05/16/2004 11:00PM

Early Belmont odds: Smarty 2-5


The current popularity of Smarty Jones can be measured in many ways.

Here in Vegas, most things are measured in cold, hard cash. The Smarty Jones bandwagon led to a record Preakness handle in Nevada of $2,135,945, according to Paul Dresser, controller for the Las Vegas Dissemination Company, which acts as the wagering hub for the state. That's up a whopping 60.5 percent from last year's race when Funny Cide, a popular horse in his own right, won the second leg of the Triple Crown and Nevada handled $1.33 million. That $800,000 spike also accounted for the overall 20 percent rise in the statewide handle for all horse racing last Saturday as Nevada handled $4,656,171 compared to $3.87 million last year.

But the evidence of Smarty Jones's allure is also anecdotal. John Avello, director of race and sports at the Bally's and Paris hotels and horse racing oddsmaker for the Caesars Entertainment properties, learned that first-hand.

Shortly after Smarty Jones's impressive 11 1/2-length romp, Avello sat down to discuss his Preakness matchups and other proposition wagers, as well as his risk in his Triple Crown futures. Smarty Jones had opened at 35-1 prior to the Derby and was pounded down to 20-1, and then was adjusted to 7-2 after the Derby and was bet down again to 3-1.

"There are a lot of people out there with a lot of nice tickets on him," Avello said.

When asked if he would put up an adjusted price now with just one race remaining, Avello said: "No, I don't think so. We have three weeks until the Belmont, so I'm not in any hurry."

Then a funny thing happened. One customer asked him what the odds would be on Smarty winning the Belmont. Then another asked what the odds would be to bet against Smarty Jones. Any oddsmaker loves to hear when he can get action on both sides of a proposition.

"Scratch what I said before," Avello said. "I guess I'm putting up the bet after all."

He made Smarty Jones a -250 favorite (bet $2.50 to profit $1, or the equivalent of 2-5) to win the Belmont, with +210 (bet $1 to win $2.10) offered on the rest of the field.

"That price on Smarty might be better than you'll get on race day," Avello said. "Of course, we don't know exactly how many horses will be running. But either way, I know he's going to get bet pretty hard just by the way he was bet in the Preakness."

Avello said he originally thought he might have to make the line around -350 or -400 if the Belmont was looking like a six- or -seven-horse race, but he said from reading many early reports that there could be a decent-sized field trying to thwart the Triple Crown bid.

Two popular offshore books have the same prop with Olympic (thegreek.com) offering -225 on Smarty Jones winning and +175 on him losing, and Pinnacle (planetpinnacle.com) having it at -229/+199 as of noon Monday.

"I can certainly afford to take some money on the +210," Avello said, alluding to his future-book liability.

Unlike other futures in which all bets are action, in this case, Smarty Jones must run in the Belmont or all wagers will be refunded.

Other winners on Preakness Day

The Stratosphere held a special twin quinella wager Saturday that produced a nice overlay for the only two people that hit it. With a jackpot of $2,500, the Stratosphere (along with its satellite books at Arizona Charlie's East and West) used the ninth and 12th races at Pimlico, the Sir Barton and Preakness stakes. In the Sir Barton, second-choice Royal Assault won with Dashboard Drummer placing. When Smarty Jones and Rock Hard Ten completed the quinella in the Preakness, that made the only two winning tickets worth $1,250 apiece.

* The Station Casinos' twin Q was hit by a lot more people. With a jackpot of $11,385, Stations used the Preakness and Pimlico's 13th race, a maiden special weight event. Smarty Jones and Rock Hard Ten obviously kept a lot of people alive after the first leg, and then 51 tickets had Fully Engaged with Kelp in the second race for a payoff of $227.70.

More money up for grabs

In addition to the $708,235 carryover in the Hollywood pick six that will be the focus of many horseplayers on Wednesday, the top two locals casino chains also have carryovers in their contests. And they're free.

Coast Casinos' Pick 5 Contest has a bonus jackpot for going 5 for 5 in the first five races at Hollywood that has grown to $7,000. That's in addition to the $1,500 to the person piling up the most parimutuel payoffs (which the winner of the bonus would also collect).

Station Casinos' Free Match Play Challenge has a carryover of $750 for picking a perfect card of head-to-head matchups, starting with the first race at Hollywood. Even if no one picks a perfect card, first prize is $2,000 to the player picking the most winners.

In addition, no one hit Sunday's twin Q at the Stations, so Wednesday's jackpot for that promotion will be $7,174.

This Jones failed as heavy favorite

Smarty Jones got the job done as a huge favorite last Saturday, but another Jones wasn't so lucky. Roy Jones Jr., considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, got knocked out in the second round of his light heavyweight bout with Antonio Tarver at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Jones, a -500 favorite, had never even been knocked down in his professional career.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Chevy American Revolution 400 at Richmond International Speedway on Saturday night as the 7-1 third choice. It was Junior's third win of the year.

* Sergio Garcia won his first PGA event in two years as he survived a three-way playoff to win the EDS Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Texas, at 20-1.

Do or die in NBA playoffs

After a first round of mismatches in the NBA playoffs, we have decisive Game 7's in the conference semis with the Timberwolves hosting the Kings as a 5-point favorite on Wednesday night and the Pistons hosting the Nets as a 5 1/2-point choice on Thursday night. These have been two great series with the teams battling back and forth. Home-court advantage has not been as dominant as in other series, so I'm taking both road dogs for 1 unit as they should at least be able to take the games down to the wire, though I think both the Kings' and Nets' playoff experience could get them both outright upsets.

Last week, my NBA playoff bankroll plays went 1-1-1 to hold steady at 8-12-2 overall for a net loss of 5.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).