01/08/2002 1:00AM

Coming soon: Cup future bets


NEW YORK - The Breeders' Cup plans to introduce parimutuel future-book betting this year on its two richest races, the Classic and the Turf, Cup officials said Tuesday. The new bet would be similar to the Kentucky Derby future-book wagering that Churchill Downs has offered for the last three years.

Although the details have not been finalized, the fields for the future bets may include 100 or even 200 horses for each race, according to Ken Kirchner, the Breeders' Cup director of simulcasting. Kirchner said that the Breeders' Cup also plans to introduce head-to-head wagers in which bettors will predict whether one horse finishes in front of another. Those bets would be offered on all eight Cup races, which will be run this year at Arlington Park in Chicago.

The Breeders' Cup, which has aggressively expanded its wagering menu over the past five years, is proceeding with the plans because Illinois has unusual regulations that allow racetracks to offer parimutuel proposition bets, like head-to-head bets. Propositions could include, for example, how many races a specific jockey or trainer wins on the day.

"We're very excited about what we may be able to develop in Illinois," said Kirchner. "We can develop bets for everybody and anybody."

Proposition bets and future wagers have long been offered in Las Vegas, but those bets nearly always pay off on fixed odds that are set and adjusted by bookmakers. The new Breeders' Cup wagers would pay off parimutuelly, like all other racetrack bets, with the amount of money bet on each combination or entrant determining the payout.

The Breeders' Cup future bets would most likely be designed along the same lines as the Kentucky Derby future wager. That wager offers parimutuel future-book betting on the Derby in three separate pools that close on different weekends before the race. Last year, bettors wagered $1.3 million in the three pools, a record for the bet.

The most significant difference between the Derby and Breeders' Cup future wagers would be the size of the fields. The Kentucky Derby future wager is limited to 23 individual horses and a "field" including all other 3-year-olds. The pool for the Breeders' Cup future wager, Kirchner said, could go as high as 200 horses.

The number of horses will depend on the capabilities of totalizator companies, which design and run the hardware and software programs for parimutuel systems, Kirchner said.

"We don't want to restrict this to just the top 12 or 24," Kirchner said. "We're going to discuss with the tote companies what they can possibly handle."

Ted Mudge, the president of AmTote, the tote supplier for Arlington, said his company could "easily" handle 100 runners with a minimum of reprogramming. "There's work that has to be done," Mudge said. "Not every company can just change the number of runners that the system handles."

Brooks Pierce, the president of Autotote, said he had not discussed the new wager with Breeders' Cup officials and did not know if his company's system could handle 100 betting interests. "This is the first we've heard of it and we would have to look at it." Officials from United Tote, the other major totalizator company, could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.

Although a future wager, from a tote standpoint, is essentially a bet on a horse to win, the bet differs in one crucial respect. A horse that is injured, scratched, or does not make the race for any other reason is a loser.

Mudge said he believed the bet would be successful. "As a player myself, I'd love it," Mudge said. "When you think that you'll be able to get 8-1 on a horse that will be 2-1 on Breeders' Cup Day, I think that's pretty cool."

Despite Illinois's unusual laws, proposition betting has a limited history in the state. Tom Carey III, the director of operations for Hawthorne Racecourse outside Chicago, said that Illinois tracks have so far declined to implement any proposition bets.

"I say that regrettably," Carey said, "because it obviously could be a part of the betting menu. But so far, we haven't seen any reason to."