his last day on the job, with Saturday marking the first day of the rest of his life. His plans were hardly a surprise.

"I'll be getting on an early plane to make the Sunshine Millions at Santa Anita," Davis said.