06/13/2005 12:00AM

'Hero' helps books avoid trouble

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LAS VEGAS - In Saturday's Belmont Stakes, it was all about Afleet Alex as he completed his coronation at the top of the 3-year-old class.

It was a dominating performance that had most people talking about what might have been had he not come up just short in the Kentucky Derby. It was also popular with bettors who bet him down to the even-money favorite and used him in the exotics, but there were other ways to bet him, too.

In head-to-head matchups, bettors at Bally's and the Caesars Entertainment properties didn't shy away from the -260 price (risk $2.60 for every $1 you want to profit) in his matchup with Giacomo, according to Bally's race and sports director John Avello.

Some offshore books offered a proposition bet on Afleet Alex -2 1/4 lengths and he blew that away with his seven-length victory.

Bally's and the Caesars Entertainment properties had the over/under on the running of the race at 2:28.20 (with bettors laying -115 on each side), but Avello raised the price on the "over" to -135 after the first race, won by Contrast.

"That horse is capable of running 1:09's and he won in 1:10 so I thought the track might be playing a little slow," Avello said. "Of course, if someone had challenged Afleet Alex in the stretch and made him work for it, he probably would have run faster."

He noted that jockey Jeremy Rose was "letting up on the gas at the end because he won so easily."

When a track quinella is not offered, Vegas race books offer what is called a house quinella, and it pays off at the winner's mutuel price times half of the second-place finisher's place price. The house books these bets and typically their biggest liability is if the favorites run one-two.

With all the prerace hype that this was a match race between Derby winner Giacomo and Preakness winner Afleet Alex, it looked like trouble for some race books when those two turned for home looking like they might battle through the stretch.

But Afleet Alex was much the best and let the books off the hook when Andromeda's Hero closed for second and completed a $17.80 house quinella payoff (4.30x 8.20/2), less than half of the $44 exacta.

Arena shootout ends with upset

The Colorado Crush upset the Georgia Force, 51-48, Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center here in Vegas to win Arena Bowl XIX.

I had the Crush +3 1/2 and under 106 1/2, both of which looked secure most of the game until a late scare.

The Crush jumped out to a 7-0 lead and never trailed (and, in fact, the Force never had the ball the whole game with a chance to cover) though the Force tied the game at 34-34 and the teams traded two more late touchdowns before Clay Rush kicked the winning field goal as time expired.

The under looked like a lock most of the game, too, with only 44 points scored by halftime and Colorado leading 31-27 after three quarters, but the two teams combined for 41 points in the fourth quarter and would have almost certainly sent the game over the total if they had gone to overtime.

Bettors win big on Tyson's loss

A bigger upset came Saturday night in Washington, D.C., when Mike Tyson refused to answer the bell at the start of the seventh round of his fight vs. Kevin McBride, a 5-1 underdog.

But no one can hardly consider it shocking considering Tyson's recent history, as he has now lost three of his last four fights. In fact, a lot of sharp sports bettors I know are kicking themselves for not betting against the (long ago) former champ. In retrospect, it looked like a gimme and Tyson, assuming he does return to the ring despite his claims to be retiring (like we haven't heard that before in the boxing game), will unlikely ever be that big of a favorite again.

Nevertheless, there were plenty of people who did cash in as Tyson was lowered from -800 to -500 as the fight neared. As Stardust race and sports book director Bob Scucci said on the "Stardust Line" radio show, "We took it on the chin, just like Tyson."

* Carl Edwards won the Pocono 500 Nextel Cup race Sunday as a 25-1 longshot at Station Casinos. In other auto racing news, open-wheel racing is getting more attention at the betting windows with the media hype over female driver Danica Patrick. Tomas Scheckter won Saturday's Bombadier Learjet 500K at Texas Motor Speedway as the 6-1 third choice. Patrick was 10-1 and finished 13th.

* Sergio Garcia, once considered a potential rival to Tiger Woods, got back on the winning track last weekend - just in time for the U.S. Open - by winning the Booz Allen Classic at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. For those who hadn't given up on Garcia, he was 25-1 at the Las Vegas Hilton.

U.S. Open preview

The U.S. Open golf tournament tees off Thursday morning at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C. As expected, Woods is the 4-1 favorite, but it should be noted that he was at only 3-1 two months ago after the Masters.

"I opened his odds at 3-1 after his Masters victory," said Jeff Sherman, sports book supervisor and golf oddsmakers at the Hilton, "but his odds have crept up based on lack of support from bettors and most notably after his first missed cut in years. At 4-1, we have started seeing interest from supporters."

Phil Mickelson is the second choice at 6-1, with Ernie Els and Vijay Singh both at 7-1, Retief Goosen at 15-1, and Garcia at 20-1. As recently as last Friday, Garcia was available at 30-1.

"I dropped him to 25-1 during the Booz Allen as he crept up the leaderboard, and when he capped off his victory I lowered him to 20-1."

In other moves on the odds board, Sherman said: "Chris DiMarco has had the most support ticket-wise so far and is down to 30-1" from his previous 40-1. "David Toms has been receiving a lot of support and is down to 20-1" from 30-1.

"Mike Weir has reached 50-1," after previously being as low as 30-1, "based on poor performance on the golf course recently and UNLV standout Ryan Moore has not been supported like he had for the Masters, going from an opening of 125-1 to 150-1."