05/18/2005 11:00PM

I'm looking to beat those underlaid Preakness choices


There is a lot in common between handicapping sports and horse racing. A lot of people say I look at sports from a horseplayer's point of view, but the opposite is also true.

In both sports and horse betting, I look at underdogs first, and I have a couple of underdogs in mind for my Preakness bets.

As a rule, the general sports-betting public likes to bet favorites, preferring to go with the better team and seeing the point spread as a small obstacle. This causes oddsmakers to adjust upward to balance their action. Kenny White, chief oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, has said that the art of making a line is seeing how high he can get away with making the favorite. So, this inherently creates value on underdogs.

The same is true with horse racing. The masses look at the favorites first, and as a result there's a natural overlay for gamblers with the guts to go with longshots and who can stomach the inevitable losing streaks.

And the beauty is that while sports bettors get 10-11 odds for beating the spread (or modest payouts of 2-1, 3-1 or so for most straight-up upsets on the money line), horseplayers can cash in on much bigger payoffs. It's my belief that if a bettor is taking live longshots - and not just stabs - at overlaid prices, it is very possible to overcome the takeout.

In the Derby, I did not use Giacomo or Closing Argument. I considered Giacomo, but went with Wilko. His running lines were pretty similar to Giacomo's, with the notable exception of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile win, when I had him at 28-1, which might have clouded my judgment. I also used Flower Alley, Noble Causeway, and Going Wild in exotics. While I didn't come up with the boxcar payoffs, my tickets were worth as much as those that played the chalk, with much higher profit potential. As I've said many times, I'd rather be wrong at 20-1 than 2-1.

Which brings us to Saturday's Preakness.

History has shown that the Preakness is far more formful than the Derby, with favorites faring much better and payoffs being much lower. That explains why the Preakness has been my least-profitable race over the years, with my last winner being Charismatic in 1999 at $18.80, which was also the last time I successfully broke my personal rule of avoiding taking odds of less than the field size (8-1 in a eight-horse field, 12-1 in a 12-horse field, etc.).

But I'm not going to change my way of handicapping, because, while most people will be looking to the favorites once again, the long-term value is still on the overlooked longshots. I know what some people are saying: "There's no value in a losing ticket. You have to have the winner today." That is short-sighted, but, again, the more people that think like that the better.

Wilko again is my top pick. He should be close enough on the Pimlico strip to make his run. Like many Derby horses, he had traffic problems and also bled. However, unless his odds drift up from the morning line of 10-1, I won't be betting him to win. Instead, I'll look to much bigger overlays like Galloping Grocer and Going Wild.

Galloping Grocer will be overlooked because of his failure as a past favorite and his fourth-place finish in the Wood, but he is a quality horse who should be in the running until at least the top of the stretch and give bettors a good run for the money.

And I have to take a strong look at Going Wild, who could potentially steal this on the front end, even from the outside post. We keep hearing that no horse has won the Preakness from the No. 13 or 14 post in the 75 years since the starting gate has been in use, but those historical trends are common in sports betting and they fail all the time. The Boston Red Sox World Series triumph last fall is one recent example of a historical trend that failed.

Besides, trainer D. Wayne Lukas has sent out many long-priced winners in major stakes, perhaps more than anyone else.

So, mark me down for win bets on Galloping Grocer and Going Wild, and to use them in exotics with Wilko, Giacomo, and Closing Argument. If the favorites win, that's fine, too. They'll be bet down in the Belmont and we'll do it all again.

* For those who think they have the right horse for the Belmont, and want to lock in a price before their horse romps in the Preakness, the Imperial Palace has a future book up for the third leg of the Triple Crown. Afleet Alex is the favorite at 9-2, followed by Bellamy Road, Closing Argument, and High Fly at 8-1. Giacomo is 10-1. In all, 35 horses are listed.

* A reminder that the Palms has Smarty Jones Preakness chips available at the casino cage and at the tables. The chips come in denominations of $2.50, $5, $25, and $100.

* The Hard Rock has a limited-edition "Second Crown" chip available this weekend to go with its "Derby Day" chip and the upcoming "Third Crown" chip. There are only 500 Preakness chips being put in circulation, and they are free to anyone who puts $500 through the parimutuel windows.