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TrackNotes: The New Math

I don't know that the four of us could have been called whizzes in arithmetic - we were there when they came up with New Math, although the penguins appropriated the name but just kept teaching numbers - but we've gotten by nicely.

Before any formal gazintas or cipherin', my two brothers had batting averages, on-base percentages and earned run averages down cold. My sister spent a long time in the consumer banking sector, where just one of her many duties was to tell people that if debit overtakes credit, kind of like a pace meltdown, they will be overdrawn. She then had to tell them by how much and which particular ATM hit took them out of the money. It was all right there in the numbers.

I squeaked through high school algebra, but then had to take it twice in college to fulfill the requirement. I was pretty good at geometry, although it was well before I fully grasped that eight furlongs is a mile and once around at Arlington. And if you called it Obround Park or Discorectangle Race Course, you wouldn't be wrong. Or that getting a mile at Belmont includes a long beginning tangent (the chute) with only one pure curve, if the horse could stay in its lane, like Secretariat did. It came in handy when I realized the old Nad al Sheba in Dubai was something of a scalene triangle with complex radii on the turns, although Cigar aced it without a 60-cent protractor, just a saddle on his back and Jerry Bailey checking his work.

Don't know if any of it helped, but it didn't hurt, as now I know how to read the Racing Form. There's not really a lot of math involved, except maybe adding up win or loss streaks and the money, of course. And M(aiden) = 0(wins).

It's more about tendencies, such as the consistency of workout times, pace trends, position at the calls, willingness to close or not. The data is really just there, stated. Jockey and trainer percentages, together and separately. Leparoux up, it's a Show horse. Velazquez up, he's a Win horse. But that's not math, just a hunch.

When it comes to the Triple Crown, more acutely this year than ever, I'm not sure any of this vast acquired knowledge will be worth a bent horseshoe. Don't get me wrong. It's a lot better than a B.A. in Public Hygiene from the Dean Smith Center for Infinitely Broad Studies, but I'm just itching to put to good use everything I learned from professors Bennie, Red, Anita, Tall Gregg, Paki and The Teach. It's just getting tougher and tougher to do.

The problem? These horses, with focus here on the 3-year-olds, don't run anymore. If you can't see how a horse might do third race off the layoff because there are only two races, it's tough. If you can't see any kind of parabolic tendencies, it's tough. You can only hope to get enough races - and we don't - to see how a horse might do in mud or slop. And don't get me started on horses facing each other head-to-head in any number of races before the Derby.

Master Achiever, Stop the Music, Angle Light, Champagne Charlie and the great Sham butted heads with Secretariat on a regular basis. Later on, he regularly saw Cougar II, Our Native and Big Spruce.

I must cite Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker, who, starting with a look back 50 years at the permanently controversial 1968 Kentucky Derby (the first part of his piece is in the always-interesting category, and I remember that race), came across stats on just how much they raced back then.

Comparing today's racing to those days, the Wayback Machine would blow its Intels in the calculation.

Scroll down and you'll see that fully four of the '68 Derby starters had more than 20 total starts going into the gate. Eight more were in double figures, only two less than 10, but with eight each. In just their 3-year-old years going into the Derby, four had raced 11 times and nine more had raced at least five times. Captain's Gig ran only three times in '68 before the first Saturday in May. That would be considered a very healthy race tab today.

Scroll further, and you'll see the projected starts for 2018's Derby bunch.

My Boy Jack skews the average with a projected 10 starts before the Derby. Flameaway (9), Bravazo and Free Drop Billy (8) and four more at seven, seem respectable, in a wimpy 2018 kind of way.

But look at the projections for races this year leading up to the Derby. Four of them look like they'll run four times this year, once a month. WOO-HOO! Five of them look to run only twice! And you've heard this before: Two wiseguys, Justify and Magnum Moon, are both looking to be the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without having raced at two.

So I started wondering, what has been the long, slow trend since Dancer's Image's days? Keep in mind, Watchmaker has free access to all past performances while I only found a website that charges $8 per horse for a 48-hour look see. I have just a few of my own archives.

Secretariat ran nine times as a 2-year-old in 1972, winning eight, but with one disqualification. Big Red ran three times before the Derby, starting in the March 17 Bay Shore after a freshening from the year before. But he compressed those three in the weeks before the Derby and you know the rest. Keeping in mind he was racing for money, he ran 12 times at three.

In 1976, Seattle Slew, with a September start, ran three times at two. Similar to Secretariat, he compressed three starts in the weeks before the Derby and his Triple Crown sweep.

In the next cycle, Affirmed ran nine times at two, participating in and winning many of the premier East Coast juvenile races. He went west in 1978 and hit the San Felipe/Santa Anita Derby/Hollywood Derby trifecta. Twenty days later, he began his march in Louisville, the start of what became the epic Affirmed/Alydar Triple Crown trilogy. They met 10 times lifetime, Alydar winning three.

