07/02/2002 11:00PM

Future wager seems worth a swing

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If your favorite track offered a three-mile race, would you bet? Or would you pass, knowing there would be no trends to analyze and little way of knowing which horses would hold an advantage?

I'd bet, purely for the challenge of trying something new. But I'd wager with less confidence and with fewer dollars than usual.

It is with this same mindset that I'm approaching Pool 1 of the parimutuel Breeders' Cup future wager, which begins Thursday and concludes Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

For those unfamiliar with this bet, it is modeled after the Kentucky Derby future wager.

Futures are offered on three races - the Classic, the Distaff, and the Sprint. All three races offer bets on 23 horses, with a 24th selection composed of all other horses - a field bet. Bets can be placed to win only, and the takeout is 17 percent.

I doubt I'm alone in eagerly awaiting these futures. They're fun, exciting, and get people focused on a remarkable day of racing. But without the benefit of experience, betting on them is a shot in the dark - much like betting on a three-mile race.

For starters, no one has the faintest idea how much will be bet on each of the races. Breeders' Cup officials have said they would be pleased with a total of $150,000 bet on the three races.

If that guess is accurate, expect to see some wild odds changes.

Say there is $50,000 wagered on the Distaff - which is very little when spread among 24 betting interests. Of that total, $2,075 is bet to win on Affluent. This would make her 19-1 in a pool with a 17-percent takeout.

What happens if in the closing seconds of the pool a $500 wager is placed on her? Her odds would drop from 19-1 to 15-1.

That's a $500 bet - and high rollers commonly bet considerably more than that.

Besides the size of the pool, the other key issue is how to view the field.

The field has been a winner in two of the four years the Kentucky Derby future wager has been offered. Will the Breeders' Cup futures follow suit? Or is the success of the field in Derby futures related to sudden improvement that can take place with early-season 3-year-olds?

Handicapping logic suggests younger horses are more likely to have sudden form swings because they are still growing and maturing, as one would expect from what are essentially teenage athletes.

Yet Tiznow came from relative obscurity two years ago to win the Classic, and Unbridled Elaine did the same last year in the Distaff. Horses improve and regress all the time, irrespective of their age.

The most appealing aspect of the future wager is that there are 24 betting interests per race. Fields for the Breeders' Cup races are capped at 14. That's an increase in betting interests of more than 70 percent. Derby future betting offers only four more betting interests than the Derby's full gate of 20.

This means futures odds will be significantly higher than the odds offered on Breeders' Cup day.

That's enough to make me fire some shots in the dark.