He Can Identify Losers : Houston Chemist Develops Study of Speed and Stamina Based on Bloodlines

Times Staff Writer

Chief's Crown won't win the Kentucky Derby this year.

Neither will Tank's Prospect nor Spectacular Love.

But Proud Truth could win the Derby, as could Stephan's Odyssey and First Norman.

Before things get out of hand, the source of this information needs to be identified. Meet Steven Roman, a Houston chemist who has developed a study of speed and stamina based on horses' bloodlines. A horse doesn't have to run a race for Roman to assess his Derby chances. A review of the horse's parentage is enough.

Roman, in conjunction with Leon Rasmussen, the bloodlines expert for the Daily Racing Form, rates horses according to their Dosage Index (DI) and Center of Distribution (CD).

Those arcane terms, known only by racing's intelligentsia, are guaranteed to clear out many a cocktail party. Even people in the horse-racing industry find the Dosage Index and the Center of Distribution boring. Others doubt the validity of such information.

But Roman and Rasmussen have researched the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, last leg of the Triple Crown, back to 1940, and the results are fascinating.

For instance, no horse with both a DI of more than 4.00 and a CD of more than 1.25 has won the Derby in the last 44 years. In the same span, only two horses--Damascus in 1967 and Conquistador Cielo in 1982--with a DI of more than 4.00 have won the Belmont.

The complete formula for these ratings is too complicated to explain in an easy manner. It took Roman, who has a Ph.D. from Columbia University, a treatise to give his theories on dosage in 1981.

Simply, mathematical weight is given to the sires going back four generations in a horse's pedigree. Roman and Rasmussen have combined to put more than 125 sires into five aptitude categories--starting with brilliant and working down through intermediate, classic, solid and professional.

An example of a brilliant sire is Raise a Native. Nashua is in the intermediate class, Count Fleet is among the classic sires, Man o' War is considered solid and Vaguely Noble is a professional. Some sires, difficult to pigeonhole, wind up in two classifications, such as Northern Dancer, who is a combination of brilliant and classic. Rasmussen says that about two or three sires have their status changed every year.

Sires who appear in a horse's pedigree are given descending point totals, starting with 16 for the first generation, 8 for the second, 4 for the third and 1 for the fourth.

"This is giving credence to Dalton's law, which says that each immediate generation is more important than the previous one," Rasmussen said.

Using the point values for the sires, different equations are used to arrive at the DI and CD. A horse with a DI of 4.00 or less and a CD under 1.25 is considered to have both the speed and stamina to handle the demanding distances of 1 miles in the Derby and 1 1/2 miles in the Belmont Stakes.

The system did not originate with the 41-year-old Roman, who owned show horses in California before he moved to Houston four years ago. His work is a refinement of a dosage concept developed in the 1950s by Franco Varola, an international attorney who lives in Italy.

Varola has taken umbrage at the work Roman and the 70-year-old Rasmussen have done. "He feels we have prostituted his concept," said Rasmussen, who is finishing a book on dosage.

Said Roman: "Varola had the historical approach and didn't use a statistical method. His study was more philosophical than one that can be tested. Our analysis is based on what sires do on the track, by age and according to racing surfaces, rather than what they accomplish at stud. It depends on the point of view. Both systems have their positives and their weaknesses."

Roman, who has developed 50 patents for the Shell Oil Co., grew up in New York. "Native Dancer was the first horse that had an impact on me," he said.

"He was television's first equine hero and had a lot to do with my getting interested in the sport."

Had Devil's Bag remained sound and run in last year's Kentucky Derby, his figures showed that he is the kind of horse that wins the race. "He had a DI of 1.00, which is classic and ideal," Rasmussen said. "And his CD was 0.00."

Not even Triple Crown champions Seattle Slew (1977) and Secretariat (1973) had such impressive figures. Seattle Slew was 2.14 and 0.77, Secretariat had 3.00 and 1.06. Both sets of figures were well below the maximum criteria of 4.00 and 1.25, but not as good as Devil's Bag's.

Recently, Rasmussen wrote that the most likely winner of this year's Kentucky Derby could come from a group consisting of Spend a Buck, Mighty Appealing, Stephan's Odyssey, Stone White, Script Ohio, Dauphin Fabuleux, Doubly Clear and First Norman.

Script Ohio probably won't run in the Derby because of a knee injury. Stone White's trainer, Gil Puentes, indicates he won't run his horse at Churchill Downs, and Mighty Appealing and Stephan's Odyssey have been taking their lumps in Florida this year.

Where Roman and Rasmussen excel, however, is determining the horses that won't win the Derby. Horses they place in that category include Chief's Crown, Spectacular Love, Tank's Prospect and Banner Bob. All are stakes winners, and Chief's Crown, after taking last year's 2-year-old championship, has won his only start at 3. The DI of Spectacular Love, for example, is 23.00, one of the highest among leading 3-year-olds.

What do horsemen think about being written off by a slide rule?

"I follow dosage figures, and they're variables you have to figure in when you're considering horses," said Wayne Lukas, who trains Tank's Prospect. "The numbers those guys have come up with on the Derby go back a long time, so who am I to argue against them? They're right more than they're wrong, but when it comes to Tank's Prospect, their figures show that he can't go farther than six furlongs. Heck, he runs a mile and is just getting warmed up, and he's showed it in important races."

Frank (Jimmy) Kilroe, vice president for racing at Santa Anita, has never been a dosage advocate.

"It's a very subjective system," Kilroe said. "They call those five divisions of stallions chef-de-race sires, and I've never been able to figure out just exactly what a chef-de-race is. I'm skeptical of someone trying to prove something and then drawing up a lot of material after the fact to reach the proof."

Roman says there frequently is a misunderstanding about dosage statistics.

"These figures are neither good nor bad," Roman said. "All they indicate is a horse's suitability to a task. Take Eillo, for example. He didn't have the numbers to be considered seriously for the classic distances, but his figures showed that he would be a good sprinter, and he turned out to be a champion last year."

Kilroe remains unconvinced. "There was a Polish fellow who got me involved in something like this a number of years ago," Kilroe said. "He had so many charts and tables that it would have taken an enlarged living room, with no furniture, to make room for all the stuff.

"When it comes to studies like this," he said, "I like to use a saying my brother liked to use: Figures don't lie, but liars figure."

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