01/18/2006 12:00AM

Horses who fattened our wallets best

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Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the sixth annual ROI Awards.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, ROI stands for return on investment, or the average payoff you would have received if wagering $2 to win on each of a horse's races during the previous year.

So, while horse racing's Eclipse Awards will be given out Monday night in Beverly Hills, Calif., to the equine stars who won the most and biggest races, this show here in Vegas honors those that gave bettors the most value for the wagering dollar. Since these are meant as national awards, only horses who ran in American stakes races that attracted sizable betting pools were considered.

The envelopes please . . .

Two-year-old male: By virtue of his Breeders' Cup Juvenile victory at 9-2, Stevie Wonderboy is expected to run away with the Eclipse Award. However, even with his other two wins at 2-5 in a maiden special weight and 5-2 in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity, he returned just $20.80 in his five starts for an ROI of $4.16. Compare that with Dawn of War, who won a minor stakes at Canterbury at 2-1, an allowance race at River Downs at 3-5, and then won the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 8 at 36-1. Those add up to $84.20 in seven starts for an ROI of $12.03 to earn top honors in the division.

Two-year-old female: Likewise, Folklore wrapped up her championship season with a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies victory at 2-1, but even though that was the only time she was favored in her four victories, her ROI on the year was just $4.20. Meanwhile, French Park was 3 for 3 on the year, winning her maiden at Keeneland at 12-1, the Grade 3 Pocahontas at Churchill at 2-1, and the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill at 8-5 to compile earnings of $37.80 from three starts for an ROI of $12.60.

Three-year-old female: This Eclipse category is pretty close, and the contenders are pretty similar in ROI's with Smuggler at $4.75, Round Pond at $3.25, and Summerly at $3.14. But for our purposes (and our money) the clear winner is Sweet Symphony, who won her maiden in the spring at Belmont at 17-1 and followed that up with allowance wins at 2-1 at Belmont and 1-5 at Saratoga before capping off her winning streak in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga at 7-2. All told, she returned $55 in six races for an ROI of $9.16.

Older male: Saint Liam likely will win this divisional Eclipse as well as Horse of the Year with his Breeders' Cup Classic win, but despite winning four of six races his ROI was just $3.17. In the tightest ROI battle of the year, Rock Hard Ten edged out Lava Man. Rock Hard Ten won all three of his races, highlighted by a triumph at 7-2 in the Santa Anita Handicap. In all, he returned $16.60 in three starts for an ROI of $5.53 while Lava Man returned $49 in nine starts for an ROI of $5.44.

Older female: The Eclipse might be a toss-up between Ashado's overall campaign vs. Pleasant Home's nine-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Ashado won three Grade 1's in 2005, but all were at short prices and her overall ROI was a non-profit-making $1.91. Meanwhile, Pleasant Home's $63.50 score in the BC Distaff plus a $19.60 payoff in the Bed o' Roses BC Handicap at Aqueduct and an even-money allowance win at Gulfstream gave her earnings of $87.30 in eight starts for an ROI of $10.91.

Sprinter: Lost in the Fog was 8 for 9 in 2005, but by going off at odds-on in every start, his ROI was a mere $2.27. Silver Train's 11-1 upset in the BC Sprint gave him a respectable ROI of $5.84, but it was still no match for Acey Deucey, who won an Aqueduct allowance at 2-1, the Dearly Precious Stakes at Aqueduct at 24-1, the Grade 1 Comely at Aqueduct at 7-2, and the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont at 13-1 to compile earnings of $95.70 for an impressive ROI of $11.96 in eight starts.

Turf male: Many observers see the Eclipse as a toss-up between Leroidesanimaux and Artie Schiller. They are similar in ROI's at $2.93 and $2.83, respectively. But the award here goes to Funfair, who won an optional claimer at Delaware at 7-2, a minor stakes at Saratoga at 4-1, and the Grade 2 Kelso BC Handicap at Belmont at 13-1 to rack up $49.60 in earnings in four starts for an ROI of $12.40.

Turf female: Intercontinental won the BC Filly and Mare Turf at 15-1 to improve her ROI to $6.43 in seven starts. In most years, that might have won the award, but Riskaverse takes the honor by virtue of her $73.50 score in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont, which gave her an ROI of $14.70 from five races. She didn't go off at less than 8-1 in any of them.

Three-year-old male and ROI Horse of the Year: In the NFL this season, favorites came in at a very high rate. The same was true of horse racing's stakes races last year and the result is that the ROI's have been the lowest in the history of our awards. Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby at odds of 50-1. The payoff of $102.60 was enough to not only give him divisional honors with an ROI of $17.10 in six starts - lowest-returning average for the champion in the history of the awards - but also the title of ROI HOY.

Thanks for attending the show and may your personal ROI's be high.