05/12/2003 12:00AM

Avello able to breathe sigh of relief

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LAS VEGAS - The connections of Funny Cide, jockey Jose Santos, and the entire sport of horse racing, for that matter, breathed a huge sigh of relief Monday with the announcement that no wrongdoing was found in the running of the Kentucky Derby.

But John Avello, who runs the biggest Derby futures book in Nevada for Bally's, was still hyperventilating. It had been a nervous weekend for Avello since the Miami Herald story and photo launched the whole controversy.

Avello sets and adjusts the future book odds for the Park Place Entertainment casinos, which include his own properties of Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, as well as Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Las Vegas Hilton, Reno Hilton, Caesars Tahoe, and Flamingo Laughlin. With that many properties generating a lot of volume, and with Park Place taking higher limits than most books (Avello doesn't flinch at taking a bet of $100 on a horse at 200-1), booking future bets can be a risky proposition.

Avello has readily admitted that his book took a loss with Funny Cide's victory as he had several big-money tickets out there at 200-1, 150-1, 100-1, and 75-1 on the New York-bred gelding.

"We had a lot of very happy people coming in last week and cashing their tickets, but we still have some big tickets out there," Avello said. "When this all came down, we were faced with a scary situation."

We've all seen situations in horse racing where stewards have gone back and changed the order of the finish of a race and redistributed the purse, but the original result is still official for wagering purposes. The same goes with sports betting. If a college basketball team wins a game and a month later it's ruled a forfeit because of an ineligible player. Nevada's race and sports books' house rules are pretty clear.

In Avello's case, he was paying out on Funny Cide winning the Derby, but he had also booked odds to win the Triple Crown. Empire Maker was easily his biggest liability in that future book.

Had Funny Cide been disqualified from the Derby win and had Empire Maker won the Preakness and Belmont, Avello would have had to pay off on the Triple Crown futures, too.

Avello said he had talks with an agent from the Gaming Control Board to make sure he was interpreting all the regulations correctly, and what he learned was that it could have been a disaster.

"I felt more comfortable after seeing more photos and the video of the stretch run and heard more about the reporter's interview with Santos," Avello said. "I could totally see how Santos would say 'Q-Ray' and 'arthritis' and the reporter heard 'cue ring' and 'outrider.'

"I don't even want to think about it any more. I'm just glad it's all cleared up and we can move on to the next future book."

Avello has odds up on the Breeders' Cup Classic and Distaff races and will be adding a race every few weeks through the spring and summer, completing the eight-race championship day card with the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies shortly after the Saratoga and Del Mar meets start with their 2-year-old stakes programs.

Preakness futures betting

In other future betting news, Frank Minervini of the Coast Casinos closed his Preakness book over the weekend. It will be interesting to compare the horses' odds in the futures betting, which opened in late March, to the ones that come out in the Pimlico morning line after Wednesday's draw.

Funny Cide closed as the 2-1 favorite (after opening at 75-1). Trainer Bobby Frankel's potential Preakness participants were next on the list. He kept everyone guessing as to who would run, so they all stayed up on Coast's futures board. Peace Rules, the one horse Frankel has said he will enter, closed at 4-1.

Empire Maker and Midas Eyes, neither of whom is now expected to enter, were 3-1 and 6-1, respectively.

Odds of other potential starters: Cherokee's Boy (15-1), Senor Swinger (15-1), Champali (20-1), Scrimshaw (20-1) and Ten Cents a Shine (90-1). The field closed at 7-2 and those bettors look like they will be getting Alysweep, Kissin Saint, Foufa's Warrior, and Midway Road.

* Jerry Jacovitz and Lauren Stich will be conducting a Preakness handicapping seminar at 6 p.m. Friday in the Fiesta Rancho race book.

* Richard Eng, Las Vegas Review-Journal turf editor and Daily Racing Form gaming columnist, was a guest on CNN on Monday, discussing the whole Funny Cide controversy.

Sports book notes

The NBA playoffs really heated up over the weekend as three of the conference semifinal series were knotted at 2-2 (the one exception was the Nets leading their series with the Celtics 3-0 heading into Monday night's game).

The "zig-zag theory" that I have been following - in which you bet on the straight-up loser of the previous game - went 4-3 over the weekend to hold steady at 23-16 (59 percent) for the whole playoffs. If you subscribe to that theory, the Pistons, losers of Sunday's game vs. the 76ers, would be the play Wednesday night as a 1-point favorite.

To track how the theory is faring heading into that game, the Monday play would have been the Celtics -1 vs. the Nets, and Tuesday's plays would have been Mavericks - 3 vs. the Kings and Spurs -2 1/2 vs. the Lakers.

If the Nets failed to wrap up their series Monday, they would be the play as a home favorite on Wednesday.

* Sports book managers are reporting low volume of bets on the NHL conference finals.

The round started Saturday with two exciting games, as both favorites, the Ottawa Senators vs. the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference and the Anaheim Ducks vs. the Minnesota Wild in the West, won in overtime.

Game 2's were to be played Monday and Tuesday, but the Las Vegas sports books will continue to be more full of baseball fans and fans of SportsCenter.