04/30/2003 11:00PM

Atswhatimtalknbout could burn books

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All of the 3-year-olds who reached Wednesday's Kentucky Derby post-position draw have already beaten the odds.

You have probably heard that this year's field contains the survivors of an estimated 36,700 foals of 2000. Further proof can be found in the future-book betting in Vegas race books.

The week after last fall's Breeders' Cup, Coast Casinos had 57 horses in its Derby future book. Guess how many made the post-position draw? Two: Empire Maker (the co-third choice at 25-1), and Lone Star Sky.

The other 55 have fallen by the wayside, including nine of the other top 10 choices, all of whom were less than 100-1: Vindication, Sky Mesa, Hold That Tiger, Kafwain, Inamorato, Master Deaux, Gentleman's Club, Congrats, and Whywhywhy. Of the 20 horses at 100-1, only Lone Star Sky has made it this far, and he might be 100-1 when they break from the gate.

A glance at the future odds that came out after the first of the year shows that nearly half of Saturday's field wasn't even on the radar screen as just nine of the 69 listed have made the field: Empire Maker (already down to 10-1 as the third choice behind Vindication and Toccet), Scrimshaw, Ten Cents a Shine, Atswhatimtalknbout, Ten Most Wanted, Outta Here, Domestic Dispute, Funny Cide, and Lone Star Sky.

With that much attrition, it's no surprise that Frank Minervini, the horse racing oddsmaker for Coast Casinos, says he's in good shape with the Derby futures. He said Wednesday that the only entrant who could cause the house to lose money is Atswhatimtalknbout.

"When he broke his maiden impressively at Santa Anita and won an allowance race, we took a lot of money on him," Minervini said. "We also were in a bad spot with Kafwain until we got bailed out earlier this week," by Kafwain's withdrawal due to an injury.

Minervini said the house is in okay shape with Empire Maker, even though he has been bet down from opening odds of 50-1 last August down to his closing odds of 8-5 earlier this week.

"I've liked him all along, even when he lost in the Remsen [last November] and a lot of people got off him," he said. "He was splitting horses and still closing on speed-favoring tracks. I told people, 'Watch out when this horse figures out what to do.' "

John Avello, who sets the horse racing odds for the Park Place Entertainment properties (Caesars Palace, Bally's, Paris, Flamingo, Las Vegas Hilton, Reno Hilton, Caesars Tahoe, Flamingo Laughlin) said Empire Maker, Funny Cide, and Atswhatimtalknbout would hurt his book's bottom line.

"We opened them at high odds - Empire Maker at 150-1 and Funny Cide at 200-1 - and took some big bets early," Avello said. Avello said he tried to keep Empire Maker at a fair price for as long as he could, but he closed at 6-5, which turned out to be his morning-line odds set by Churchill linemaker Mike Battaglia after the Derby draw.

Triple Crown odds low on 'Empire'

When Minervini opened his Triple Crown futures on Feb. 12, he made Empire Maker the 50-1 favorite. He has since been bet down to 4-1. The next-lowest price in the future book was Ten Most Wanted at 75-1 (after opening at 300-1), followed by Peace Rules and Atswhatimtalknbout at 80-1 and Buddy Gil at 90-1.

Bettors found value on a proposition wager offered by Park Place. When Park Place posted its Triple Crown odds on April 18, Empire Maker opened at 11-2 while a separate prop on "will there be a Triple Crown winner in 2003?" was listed at +500 (or 5-1), so bettors could get Empire Maker and every other 3-year-old for a slightly lower price. The "won't be a Triple Crown winner" opened at -700 (or lay $7 for every $1 you were trying to win).

Bettors pounded the "will be" all the way down to +375 before Avello raised it back to +400 Tuesday after word got out about Empire Maker's bruised hoof. Meanwhile, Empire Maker by himself has been bet down to +425.

"This is the lowest I've ever had the odds to win the Triple Crown," Avello said. "Usually I open it around -800 or -900 and we get balanced action, but the big bettors usually lay it up because it's so hard to do, as we've seen, since it's been 25 years since the last Triple Crown."

"And I've tried to keep the odds higher on Empire Maker than on any Triple Crown winner, but I've been getting so much money on him that I've had to adjust."

Making some racy propositions

As of Wednesday evening, Minervini and Avello were still putting together head-to-head matchups and other proposition wagers.

Avello said Park Place would match up the entire Derby field "with the exception of Supah Blitz." Minervini said Coast Casinos would go with four or five matchups, as well as look into some other props such as an over/under on the winner's final time.

Many other books will be booking head-to-head matchups and props. Some of the most imaginative in year's past have been the props at the Imperial Palace (sometimes including other sports vs. the results in the Derby such as a given player's points in an NBA playoff game vs. the winning price of the Derby winner) while Mandalay Bay looks to take big action on its head-to-head matchups.