02/11/2008 12:00AM

Field favored over Pyro in future pool


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The mutuel field, the 24th or "all others" option, once again is the favorite in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closed Sunday with a near-record-low handle.

Following the customary four-day run, the field closed as the 3-1 favorite in Pool 1, followed by Pyro at 5-1, War Pass (6-1), Court Vision (15-1), El Gato Malo (16-1), Monba (16-1), Crown of Thorns (18-1), Majestic Warrior (18-1), and Colonel John (19-1). Of those separately listed interests, only Pyro, the impressive winner of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, was in action last weekend.

The field has closed as the Pool 1 favorite every year since Churchill Downs first began offering parimutuel futures. Three Pool 1 field horses have gone on to win the Derby in the nine previous years of the Future Wager: Charismatic in 1999, War Emblem in 2002, and Smarty Jones in 2004.

Pool 1 drew a handle of $439,379. Only in the first year of Derby futures, 1999, has there been a lower handle in Pool 1, with that inaugural pool drawing $267,748. This year's handle was lower than the previous second-lowest total, $465,454, handled on Pool 1 in 2000. The Pool 1 handle last year was $520,688.

Churchill spokesman John Asher said the low handle may have been partly attributable to an unidentified problem in the totalisator system. Asher said officials are investigating why the transmission of odds to racetracks and offtrack wagering outlets was interrupted for about 2 1/2 hours Sunday, the day when the futures historically attract the most handle.

Many horseplayers waited until Sunday to make their bets in the Derby futures, which locks in odds only after the pool has closed. Nearly half the Pool 1 handle, $211,833, was bet Sunday. Probably the most notable surge of wagering action came Saturday evening on Pyro, who opened the day at 12-1 but plunged to 5-1 after winning the Risen Star.

Meanwhile, Indian Blessing closed as the slight favorite over Country Star and the field in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, which ran simultaneous to the Derby futures Thursday through Sunday evening. Indian Blessing, the undefeated winner of the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds on Saturday, is the lukewarm favorite at 4-1, followed by Country Star and the field at 9-2. They are followed by Proud Spell (8-1), Pure Clan (10-1), Game Face (18-1), and Eight Belles (22-1).

Handle on Oaks Pool 1 was $65,219, which is the lowest handle since Churchill first began offering Oaks futures in 2003 - although not by much. The highest handle was $69,928 in 2005, and the lowest had been $66,206 last year.

Pool 2 for both the Derby and Oaks is set for March 6-9, and Pool 3 will run April 3-6. The 134th Oaks and Derby will be run May 2 and 3, respectively.