03/15/2009 11:00PM

Derby future exacta bettors risk two errors

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LEXINGTON, Ky. Do you, or any of your friends or family, have the following problem? You have been betting on the Kentucky Derby Future Wager for years, and you ve found that winning those bets has become so absurdly easy that they no longer seem like much of a challenge.

I don t know anyone who has that problem, but if you do, please tell them there is a brand-new betting option available that is sure to shake things up. This week in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager s Pool 2, anyone who is looking for more risk and bigger potential rewards can now make futures bets on the exacta in the Kentucky Derby. The traditional win-only future wagering on the Derby will also be available, as well as win-only future betting on the Kentucky Oaks, which will be offered only in one pool this year.

Why the change? It seems that the betting handle on the Derby future pools hasn t been as strong in recent years as it used to be, so Churchill Downs wants to add some variety. While I can t fault Churchill for the desire to innovate, I would much rather see the ultimate version of win wagering offered, which is to have individual betting available on every horse nominated to the Kentucky Derby, in all three pools. I will be a very happy man when that day comes.

While I m waiting for that dream to come true, and I believe that it will, let s look at a few of the factors to consider in exacta futures betting as it is now being offered.

The first thing to understand is that the field option is offered as part of the exacta wager, but with a catch. The field can be either the top half of the winning exacta combination, or the bottom half, but it cannot be both. If horses who are not listed as individual betting interests in Pool 2 finish both first and second in the Kentucky Derby, the winning exacta combination will be understood to be the field horse on top, with whichever individual betting interest from Pool 2 who has the next-best finish position considered to be the bottom half of the exacta.

While the field is more useful in Pool 1, it is still a legitimate factor in Pool 2, especially in the exacta, so don t overlook it.

If you re looking to try to hit a home run in the exacta, go ahead, but please take my advice and don t make either of the following two big mistakes, which are practically begging to be made in this situation.

First, if you are concentrating mostly, or exclusively, on longshots, understand that they are the horses from this pool who are the least likely to make it into the starting gate on Derby Day. In most cases the reason they are longshots is that they haven t yet earned a major placing in a graded stakes race. If more than the maximum number of 20 horses are entered to run in the Derby, as is usually the case, the horses with no graded stakes earnings, or only a small amount of them, will be the first to be excluded. Your horses can t be part of the winning exacta combination if they don t run in the race.

I can t emphasize this second point enough. Do whatever it takes to make sure you remember it, and act on it. Here it is: Make sure you get paid if you re right.

If you really like the chances of a particular longshot to win the Kentucky Derby, do not under any circumstances make exacta bets exclusively, as a substitute for win bets. The last thing in this world that any horseplayer needs is another hard-luck story. If your longshot wins and you collect nothing because you squandered all of your money on losing exacta tickets, you could be so distraught that you ll be off your game as a handicapper for months. You ll lose all of your bragging rights, and you ll probably spend those months whining endlessly about your mistake to friends and family.

Make sure that you bet enough money on your longshot to win in this future pool so that you ll be fully satisfied if he does win at 20-1, 40-1, 50-1, or higher. Then, if you insist on doing so, take a few extra dollars you can comfortably spare and play your favorite exacta combinations. If your longshot wins, and your eighth choice for second place comes in and you don t cash it, just admit that you didn t deserve to cash it because you liked so many other horses more than you liked him. And since you will have won a lot of money on your win bet, you ll still have bragging rights, and every reason to be happy.