06/02/2004 11:00PM

Belmont bettable, if you're creative


With the common perception that Smarty Jones is head and withers above the rest of the 3-year-old class, a lot of people are saying Saturday's Belmont is "unbettable."

But Las Vegas race books have put up proposition wagers on the race, the likes of which aren't even seen on a Derby Day or for the Breeders' Cup.

Smarty Jones's morning-line odds of 2-5 mirrored the consensus line of the most popular prop available in Vegas: Will Smarty Jones win the Belmont? Since the finish of the Preakness, bettors have been able to either bet on Smarty at -250 (the same as 2-5, with the bettor risking $2.50 to show a $1 profit) or bet against him and get in the neighborhood of 2-1 on the rest of the field.

The lowest price on Smarty has been -200, when Mandalay Bay first put up the prop right after the Preakness became official. The highest the line has gone was earlier in the week, when the MGM Mirage properties had it at -350/+275. Most others had it drift up to around -280 or -300, reflective of the feeling that we're more likely to see Smarty Jones's odds on Saturday drop to 1-5 than rise to 3-5.

Many books were planning to take down that prop as soon as the parimutuel pools opened on Friday, but there are plenty of other ways to play the race.

Head-to-head matchups are standard fare in Vegas race books, especially on big days like this. As of deadline on Thursday morning, no books had set prices, but John Avello, director of race and sports at Bally's and Paris and the horse racing oddsmaker for the Caesars Entertainment properties, said he was going to match up Purge vs. Rock Hard Ten and Master David vs. Eddington, as well as having matchups on all of the Belmont undercard races. Hugh Citron, race and sports book supervisor at Mandalay Bay, said he would have several matchups, including Rock Hard Ten vs. Eddington.

Avello said he was setting the over/under on the time of the race at 2:28.50.

But the interest for many prop bettors won't stop when the winner crosses the finish line.

The Imperial Palace has the odds of Smarty Jones winning by a nose to 2 3/4 lengths at 5-2, 3 to 7 3/4 lengths at 2-1, 8 to 15 3/4 lengths at 8-5, 16 to 24 3/4 lengths at 5-1, 25 to 30 3/4 lengths at 25-1, and a winning margin of 31 or more lengths at 50-1 (it opened at 100-1).

A separate prop of "any horse winning by 3 lengths or more" had the yes at -190 and the no at +150. If you think Smarty Jones will get beaten convincingly, you can get +400 that he loses by three or more lengths. The no was at -600.

The MGM Mirage books had those same prices, but it was for Smarty Jones being beaten by four or more lengths. They also pared down the margin-of-victory props to Smarty Jones winning by three or more lengths at -140 with the no at +110, and Smarty winning by 12 or more lengths at +275 with the no at -550.

Exotic bettors will tell you that there are other ways to use Smarty Jones while tying him to other races in the pick three, pick four, and pick six. Vegas bettors have other options, too, with contests and other promotional wagers.

The Imperial Palace will use the Belmont in its Super Saturday contest. The contest, which has a $10 entry, starts with races 5 through 7 at Belmont, with the halftime leader winning $200 (the tiebreaker is race 8, if necessary). It then continues with races 9 through 11 (the Belmont). The first prize is $800, and the progressive jackpot for anyone scoring more than 155 points has grown to $2,440.

The Stratosphere, and its sister Arizona Charlie's properties, will be using another race on the undercard with the Belmont for its $2,500-guaranteed twin quinella wager. House rules call for at least eight runners in each race for the twin Q, so race-book host Jay Kessler was concerned when it seemed the Belmont might only have six or seven entrants. With the field of nine, he's now able to use the race, unless they scratch down to seven. The jackpot will carry over to Sunday if it's not hit.

The MGM Mirage properties have a special four-way prop tied to the Bernard Hopkins-Robert Allen fight on Saturday night at the MGM Grand. If you think Smarty Jones and Hopkins will both win, you can get 5-16 on what is essentially a parlay, or you can bet that just Smarty wins and get 8-1, or that just Hopkins wins and get 3-1, or you can pull for both to lose and get 28-1.

As wide-ranging as some of these bets are, there are even more exotic varieties available offshore. Nevada gaming regulations prohibit race and sports books from accepting wagers on events that aren't determined on a field of competition (political elections, votes for MVP awards, the results of reality shows). An example here is BetWWTS.com, which is taking wagers on Smarty Jones's stud fee. The over/under is $100,000.

One final way to play the race was brought to mind by Patrick McQuiggan on the "Track Talk" radio show earlier this week. He said there will be some big bettors taking Smarty Jones to show, creating a minus show pool. The feeling is that they can get 5 cents on the dollar, or a $2.10 payoff, for just having Smarty Jones finish at least third in a field he should dominate.

As is my contrarian nature, I try to look at the flip side. If I see a lot of bridge-jumpers in the show pool, I think I'll just go ahead and bet the whole field to show. Let's say I make nine $20 show bets ($180 total). Even if Smarty Jones finishes in the money, I'll get back at least $63 since I'll have three winning tickets of at least $2.10 apiece. But if he doesn't hit the board, we could be seeing show prices of $40 or $50 and even over $100 if one of the real bombers comes in. And I would have each of those 10 times.

This way, I can have action on the race and have a nice payday if Smarty Jones somehow fails to fire, but still be out less than $120 if he's in the money. In that case, hopefully he wins, as that would be a small price to pay to see a Triple Crown winner.