03/15/2004 1:00AM

Field 4-1 choice in Derby futures


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Apparently befuddled by how the Kentucky Derby picture continues to unfold, bettors settled Sunday on the mutuel field, or the "all others" option, as the lukewarm 4-1 favorite in Pool 2 of the Derby Future Wager.

Eurosilver closed as the Pool 2 second choice at 10-1, followed by Birdstone (13-1), Wimbledon (13-1), St Averil (15-1), and Eddington (15-1). Six more horses closed at less than 20-1, which seems to reflect a remarkable competitive balance in pre-Derby speculation this year.

Nearly two-thirds of the $358,966 handle on Derby Pool 2 was wagered Sunday, the fourth and last day the pool was open. Since Churchill Downs first began offering the Derby Future Wager in 1999, the total handle on Pool 2 has been the smallest of three pools. This year, Pool 1 drew $536,958, with the field the 9-5 favorite. It was conducted Feb. 12-15.

For most of the four days that Pool 2 was open, favoritism was up for grabs. But then several field horses emerged as Derby contenders over the weekend, most notably Friends Lake in the Florida Derby and Preachinatthebar in the San Felipe Stakes, and the field attracted the strongest late play.

Meanwhile, despite incurring her first career defeat, Halfbridled closed as the 7-2 favorite in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, which ran concurrently with the Derby futures last weekend. Halfbridled also was the 7-2 favorite in Oaks Pool 1.

Madcap Escapade, who stayed unbeaten with an easy victory Saturday at Gulfstream, closed as the 5-1 second choice in the Oaks futures, followed by Silent Sighs (9-1), Ashado (9-1), and the mutuel field (9-1).

Only $46,151 was handled on the Oaks futures. For Pool 1, the handle was $66,425. This is the first year that Churchill has offered three futures pools on the Oaks.

The third and final pool for both the Derby and Oaks is set for April 1-4.