05/03/2004 12:00AM

Derby winner one hot ticket

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Not only was Smarty Jones a popular Kentucky Derby winner as the highest-paying Derby favorite in history, richly rewarding his backers that used him in all the various pools, but he was also a popular bet in Nevada's future books.

Smarty Jones, a Pennsylvania-bred who took the road less traveled through the Arkansas Derby, flew under the radar for a good portion of the spring, and his odds hovered in the 100-1 to 200-1 range for a lot longer than his bluegrass-blooded counterparts. To illustrate further how little many people thought of his chances, Smarty Jones wasn't included as an individual interest in the first two pools of Churchill Downs's parimutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

But those who got on the Smarty Jones bandwagon sure cashed in Saturday. John Avello, who runs the biggest future book in the state, for the Caesars Entertainment properties, said Smarty Jones ended up making his future book a loser.

Avello has more liability on Smarty Jones, as he was bet down from 35-1 (the lowest price of the 20 Derby entrants) to 20-1 to sweep the Triple Crown.

"It's a minus pool," he said, pointing out that if any horse were to pull off the Triple Crown, that it would be a loss for his book. "But he has to get there, or else we lock up all the money."

Truth be told, no one who has booked odds to win the Triple Crown has had to pay back a penny in the past 25 years, since Affirmed pulled the trick in 1978.

But that doesn't mean Avello will be cheering against Smarty Jones.

"I like the horse and I'm not cheering against him," Avello said. "If he does it, he does it. A Triple Crown winner would be great for the sport."

Avello said Monday that he was still working on updating the odds for Smarty Jones to win the Preakness and Belmont. He said it would be around -400 (bet $4 to win $1) that he won't do it, and +300 (bet $1 to win $3) that he would, but Avello needed more time to look into how many horses Smarty Jones is likely to face and what his odds will likely be in each race.

Avello had set the over/under on the Derby running time at 2:02, with bettors laying -115 each way, and had received pretty even action until the hour right before the race when a downpour hit Churchill Downs. Avello said bettors pounded the over, betting it up to -160, and cashed when Smarty Jones won in 2:04.06 over the sloppy track.

Derby Day an overall winner

Even with some losing propositions, Nevada had a very successful Derby Day. Statewide handle on the Derby itself was $4,773,917, up 9.3 percent from last year's $4,368,264.

Overall handle for Saturday on all races from coast to coast was $9,170,046, down 1.4 percent from last year's $9.3 million. Many books experienced slowdowns during the day with their tote systems, but any major crashes didn't occur until well after the Derby.

Six shooters earn Series berths

Derby Week started out great for a half-dozen horseplayers in the Derby Coast to Coast Shootout, held concurrently at The Orleans, Gold Coast, and Suncoast last Wednesday and Thursday. The contestants put up a $300 entry fee and then made 14 live-money $60 wagers over the two days.

The winner was Matthew Rentze, who turned his $840 bankroll into $6,210.60. Since the plays were made through the parimutuel system, Rentze kept his winnings plus added $15,750 in prize money. He edged out tournament guru Joe Hinson, who finished with a bankroll of $6,000 for prize money of $7,650.

Shin Kim ($5,649.70 bankroll, $5,400 prize) was third, and then Hinson was fourth with a second entry that finished at $3,486 and earned him an additional $3,600.

Two weeks ago, Hinson qualified for the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship with a victory in the Bally's Moolah tourney, and his second-place finish at the Shootout earned him a spot in the $1 million Horseplayers World Series, to be held Jan. 27-29 at The Orleans.

With 130 players in the Shootout, there were six World Series berths up for grabs. John Mataya ($3,360 bankroll, $2,250 prize) was fifth, while Gerald Benowitz ($2,479.20 bankroll, $1,350 prize) was sixth.

Since people can only qualify once for the World Series, Hinson's second spot would normally have gone to the seventh-place finisher, Rick Soriano ($2,450.55 bankroll, $1,125 prize), but Soriano has already qualified, so the eighth-place finisher, Ed Spaunhurst ($2,391 bankroll, $1,125 prize), lucked out.

Derby money still up for grabs

The Stratosphere held a twin quinella promotion on Saturday with a $3,000 jackpot, but no one put together the top two finishers of Churchill's ninth race, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, with Smarty Jones and Lion Heart in the Derby on the same ticket, so it carried over until Sunday, and no one hit it that day either.

The prize fund is up to $4,326 for Wednesday's twin Q. Robert Jaynes, director of the Stratosphere's sports book, said he'll try to keep the bet on West Coast races.

The twin Q at the Station Casinos was hit Saturday. The pool was supposed to be $10,000 for Derby Day, but with carryovers from Thursday and Friday's races, the jackpot stood at $14,429. With Smarty Jones and Lion Heart in the Derby and the favorite in Churchill's 12th race finishing second to an 8-1 shot, 48 people had the winning combination, and it paid $300.60 apiece.

NBA bankroll leans on Lakers again

With the understandable emphasis on the Derby (plus with most of the NBA's first-round series ending early with dominant performances by the favorites), I haven't made any bankroll plays since having the Lakers -1 last Wednesday vs. the Rockets. That win improved - and I use the word loosely - my record to 5-9-1 for a net loss of 4.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

I'll fire away again on the Lakers +4 1/2 this Wednesday vs. the Spurs. The Lakers nearly knocked off the Spurs in the first game of their series on Sunday, leading after three quarters, before a 10-0 run helped lead the Spurs to an 88-78 victory.

After the Spurs were favored to win that game by 4 1/2, I expected to see a lower line for Wednesday because of the public's feeling that the Lakers would need to get a split in San Antonio, so I think it's a bargain that the line is again 4 1/2 and I'll gladly take the points for a 1-unit play.