Derby 'Loss' Has Not Ruined Originator's Faith In Dosage

Posted: May 30, 1991

Poor Steve Roman. For years he studied large populations of thoroughbreds, going back 40 years in an attempt to interpret pedigrees accurately. All he was trying to do was understand the trends of the breed and record his findings.

Roman's system, which rates a horse for speed and stamina according to a complicated formula based on the horse's bloodlines, is called dosage. It got worldwide attention in the 1980s when reporters - and bettors - discovered that no horse with figures outside Roman's dosage guidelines had ever won the

Kentucky Derby.

Since then, Roman has had to listen to the same debate every spring about the controversial system and has been forced to defend it by those who refused to believe or didn't understand. But the system kept working, much to the dismay of critics. The count was up to 61 consecutive years - which is as far back as Roman's figures can be applied - as we approached this year's Derby.

Then it happened, just as Roman predicted it someday would.

Strike The Gold - a colt without the proper dosage figures, son of a great but puzzling sire named Alydar - won the Derby.

Poor Steve Roman. His life hasn't been the same since. His phone began ringing the night of the Derby and it rang and rang until all the I-told-you- so critics got their fill of vengeance. All those years of research, all the insights, all those generations of breeding data recorded by Roman seemed to have lost all significance because of one race.

"It was like the whole world was waiting for me to say something," Roman said by telephone from his office in Houston, where he manages Shell Oil Co.'s exploratory chemistry division. "People are thinking of dosage only in the context of that one race.

"But," he said yesterday, "it got awfully quiet after Hansel (a dosage favorite) won the Preakness."

To start with, handicapping was never the intended purpose of dosage. And Roman had said there would be certain conditions under which a horse bred like Strike The Gold would win, and all of those conditions were fulfilled in this year's Derby - a slow winning time (2 minutes, 3 seconds, the second-slowest on a fast track since 1974), a mediocre field and a strategic, tactical kind of race.

Dosage had received so much publicity because of its success in the hands of handicappers that the purpose of the system was all but forgotten.

Said Roman: "Just the way Jack Whitaker (on ABC-TV's coverage of the race) said, 'Strike The Gold blows a hole in the dosage theory, thank goodness,' I knew that he didn't even know what the dosage theory is."

Many racing reporters bashed the system. It was an intellectual scam, a canard, a swindle, hokum, bull. And Roman, 48, who has a doctorate in chemistry from Columbia, who completed two years of doctoral work at Harvard and the University of Texas, who has spent his life in research, was maligned

from coast to coast.

"I've been with this thing 15 years," Roman said, "and I look back and say, 'How did this thing get so out of hand?' "

The system's purpose is not handicapping, he said, "but as to what extent pedigree plays a role in handicapping, it is a valuable asset. It's like anything else in handicapping. Speed figures don't work all the time, but you use them to get a handle as to how good a horse is. You look at form. You look at earnings. Not one of them by themselves will pick you a winner."

So what happened in the Derby?

"I think Hansel was the best horse," Roman said, "but I think he's the kind of horse who doesn't like to be in a crowd.

"If you watch the tape, as he was heading into the quarter pole he was in a mess of horses and suddenly threw his head up. I don't think he likes that. . . . I think he's the best 3-year-old around and that he's just got that psychological problem about running in a crowd."

Strike The Gold?

"I don't think he's that good a horse. (Trainer Nick) Zito was making excuses for him in the Preakness, but looking at the view from the blimp, it looked like he had a clear shot. I just think he got lucky on Derby day. I think he came up on a relatively weak field."

And what does Roman think about the Belmont Stakes?

"If they run slow enough, (Strike The Gold) can win," he said. "If you run Housebuster a mile and a quarter against a $10,000 claiming horse who usually runs a mile and a quarter, Housebuster will win, even though Housebuster is a sprinter. Class means something.

"The Belmont can be a tactical race and genetically not as demanding, not as much pressure from beginning to end as in the Derby. The dosage formula is not quite as effective in the Belmont, but if you're going to go a mile and a half in good company, you should be bred for stamina."

Only three horses with dosage figures outside Roman's guidelines have won the Belmont - Creme Fraiche (1985), Conquistador Cielo (1982) and Damascus (1967). But two of those - Creme Fraiche and Conquistador Cielo - won on ''off" tracks.

Uh-oh, here we go again.

Hello, Dr. Roman? Hello? . . . Steve? Are you there?

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