02/19/2004 1:00AM

Tips on making your own figs


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Recent figure-oriented columns have prompted some communication from readers interested in making their own numbers, the questions mainly having to do with procedural issues.

Should one always keep sprints and routes separate? Should you make a separate pace variant, or can you use some fraction of the final-time variant? When is it advisable to split the variant? What about those times when one race seems grossly out of place relative to the rest of the races on a given card, with no apparent change in weather or track conditions?

I'm not an expert figure-maker, by any means. Len Ragozin, Jerry Brown, and Andy Beyer can work things out in their heads that I can't even work out with a calculator - but practical experience has yielded some thoughts on the subject, primitive as they may be.

* On a track where two-turn routes are run regularly, which is just about any track except Belmont Park, always calculate sprints and routes separately. At tracks where they run one-turn miles out of a chute - Arlington Park, Churchill Downs, and Belmont - the mile races can be tricky, sometimes falling neatly into line with the sprints, other times not. Sometimes I put the Belmont miles with the sprints, other times with the one-turn routes, and other times, when a race looks totally out of place, I have no idea what to do. That's why they invented squiggly lines to place over a number whenever you're tentative about a variant call.

* Always make a separate pace variant. I've seen some quick-figure methods that call for applying, say, two-thirds of the daily variant to come up with a pace figure, but such numbers usually do a poor job. Far more often than not, the pace and final-time variants will be different, often markedly so. My home-made concoctions for last Saturday's Fountain of Youth card at Gulfstream, for example, produced a "Fast 4" (F4) final-time variant for the day's six sprints, but sprint pace-call times were Fast 7. Two days later, at Aqueduct, routes were Slow 5 final, but Slow 9 to the pace call courtesy of a blustery headwind down the backstretch.

* Splitting a day's variant is a necessary evil when weather or track conditions change, and sometimes even when they don't. For last Saturday's routes on the Fountain of Youth card, for example, I wound up splitting the routes. Races 1 and 3 were slow by a tick or two, and the two other routes weren't until races 9 and 11, which came up Fast 2 and Fast 4. The decision to split a variant is among the more subjective decisions wrestled with by figure-makers, and there are just no pat answers other than personal experience. Look for corroborating evidence when the horses from tough-to-do days race back. By splitting Saturday's Gulfstream route variant, I've effectively made the decision that Birdstone's effort in the opener was much better than it looks when compared to the day's later routes. Time will tell.

* A bunch of horses close together at the wire is usually a tip-off that the race will come up ordinary in terms of final time.

* Lengthy margins between the top finishers is often the sign of a particularly fast race, keeping in mind, however, that margins on wet tracks tend to expand at a far greater rate.

* A horse who gets loose early and widens at every call often runs "out of his mind" and records inflated figures.

* For those who are just starting down the fun-with-numbers road, a set of reliable par times is the best place to start. But as you gain familiarity with a specific circuit, more precise figures will come through your own projections of what each particular field was expected to do, and you will come to identify "classes within a class." The universal par for $10,000 claimers, for example, is set at 100-100, but there are paceless $10,000 races, and at times there is an early-pace horse in the mix who regularly runs, say, 105 to the pace call.

Last Monday's second race at Aqueduct was a $25,000 claiming sprint for older males, and the textbook par for such types on the inner track is 104. But this particular field had no runners who habitually raced on or near the lead, and the top recent pace figures recorded by any in the field were in the 101-102 range. The raw pace-call time equated to a 99, so it would have been inaccurate to rate that segment Slow 5, even though that's what par times say to do. Slow 2 was a more realistic assessment.

* The payoff for bothering with these details comes in several ways, the most obvious being the times - few and far between as they may be - when your figures differ significantly from published figures.

* Pace figures add a second dimension to final-time figures that's not available to John Q. Punter. Indeed, a sign that you're on the right track is when you begin to regularly see the direct relationship of early and late energy expenditure. That is, you will be amazed at how many times a horse's last two figure lines will check in at 106-103 and 103-106, or even 99-105 and 105-99, adding up to the same total even though their races were run differently.

* An underrated bonus: You get a sense of when figures for a day have been difficult and when they have fallen right into line, and your confidence level adjusts accordingly when horses from those days race back. That is nice to know.