05/17/2006 11:00PM

Book action heavy on Barbaro

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When Pimlico track handicapper Frank Carulli announced the morning line for the Preakness on Wednesday's ESPN2 post position draw show, he made Barbaro the even-money favorite.

Carulli hinted that Barbaro might go off lower, but he felt the wise guys would be on Brother Derek or Sweetnorthernsaint.

Well, if the betting here in Las Vegas in the first week and a half since the Derby is any indication, there's not much chance that Barbaro goes off at even. When John Avello, director of race and sports at Wynn Las Vegas, posted his "Will Barbaro win the Preakness?" prop after Barbaro's 6 1/2-length romp in the Derby, he made it -110 (risk $1.10 for every $1 you want to profit) on both the "yes" and the "no." The wise guys here and the recreational bettors alike bet the "yes," and as of Wednesday night, Avello had Barbaro winning the Preakness at -135 with the "no" at +115 (win $1.15 for every $1 wagered). For comparison sake, a money line of -125 would be the equivalent of 4-5 odds, and Avello said that even though the odds passed that threshold, he was still taking more action on the "yes."

"It hasn't surprised me that people continue to bet on him at any odds," Avello said. "He won the Kentucky Derby easily, and everyone saw that race, and he's being hyped to win the Triple Crown."

Barbaro has also been getting support in Avello's prop on Barbaro winning the Triple Crown. After initially opening those odds with -320 on the "no" and +260 on the "yes," Avello adjusted to -260/+220 but bettors continued to take the "yes" in this case and as of Wednesday the "yes" was down to +170 (right between 8-5 and 9-5) with the "no" offered at -200.

Caesars Palace has that same prop, which opened at +210 on the "yes" and was down to +190 on Wednesday night, according to Chuck Esposito, director of race and sports.

"Early indications look like he's a special horse," Esposito said of Barbaro. "Facing a short field in the Preakness certainly helps, but we all know how hard it is, and if he makes it to the Belmont he'll then have to face the horses that have been bred for the distance and they'll be well rested. As far as the bet goes, people want to bet on something good to happen and a lot of people want to see a Triple Crown winner."

"I hope they want it so much that if it happens they don't cash the ticket," Avello said, cracking himself up.

As of press time, Avello was still sorting out which Preakness runners he would pair in head-to-head matchups. He said he also planned to post a running time prop as he does in the Derby, but he was waiting for more definitive weather reports.

Preakness promotions

The twin quinella is a popular special wager on big racing days here in Las Vegas. For the uninitiated, it's a multi-race wager in which you try to hit the quinella in two separate races, paying $2 per combination (so, if you box three horses in each race, that would cost $18, or 3x3x2).

The race book puts up the prize and all the people who have the winning combination split the pool.

In the past, twin Q's have been held at the Station Casinos, the Stratosphere and its sister Arizona Charlie's properties, the Plaza, and the Rampart/Cannery. For the Derby, the Leroy's network of sports books decided to get in on the action with a prize of $5,000.

With 30-1 longshot Bluegrass Cat finishing second to Barbaro in the Derby, no one hit it at Leroy's, so there is a carryover to this Saturday with the pool increased to $5,427. The bet will consist of the Preakness and 14-horse 13th race at Pimlico.

* The Stratosphere and its sister properties at Arizona Charlie's East on Boulder Highway and Arizona Charlie's West on Decatur aren't offering a twin quinella as they did for the Derby, but they are holding second-chance drawings throughout the day Saturday. Players will be able to put all their non-winning tickets into a drum. Cash drawings will start at each property at 1 p.m. with winners receiving 10 times the amount of the ticket drawn, up to $500. The grand prize at each race book after the Preakness will be a 42-inch plasma TV.

Preakness picks

No fault can be found in Barbaro's Derby victory, but I'm not convinced he's the second coming of Secretariat.

I'm not all that enamored with any of the new shooters, at least not enough to tout them as my top play. If forced to pick the most likely winner, I'd have to side with Brother Derek to turn the tables, as he should be able to run his race with a much better post than he had in the Derby.

Like Now, with the No. 1 post, is expected to set the pace, but Diabolical, despite the outside post in the field of nine, might actually be the speed of the speed. If he goes off at his morning-line odds of 30-1 (and he was in excess of 40-1 at some offshore books Wednesday), I'll have win money on him just in case he steals it.

As much as I like to toss favorites out of my exotics, Barbaro needs to be used here.

Bernardini, in only his fourth career start, is the wild card as he continues to improve and we might not have seen his best yet. He could also be a win play at 10-1 or higher.

1. Brother Derek

2. Diabolical

3. Barbaro

4. Bernardini