Gender (three major possibilities): The most obvious thing. A horse can be a female, male or gelded male. Age (three): Another basic. A horse can be a 2-year-old, a 3-year-old or an “older” horse at any one moment. Track surface (three): A horse can be better on dirt, better on turf, or the same on each. Let’s wait and if there turns out to be “synthetic track” horses too. Off-track tendencies (three): A horse can be a mudder, a mud-hater, or the same in wet weather as dry. Distance preference (four): Sprinter, middle distances, long distances, or all of the above. Better to explain what makes every horse unique in the more objective terms associated with performance on the track. Off the top of my head, I wrote down a dozen characteristics that can define a thoroughbred’s career. Then I multiplied the number of variable traits and was stunned by the sheer volume of possible combinations. When you think about it this way, any racehorse is likely to be one rare individual – especially an undefeated Kentucky Derby winner. ARCADIA – Since Barbaro’s death, cynics have complained about all the tears shed for a mere horse, and racing fans have struggled to explain what made this horse special. I’ll tell you how not to convince people that a particular horse is unique. Do not talk about the funny way he likes his peppermints served, his preference for the music of Herman’s Hermits, or his arm-biting habit that’s really a sort of playfulness. The hard-hearted will not be swayed if you sound like one of those cat owners who insist Mittens is practically human. Running style (three): Front-runner, stretch-runner or versatile. Training (two): Some work enthusiastically in the mornings, some less so. Career arc (three): Precocious, late-blooming, or steady. Consistency (two): Depending on physical or mental factors, some horses fire every time, some are in and out. Health (two): Possibly related to the factor above. A horse can be sound, or injury-prone. Breeding (two): A horse can have a recognized high-quality pedigree, or more modest bloodlines. The good ones tend to race better but not as long, because their breeding value means earlier retirements. Class (two): A horse either has or doesn’t have this ill-defined quality that we’ll use as a catch-all for competitiveness, physical bravery and other characteristics that allow some to pull out close races. Consider the possibilities. Multiply the variables: 3times 3 times 3 times 3times 4, etc. … and you see how many combinations of traits there are. It comes out to a grand total of 93,312 different combinations. Ninety-three thousand! According to The Jockey Club statistics, about 73,000thoroughbreds compete in the typical year. So, theoretically at least, every single one of them could have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. And remember, we’re talking about characteristics that matter on the track, not silly things like a horse’s color and nickname around the barn. Barbaro? In almost all of our dozen variables, he had the preferable qualities, given the goals of the typical U.S. horse owner. He was male, a stakes winner on dirt and turf, a stakes winner on muddy and dry dirt, a dominant winner from 1 mile to 1 (he never tried sprints), able to press the pace or come from behind, a good enough worker to win the Kentucky Derby after one prep race in three months, and so on. The one thing Barbaro wasn’t was healthy, but that didn’t become a dramatic issue until after he won the Derby. Put it all together, and you see not only why Barbaro became an undefeated Derby champion, but why the loss of this rare specimen was widely mourned in the sport. Maybe the cynics will see it too. The weekend: The 23 horses available for Kentucky Derby parimutuel future-book wagering through Sunday include four who will be in action this weekend. Circular Quay, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up to Street Sense, and Notional, the Doug O’Neill-trained San Rafael Stakes winner, are among 14 3-year-olds in Saturday’s Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Lawrence The Roman runs in Saturday’s Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct. Dreaming of Anna runs in Saturday’s Old Hat Stakes for fillies at Gulstream Park. At Santa Anita on Sunday, the field for the San Vicente Stakes is expected to include Half Famous, Law Breaker, Noble Court and Vaunt. The 7-furlong San Vicente’s winners include 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm. The future wager’s morning line has Nobiz Like Shobiz as the 8-1 favorite. Kevin Modesti is Daily News columnist. His horse racing column appears on Fridays. [email protected] (818) 713-3616 SANTA ANITA LEADERS JOCKEY, WINS Garrett Gomez 43 Victor Espinoza 34 David Flores 20 Corey Nakatani 17 Aaron Gryder 15 Richard Migliore 14 William Antongeorgi III 12 TRAINER, WINS Doug O’Neill 16 Bob Baffert 15 John Sadler 15 Bobby Frankel 9 Jack Carava 8 Paddy Gallagher 8 Steve Knapp 8 ON THE STAKES SCHEDULE SANTA ANITA Saturday $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes, 3-year-old fillies, 1 mile. $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap, 4-year-old-and-up fillies and mares, 1 1/16 miles. Sunday $200,000 La Canada Stakes, 4-year-old fillies, 1 1/8 miles. $150,000 San Vicente Stakes, 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs. GOLDEN GATE FIELDS Saturday $100,000 California Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles. FAIR GROUNDS Saturday $300,000 Risen Star Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. A WEEK AT THE RACES Jorge Ricardo, a Brazilian unknown to most U.S. fans, became the world’s winningest jockey on Monday in Buenos Aires when his 9,591st career victory put him one ahead of Russell Baze. This means Baze, who passed Laffit Pincay on Dec. 1 with No.9,531, can lay claim only to the North American record. That is, at least until Baze returns from a rib fracture at Golden Gate Fields, and tries to take the mark back from Ricardo. Baze is 48, Ricardo 45. Corinthian (Javier Castellano riding) thumped Jazil in an allowance-level race Thursday at Gulfstream, the Belmont Stakes winner’s second runner-up finish of 2007. Lava Man was named Cal-bred Horse of the Year for the second time at the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association dinner Monday in Pasadena. Brother Derek and Thor’s Echo had been finalists for the top honor. Also at the dinner, CTBA Hall of Fame inductions were held for breeders- owners John Mabee and his wife Betty Mabee; legislator and breeder Ken Maddy; the Mabees’ gelding Best Pal, and Free House. John Mabee died in 2002, Ken Maddy in 2000. Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, sidelined since Nov. 26, told the Daily Racing Form complications from December knee surgery will keep him from competing until March. Trainer Vladimir Cerin, whose wife Kellie Cerin died Feb. 1, asked that donations in her honor be made to the California Equine Retirement Foundation, 34033 Kooden Rd., Winchester, CA 92596. Kellie Cerin died when she fell at the home where the family was vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. Services were held Wednesday in Arcadia. Los Alamitos owner Dr. Ed Allred had a stroke last weekend but is expected to make a full recovery, the Orange County quarterhorse track said in a statement. The record 450 nominees to the Triple Crown at the Jan. 21 deadline (for a $600 early fee) include 32 from trainer Todd Pletcher, who will seek his first win in the classics with a group that includes Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay and Scat Daddy. Santa Anita jockey Garrett Gomez ($2.1 million) and trainer Doug O’Neill ($1.2 million) topped the respective national leader boards as the racing week began. – Kevin Modesti 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!