04/29/2004 12:00AM

Derby can be two-horse race


Betting on the Derby here is different than anywhere else.

While horseplayers at Churchill Downs or at other racetracks and OTB's around the country are trying to decide on whether to bet win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, or superfecta on the Derby, Las Vegas bettors will have access to so much more.

For starters, Vegas bettors can break down the race by head-to-head matchups. John Avello, who sets the horse racing odds for the Caesars Entertainment properties from his office at Bally's, put up seven matchups last week. He said Wednesday that the biggest movement has been on Imperialism vs. Read the Footnotes and Pollard's Vision vs. Quintons Gold Rush. Imperialism opened as a +120 underdog (bet $1 to profit $1.20) vs. Read the Footnotes and has been bet to a -125 favorite (risk $1.25 to win $1). Pollard's Vision opened even money vs. Quintons Gold Rush and is now the -120 favorite.

Avello said the other five matchups have remained fairly stable: The Cliff's Edge (-140) vs. Tapit (+110), Lion Heart (-125) vs. Smarty Jones (-105), Wimbledon (-140) vs. Castledale (+110), Minister Eric (-135) vs. Friends Lake (+105), and Master David (-155) vs. Borrego (+125). After the Derby field was drawn Wednesday, Avello matched up the rest of the field, with Action This Day (-145) vs. Birdstone (+115), St Averil (-130) vs. Limehouse (even), and Pro Prado (-120) vs. Song of the Sword (-110).

Other books are sure to offer matchups even if they don't do the entire field.

The most popular question being asked (after "Who do you like in the Derby?) is "Will there be a Triple Crown winner this year?" Avello has made the "no" answer a -1,200 favorite with the "yes" at +900. But he goes further with odds on each individual horse.

Smarty Jones is a 35-1 shot to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The Cliff's Edge and Tapit are both 40-1; followed by Minister Eric and Read the Footnotes (each at 50-1); Wimbledon and Master David (60-1); Lion Heart and Borrego (75-1); Action this Day, Castledale, and Imperialism (100-1); Pollard's Vision and Friends Lake (125-1); Quintons Gold Rush, Birdstone, and Limehouse (150-1); St Averil (200-1); Pro Prado and Song of the Sword (250-1)

Avello also had the over/under on the running of the race set at 2:02 as of Wednesday night, with bettors laying -115 each way, but said he was keeping a close eye on the weather.

Other props that Avello was planning on putting up include "Will the Derby winner also win the Preakness?" The "yes" is +375 while the "no" is -500. Another is an over/ under on the Derby win mutuel. Avello said he originally was going to go with $18.50 but was leaning toward increasing it to $19.50 since he thinks he'll still get a lot of "over" wagers. Expect to lay around -200 on the over.

In addition to monitoring the wagering on race day, Avello will also be keeping an eye on his Derby future book, which opened last fall, ends up faring. Avello said he has enough liability on seven horses to cause his future book to break even or be a loser. The horses he will be cheering against are many of the top contenders (The Cliff's Edge, Smarty Jones, Tapit, Read the Footnotes), plus some outsiders who were pounded when they were available at much higher odds (Wimbledon, Minister Eric, Pollard's Vision).

Twin Spires inspire twin Q's

On most regular racing days (typically Wednesdays through Sundays), the Station Casinos offer a $5,000 twin quinella pot, and all the people who nail the quinella in both races split the pot. Well, on Derby Day the jackpot will be at $10,000. Micah Roberts, director of race and sports at the Palace Station, said Wednesday afternoon that the Derby will obviously be used as well as another big field on the Churchill undercard.

It's easier said than done, especially with a wide-open Derby.

"The last couple of times we've done this," Roberts said, referring to past Derby and Breeders' Cup days, "no one has been able to hit it, and we've had humongous carryovers for Sunday."

The Stratosphere is also getting in the act with its own twin Q on the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (the ninth at Churchill) and the Derby (race 10). Race book host Jay Kessler said the Strat will seed the jackpot with $3,000 and add 70 percent of all money wagered. Just like at Stations, if the twin Q is not hit it will carry over until Sunday, which could help entice players back to the books who might otherwise take the day off after the Derby.

Group efforts in works

Hitting those twin quinella jackpots would be nice, but over at Sam's Town on Boulder Highway, house handicapper Patrick McQuiggan is really trying for a big score. He is putting together a group ticket on Saturday's guaranteed $500,000 pick four at Churchill, as well as another one on the superfecta in the Derby. Visitors can contribute to the tickets and get a percentage of any winnings.

Of course, this kind of pooling of resources will not just be taking place here, as groups around the country will be buying tickets in hopes of connecting the dots for a big payday.