01/28/2005 12:00AM

He who hesitates must take 8-1

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Timing is everything. That saying is no better illustrated than with Kentucky Derby future book wagering.

Every year after the Derby, there are stories about the juicy price that one could have had on the winner.

After the Derby.

With the three parimutuel futures offerings scattered strategically in the months leading to the first Saturday in May, there are still some late opportunities to be found. But, if you want to get a fixed-odds goodie, then you had better be the early bird that catches the Derby worm.

Here in Las Vegas, there is always the flavor-of-the-week play, those 3-year-olds who are the latest "promising winner." Bally's has the most comprehensive list of 3-year-olds in the Derby futures, but even there the Derby turkey is picked to the bones shortly after the latest hot horse runs.

Wilko's price plummeted before he got back to the receiving barn after his Breeders' Cup Juvenile tally at Lone Star Park late in October. He dropped from the opening line of 250-1 to current odds of 22-1. He, of course, now must overcome the Derby jinx as a Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner. Although it may just be coincidence, since the Breeders' Cup's inception in 1984 no Juvenile winner has gone on to take the Run for the Roses the following year.

Even though Afleet Alex lost in the Juvenile, his backers still think he has upside. At least they hope so. He has been backed from 60-1 to 8-1. Declan's Moon won the Hollywood Futurity with Wilko in arrears and dropped from 60-1 to 8-1. Now with an Eclipse Award in tow, he is certain to get renewed attention in the Derby future book.

Eclipse Award winner Sweet Catomine, after her impressive juvenile season and victorious return as a 3-year-old, is now 20-1 from a conservative opening line of 50-1. Of course she must win the Derby, and with Julio Canani mapping out her dance card, she's a big price to even be on the track on Derby Day. Then there are those who think lightning can strike twice. And, consecutively at that. Trainer John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones last year, unleashed another promising juvenile late last year in Rockport Harbor. Soon he was pummeled from 200-1 to 7-1. Now, he takes the same route as Smarty, with the Oaklawn preps on the schedule.

Another "now" horse also has Derby history. Fusaichi Samurai has a daddy, Fusaichi Pegasus, who won the 2000 Kentucky Derby after making his debut on Dec. 11, 1999 - the same date his son first ran in 2004. Fusaichi Samurai, who many already have smelling roses at the Churchill Downs spit barn, bottomed out at 7-1 from a starting price of 225-1. Adding to his lore was an immediate "good housekeeping seal of approval" comment by jockey Victor Espinoza, who believes the Neil Drysdale trainee is the real deal - even though those who were in his debut wake have done little in return races.

Then came High Fly. After winning the Aventura at Gulfstream Park recently, High Fly's altitude was lowered from 100-1 odds to a current 15-1. Now comes Spanish Chestnut, who recently won the San Rafael at Santa Anita. The Patrick Biancone trainee was 100-1 to win the Derby before that race and has been bet down to 20-1. Many may believe that the barn, which finished second to Smarty Jones last year with Lion Heart, has a Derby trophy waiting.

Ralph Siraco is host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show and turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun.