03/09/2007 12:00AM

Churchill plans to improve Derby future bet


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs is looking to add some spice to its Kentucky Derby Future Wager in the coming years, although the computer technology that would allow the bet to expand to every Derby nominee is not yet available.

Churchill vice president for racing communications John Asher said this week that he and other officials are aware that fans "would like to see some new wrinkles" to the futures. One idea would be to open up wagering on every nominee - there were 450 this year - as opposed to the current format that limits wagering to 23 separately listed interests and a mutuel field that serves as a 24th "all others" interest.

"We do have people working on that very concept," said Asher. "The industry is moving in that direction, but we're just not there yet. Next year we'll be in our 10th year with the futures, and we'd love nothing more than to shake it up. But the technology, both the hardware and software, just is not in place yet for us to allow us to make it the way some people want it."

Wagering into Pool 2 in the 2007 Derby futures began Thursday and ends Sunday. The third and final pool will be held April 12-15. Since Churchill introduced the three-pool format for its parimutuel futures in 1999, the bet typically has attracted an aggregate handle of about $1.5 million. The only variation in all those years has been the addition of the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, which originally consisted of just one pool in 2003 and was expanded to three pools the following year. The Oaks futures have proven far less popular than those for the Derby, perennially handling less than 15 percent of the Derby futures handle.

Asher said that even when Churchill eventually is able to open up the Derby futures to every nominee, "there still will have to be a field, to cover late and supplementary nominations.

"We won't be like the Las Vegas books, where there's a possibility of 'no winner,' " he said. "There will always be a winner."

While declining to pin down just when more expansive futures might be available, Asher said: "We will sit down and evaluate it again this year, just like we do every year. I don't want to make any promises, but I can say we are doing our absolute best to come up with what the fans want."

Vestal named head clocker

Churchill has hired Pete Vestal as the head clocker for morning workouts. Vestal, who enjoyed a distinguished 28-year career as a trainer until last fall, will begin working Wednesday out of the Joe Hirsch Media Center high above the track.

Vestal will be responsible for the reporting of all workouts at Churchill, which takes on added meaning in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby.

"Pete's range of experience and understanding of the game should lend itself to him being a natural, and we're excited about that," said Asher. "Obviously, he's familiar with how to use stopwatches."

Lane's End field taking shape

Hard Spun was scheduled to be shipped this weekend from Oaklawn Park to Turfway Park, where the once-beaten colt figures as the favorite for the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes on March 24.

Besides Hard Spun, who ran fourth last month in the Southwest Stakes after opening his career with four wins, Turfway stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman said he is expecting "quite a few" 3-year-olds for the Lane's End, a Grade 2 race run at 1 1/8 miles. Wehrman said he expects "at least one, if not more" from trainer Todd Pletcher, who has 21 of the 166 nominees to the race.

Other known prospects for the Lane's End include Catman Running and Joe Got Even, the one-two finishers in the John Battaglia Memorial last weekend.

Four other stakes also will be run on the Lane's End undercard, including the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds. Street Sense, the 2-year-old champion of last year, is an outside possibility to make his 2007 debut in the Rushaway. Trainer Carl Nafzger has said Street Sense is more likely to run next Saturday, in the Tampa Bay Derby.

* Entering Friday at Turfway, Kim Hammond and Paul McGee were tied atop the trainer standings with 12 wins apiece. Elwood McCann was third with 8 wins from just 16 starters. The jockeys' race continues to be hotly contested between apprentice Alonso Quinonez (54 wins) and Miguel Mena (51). Steve Elzey is the agent for both riders.

* Oscar Hall, who had a lengthy training career on the New England circuit before settling in recent years in Kentucky, died March 3 at Veterans Administration Hospital in Cincinnati. He was 78.

Beginning in 1976, Hall won 312 races from 3,114 starters. A memorial service was held Friday at Turfway.