04/05/2002 1:00AM

Future bettors in spot to compare odds


Churchill Downs's Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3, which closes Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Pacific, is getting closer to resembling the fixed-odds future books in Nevada.

Usually, the pool is conducted on weekends when major Derby preps are held. While that generates interest, it also leads the victors of those races to get pounded in the parimutuel pools. The allure of betting futures in Nevada is getting a nice price before everyone else gets on the bandwagon.

Future Wager bettors will have the results of the Santa Anita Derby, Illinois Derby, and Johannesburg's 2002 debut in the Gladness Stakes in Ireland Sunday morning. But unlike last year's Pool 3, held a week later, they will not know the outcomes of the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, and Arkansas Derby. That's the nature of future betting.

Not much value will be found on horses that fare well this weekend (their odds will plummet before you can sing "My Old Kentucky Home"), but overlays will probably exist on next weekend's runners because a lot of reactionary bettors will jump on the Santa Anita victor, plus Illinois Derby favorite Repent and Johannesburg if they run well.

Here's a quick look at the Future Wager individual betting interest horses that are running next weekend. The numbers are the Daily Racing Form morning line in the Future Wager, the odds at Bally's as of Thursday, and odds at Coast Resorts:

Wood Memorial: Medaglia d'Oro (10/12/12), Blue Burner (20/18/20), Saarland (12/8/7), Sunday Break (20/10/6).

Blue Grass: Harlan's Holiday (6/6/5), Booklet (30/60/25), Request for Parole (30/75/35).

Arkansas Derby: Mr. Mellon (50/70/50), Private Emblem (50/175/65).

If you see any of these horses drifting up in the closing hours of the Future Wager on Sunday above the fixed odds that are available in Nevada, you've got yourself a potential overlay.

Coolest book in town

Despite ever-increasing competition from Mandalay Bay, the Palms and other trendy nightclubs at casinos, the Hard Rock Hotel Casino on Paradise Road is still among the hippest places in town. But even a hoppin' nightspot in 24/7 Vegas needs to do business during the day, so the Hard Rock has expanded its race and sports book offerings.

The sports book proper is an intimate area with 26 comfortable chairs but no room to spread out a Daily Racing Form. To that end, the Hard Rock is using the adjacent Sports Deluxe lounge to cater to horseplayers. There are six spacious booths with individual monitors, plus another six big flat-screen TVs behind the bar.

And if drinks are important to your betting experience, the drink service at the Hard Rock is top shelf. Just don't overindulge or you'll swear the collection of bobble-head dolls are bobbling in the pool room.

Second chance

If you've been contemplating a trip to take part in the Kentucky Derby festivities at a Las Vegas race book but were worried that rooms might be sold out, this is your second chance.

The Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas super welterweight title fight at Mandalay Bay scheduled for May 4, the night of the Derby, had helped fuel advance room bookings for that weekend. The two feuding Hispanic fighters were expected to attract a huge crowd, especially with the fight the day before Cinco de Mayo.

However, on Thursday, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum announced De La Hoya has a sprained left hand and the fight was postponed. That will undoubtedly lead to room cancellations, especially from guests who were planning to drive up from California or Mexico, and give more vacancies for horseplayers who might otherwise have found no room at the inns.

Sept. 14 is being discussed as a possible replacement date, though Vargas's camp has expressed concerns that De La Hoya is trying to get out of the fight.

Nevada news and notes

Another type of racing is drawing a crowd to the town. Qualifying began Thursday for the Summitracing.com National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Finals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the final eliminations set for 11 a.m. Sunday. John Force, the 11-time funny car champion, is going for his 100th career NHRA win. Only NASCAR drivers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) have more wins on a major American racing circuit. Kenny Bernstein, who is retiring at the end of this year, is also participating in the top fuel category. Bernstein has won his three previous trips here, while Force is 0 for 3 at the LVMS's appropriately named drag-racing track, "The Strip." This is the only major stop on the tour at which Force hasn't won.

o Speaking of spent fuel, Wednesday night's episode of "The West Wing" on NBC was a mixed blessing for Nevada lawmakers. An accident involving a truck transporting nuclear waste to an unnamed site (though producers acknowledge it's based on a proposed national storage site at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles west of Las Vegas) was one of the story lines in the show, which drew 17.5 million viewers Wednesday night. Nevada lawmakers were hoping the show would help get the message out to other states that they're also in danger if nuclear waste is shipping through their states to get to Nevada. But that subplot turned out to be only a small part of the show. Still, it was the equivalent of free advertising for the anti-Yucca cause. "Sometimes it takes popular media to grab America's attention," said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).