02/19/2009 1:00AM

Bet the field, sit back, and have fun

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Has the stock market beaten you up? Are your corporate bonds in more trouble than Barry Bonds? Has someone running a Ponzi scheme made off with most of your money?

Here's a chance to win some of it back. Betting on Pool 1 of the Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby Futures Wager opened Thursday and closes on Sunday.

Some narrow-minded handicappers believe that betting on the "All Other Three Year Olds" option, more commonly called the field, isn't much fun. They're wrong. It's always entertaining, and if you are able to stick with it for a few years, it figures to be profitable.

All you have to do is bet on number 24, the field, in Poolo1 of the Kentucky Derby Futures bet, then sit back and wait for the inevitable chaos and confusion to ensue as you root against the 23 horses who are listed as individual betting interests.

Here are the results for the first 10 years of the field bet on Pool 1: You would have had four winners, a healthy 40 percent. Charismatic paid $10.20 in 1999, War Emblem returned $7.60 in 2002. Smarty Jones paid $5.60 in 2004. And Big Brown was worth $8.60 last year.

That works out to $32 in payoffs for 10 $2 bets. That's a 60 percent profit. Where are you going to get a better deal than that these days?

It isn't just profitable. It's also a lot of fun.

First of all, you'll enjoy an unbelievable amount of rooting action leading up to the Derby, more than you will probably be able to keep track of during the early stages. You'll have the majority of the horses on your team in most of the fields running in most of the Kentucky Derby prep races.

And the fun doesn't stop there. Any time any previously unheralded 3-year-old wins an allowance route race by an impressive margin or in fast time at any track you've probably got him. Ka-ching! If he continues to blossom, he could turn out to be one of the favorites on Derby Day, but he can't be taken away from you as he is a permanent member of your team.

Every time a favorite who is on the list of individual betting entries runs poorly in a Kentucky Derby prep race, your chances of winning improve. It probably won't be long before his connections choose to remove him from the Derby trail. And if the horse who wins that race, or finishes second or third is a longshot, you've probably got him. Better yet, the winner's share of the purse of that graded stakes race might be high enough to assure your upsetter a spot in the starting gate on Derby Day. That's one or more new contenders looking good for your team, and one less opponent to worry about. Ka-Ching!

I don't like to see any horse get injured under any circumstance, but it's very likely to happen to a couple of the 23 individually listed betting interests on the road to the Derby. Given that reality, root for the afflicted horse to get better soon, and to have a wonderful career. But root for him to do that sometime after the first Saturday in May.

For those of you who prefer longshots to the field option, I'll take a chance with one in this pool. After taking a look at the sprinters who won their recent races impressively, I like Notonthesamepage best. He set a fast pace while staying well within his comfort zone, then drew away late while compiling 5 3/4 of his 8 1/4-length win margin in the Spectacular Bid during the last furlong, without being asked for his best. He earned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure in that six-furlong race, which was his return from a three-month layoff.

The difference between the high Beyer earned by Notonthesamepage and the 116 earned by This Ones for Phil is that I can see where Notonthesamepage's 114 Beyer came from in an earlier race. He earned a remarkable 104 Beyer in his second career start on April 30, which was very early in his 2-year-old campaign. It isn't hard to imagine that with added physical growth and mental maturity slightly more than eight months later, he would be capable of improving on that number by at least 10 points.

It is also important to note that Notonthesamepage might be willing to rate more kindly than most people realize. Although he was not at his best when he returned from a three-month break, or in the two races that followed, watch the replay of the Hopeful and you'll see him finish with good late energy when he rallied from seventh to finish fifth in that seven furlong race. If he can stretch out successfully, his 30-1 morning-line odds would be a bargain.