02/22/2002 12:00AM

Futures key is taking an early stand


PHOENIX - You have read a lot in recent weeks about how to approach the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. But remember, with only three years of previous future books to draw from, there is not yet a right or wrong method.

But one thing has jumped out at me: Round 1 one of the bet may well be the most crucial.

Many people are still waiting for a horse to jump up and say "I'm the one." But let's face it, once that horse emerges, what kind of price are you going to get?

So stage one is crucial because it allows you to get on the bandwagon before anyone else, and lock in a price that won't go down if you are proven right and everyone else wants to get on board.

I made five wagers during this year's phase one: Siphonic at 8-1, Saarland at 11-1, Came Home at 14-1, High Star at 30-1, and Maybry's Boy at 30-1.

I figure that if Siphonic and Saarland get to the Derby the right way, their odds are going to be shorter than what I got. They could be 3-1 and 5-1 on Derby Day.

With Came Home, I was thinking that I might simply be getting the most talented animal. There are concerns over his possible distance limitations, so I figured I wanted the bigger price now while everyone else waits to see if he can go far. What's the point of waiting for the Santa Anita Derby, seeing him win, and getting 5-1 in Round 3? No point.

High Star and Maybry's Boy were my two speculative wagers. I may simply be flat-out wrong on Maybry's Boy. I thought he would like a distance, but he didn't in the Fountain of Youth. That could be a torn-up ticket.

I wanted to get on High Star before the world knows if he is any good. I got 30-1, even after his fine, narrow second in an allowance race on the Fountain of Youth undercard. What good would it have done me to wait till Round 2, see him run big in the Florida Derby, then have everyone else climb on board and kill my price?

Right now everyone is kind of flying blind in evaluating the Derby candidates. It is to your advantage if you hitch your wagon to the right star.

Round 1 is also critical in terms of what you don't do.

I don't understand people playing the field. This isn't a game of quantity - getting a horse like Cottonwood Cowboy, a bunch of horses who have never run, and many who have run without showing the necessary oomph serves no purpose at 3-1.

I did want to bet Blue Burner, but he was in the field. Off his solid Fountain of Youth run he will probably be an individual wagering entity for Round 2. At that point I will likely get 30-1, or maybe less should he run big in the Florida Derby. But I'd much rather have him at that kind of number than at 3-1 with a bunch of horses who simply are not going to be there and who are not going to win.

The point is this: You have to take some kind of stand, and you have to get value.

My plan for Round 2, besides betting Blue Burner, is to keep my eyes open on the horses I've already bet. Should the price float up on any of them, I'm in for more. Although I may already be in as deep as I want to go on Maybry's Boy.

Futures are tricky - just ask the guys who had Thunder Gulch in the future book, only to watch him pay much more on race day.

But if you have an opinion, this is a great wager. Take a stand.