Spectacular Bid ran nine times at two and, in 1979, started five times before the Derby. He won in Kentucky and at the Preakness, but couldn't last in the Belmont after "stepping on" a large safety pin before the race. After the Belmont, he lost only once in his 14 remaining races, to Affirmed in the '79 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Move ahead to 1988 and Sunday Silence ran three times - no stakes races - at two. The next year, he ran three times, winning the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby in the run-up to the Churchill Downs. He won the Derby and Preakness and was beaten soundly in the Belmont by archrival Easy Goer. 'Silence ran three more times that year and twice at four before retiring with an injury.

Silver Charm ran three times at two in 1996 and prepped through the three-race Santa Anita Derby circuit. He scored head wins in the Derby and Preakness and lost in an epic Belmont to Touch Gold. He ran only once more that year, but had many impressive wins, including the Dubai World Cup, to finish with 24 races lifetime.

Funny Cide scored three wins against state-bred competition in New York and then was most assuredly on the improve in the Holy Bull, Louisiana Derby and Wood Memorial before taking the Derby and Preakness. After losing the Belmont, he just kept racing, although the fact he is a gelding probably had a lot to do with it. All told, he finished 38-11-6-8.

Smarty Jones cracked his skull in the starting gate, so he got a late start and ran twice at two. He ran a balanced four-race campaign before winning the 2004 Derby and Preakness and getting run down by Birdstone in a heartbreaking Belmont. Soon after that, they said he was hurt and he never ran again.

The wonderful but ill-fated Barbaro ran only twice at two and twice into the Derby. He slammed the 2006 Derby and then suffered the leg fracture in the Preakness that eventually killed him.

I'll Have Another ran three times at two in 2011 and only twice coming into the Derby, including a Santa Anita Derby win. Getting no respect, he won the Derby and the Preakness but was scratched the day before the Belmont with an injury and never ran again.

Keeping in mind that because they didn't think, in part, that he had a worthy pedigree, California Chrome ran for his money. He ran seven times in a long 2-year-old campaign. He took the Santa Anita route, running three times into Kentucky, and won the first two legs of the Crown. He ran three more times that year, and add 11 more lifetime, including a win in the World Cup. 'Chrome's relative workhorse race tab is just one more argument for his greatness.

Our darling Triple Crown winner American Pharoah himself ran only three times at two and did not appear in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile because of injury. He took the Arkansas road to the Triple Crown, winning the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. After the Crown, he took two months off and then won the Haskell and was nipped by Keen Ice in the Travers. Two months after that, his final start became his transcendent win in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

For perspective, 2017's Derby winner, Always Dreaming, ran only twice at two and was a maiden going into the chase. He needed and got a win in the Florida Derby to set the stage for his Kentucky win. He was the first since Brokers Tip in 1933 to take the Roses without a win at two. While he ran and lost in the Preakness, Belmont, Jim Dandy and Travers, he was found to have ulcers. He's been training for an undetermined 2018 debut.

This all comes up because Saturday is Fountain of Youth Stakes Day at Gulfstream Park. This direct prep to the Florida Derby signals that the Road to the Roses is really open now. Time to pay attention.

But what's this we see?

Good Magic, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner on the hinky Del Mar course in November - and that's a factor to me - is favored at 7-5. He ran three times last year and not yet at all in 2018. It looks like all he'll have is this one and the Florida Derby going into Louisville. For this race, we really don't have any idea who he is.

Second favorite is Strike Power at 4-1. He's looked very strong with wins in both of his two races. Free Drop Billy, 9-2, has the most foundation in this race with five races at two and a second in the Holy Bull a month ago. What a throwback!

It's easy to see we'll never have the volume of the old days to help with handicapping. I would say it hurts the game, but the overlords don't see it that way. Derby weekend and the Breeders' Cup are doing landmark handle. The owners run their animals relatively little and make the big bucks in the breeding shed.

But it's still tough to spot trends and tendencies, gauge a 3-year-old's development. The Kentucky Derby itself is of little help. Most of the time, it takes until after the Triple Crown races are in the books.

Horseplayers don't have inconsequential mock drafts, it's cash on the barrelhead, one minute to post. Whodoya like? And you'll have your answer in about two minutes. No combines or mandatory voluntaries.

Yes, it's a lot of pressure. It's made me wonder if I really do have a problem.

Not the 1-800-GAMBLING kind. More of the bet construction, parlay kind, staying power over a full card.

Off the insurance grid, I talked to my primary account wagering provider. She told me I could find all the support I need, just the skill tools it will take to put me in a better place, from this guy.


Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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