12/11/2003 12:00AM

Early Derby bettors like Ruler's Court

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LAS VEGAS - No doubt about it, the early bettors get the best prices in the Kentucky Derby future book.

John Avello, the director of race and sports for Bally's and Paris and the creator of the horse racing future books for the rest of the Park Place Entertainment casinos, said he has been booking a lot of 2004 Derby futures since putting up the odds in September.

"We open them up high, many in the 150-1 and 200-1 range, and they've been bet pretty good," Avello said. "We have exposure on a lot of horses, especially the top 10 or so contenders."

Ruler's Court, who won the Norfolk Stakes but skipped the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is the current favorite at 12-1 after opening at 200-1 three months ago. He was 18-1 last week before being bet down again. Eurosilver, the horse Avello said he has written the most tickets on, is next at 15-1 along with Lion Heart, The Cliffs Edge, and Tapit. Juvenile winner Action This Day is 20-1, followed by Birdstone at 22-1, Tiger Hunt at 25-1, and Juvenile Fillies champ Halfbridled, Minister Eric, and Silver Wagon at 30-1. There are currently 193 Derby hopefuls on the list.

Silver Wagon, winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful, is running in Saturday's What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder.

"In general, I'll raise a horse's odds after a bad performance, but if he wins I'll just keep him where he's at," said Avello, though he pointed out that if bettors jump on Silver Wagon, that will obviously force him to drop the odds.

Avello has also posted odds on next year's Breeders' Cup Classic, to be contested Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park, with 34 on the list. While the action has been heavy on the Derby, Avello said he hasn't seen as much interest in early wagering on the BC, citing the fact that most people are probably waiting to see how the soon-to-be 3-year-olds mature and whether the top older horses are expected to be campaigned for the whole year.

Candy Ride opened as the 10-1 favorite when the odds went up last month, but has since been raised to 12-1 because of the lack of action.

"The odds might rise more if we don't take any bets," Avello said.

Dynever is also 12-1, followed by Medaglia d'Oro and Ten Most Wanted at 15-1, Funny Cide and Grand Hombre at 20-1, and Atswhatimtalknbout, Congaree, Perfect Drift, defending BC Classic champ Pleasantly Perfect, and Tizbud at 25-1.

Futures in other sports

Everyone is talking about how USC got the shaft after the BCS computers put Oklahoma and LSU in the Sugar Bowl. But another group of victims has also been overlooked. Because Las Vegas sports books aren't allowed to take bets on "which team will win the national championship?" because that could be subject to a vote, such as the AP poll, the prop had to be worded either "who will win the BCS championship?" or "who will win the Sugar Bowl?" So, all the bettors who bet on USC are holding worthless tickets, even though they have the No. 1 team in both the writers and coaches polls.

* In the NFL, there's a novel concept in which they have a playoff to determine the top team. According to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the Chiefs are a lukewarm 7-2 favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Rams and Eagles are 4-1, followed closely by the Patriots (9-2), Colts (5-1), and Titans (6-1). With no other team certain of even making the playoffs, those are the only teams at less than 10-1.

* There was a lot of talk this week about potential trades and free agents, but it hasn't had much of an impact on World Series futures. The Yankees are the 3-1 favorite, with the Red Sox at 7-2 after their acquisition of Curt Schilling. Odds on the Red Sox haven't changed with the discussions about possibly getting MVP Alex Rodriguez in a trade. The Cubs, A's, Braves, and Giants are all at 7-1. The defending champion Marlins are 15-1.

* The NHL season is also looking very wide open. The Avalanche are the 9-2 favorite, with the Red Wings, Devils, Flyers, and Canucks at 6-1, the Senators at 7-1, and the Blues at 8-1.

* Oddsmakers see no such parity in the NBA as the Lakers are a solid even-money favorite to win the title. The next lowest odds are on the Kings and Mavericks at 5-1, the defending champion Spurs at 6-1, and the Nets at 8-1.

* It's been a revolving door at the top of the NCAA men's basketball rankings, but UConn remains atop the future betting board at 4-1, followed by Duke at 5-1, Arizona and Michigan State at 7-1, and Kentucky and Florida at 10-1.

Poker's future is now

Thanks to the World Poker Tour shows on The Travel Channel, the popularity of tournament poker has never been higher. The taped weekly show airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays. Season 2 kicked off this past week with a "Ladies Night" special (which will be replayed at 6 p.m. Eastern on Saturday).

One of the appeals of the show - besides being able to peek at the players' cards and see their strategy and if they're bluffing - is that anyone can put up the entry fee and be a TV star if they make it to a final table.

In addition, winners of the events earn a free $25,000 entry into the

$5 million WPT Championship on April 19-23 at the Bellagio. Several of the tournaments that will be featured this year have already taken place (the full schedule is at www.worldpokertour.com). The next event is the Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio this Monday through Thursday. That has a $10,000 entry fee.

If you can't scrape together that much, however, the WPT has announced it is teaming up with casinos from coast to coast and online (among those that have signed up are Turning Stone in New York, Hollywood Park Casino in California, and planetpoker.com) to hold satellite tournaments. Winners of those smaller events will receive airfare and room accommodations at an MGM Mirage property to come to Las Vegas and compete in another satellite to try and earn a seat in the WPT Championship.

Rodeo rounding it up

Another TV show originating from Las Vegas has been the National Finals Rodeo, which has been taking place at the Thomas & Mack Center since last Friday and airing on tape delay nightly on ESPN2.

The festivities wrap up this weekend with the ninth round of competition at 6:45 p.m. Saturday. The gold buckle award presentation for that night's events, which always draws a big crowd of fans, takes place at the Gold Coast at 11 p.m. The final round is 11:45 a.m. Sunday with the final award presentations taking place in the arena.