05/11/2005 11:00PM

It's back to work after $860,000 score


Whenever a gambler hits an unlikely jackpot or makes a life-changing score, the question is always the same:

"What are you going to do with the money?"

The answer can usually be predicted: The newfound riches will be spent on such folly as college educations, conservative investments, and world travel. The gambler smiles, holding a giant cardboard check. Horseplayers worldwide cringe, and usually Mark Madden is one of them.

Not this time. Madden, a bona fide, dyed-in-the-wool, Aqueduct-raised horseplayer, has no intention of turning his back on his first love after landing a share of one of the seven $864,253.50 superfecta tickets sold on Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

"I was back at the track Monday afternoon," said Madden, 53, on Wednesday during a conversation at a Hoboken, N.J., bar. "I caught a $700 triple at Thistledown."

Such is the life of Madden, the horseplayers' version of Joe Hardy who seems to have sold his soul for a week's worth of good fortune at the track. Along with his daughter, Lisa Marie, 29, and her boyfriend of six years, Alex Corrado, Madden put together a six-horse superfecta box for the Derby, and the trio split the $360 cost evenly. Corrado came up with Giacomo, partly because he is friends with jockey Mike Smith and partly because he's an opera buff - he thought the horse was named after composer Giacomo Puccini. It turned out the horse was named after the son of the singer Sting, but as Corrado asks - correctly, at this point - "What's the difference?" All three agreed on Afleet Alex. Lisa Marie had a premonition about Closing Argument. Somebody liked Bandini's name. And they figured they had to use Bellamy Road, even though at least one of them insists he didn't really want to.

"I wanted to throw him out, because I wasn't really all that impressed with him," said Corrado, 44, a part-time horseplayer with a full-time opinion. "I thought it was a lot of overkill with that horse, and after a while, that's the kiss of death."

When it was all said and done, though, Corrado figured Bellamy Road "could get fourth," and the colt made the ticket. Madden, who has been going to the track for most of his life, needed to inject at least some handicapping principles into the equation, insisting on including the one horse he legitimately liked. So the sixth spot on the ticket went to Don't Get Mad, a horse who Madden said he felt had a big chance in the Derby despite odds of 29-1.

The race, of course, set up perfectly for late runners, and there was little question in deep stretch that they would win. Giacomo (50-1) was a half-length in front of Closing Argument (71-1), who had a half-length on Afleet Alex (9-2). It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to Don't Get Mad.

Madden was ecstatic, thinking they had won "around $30,000, maybe $50,000." When the payout was posted, all three were astounded.

"I go to the track two or three times a week, year-round," said Madden. "I was going to Aqueduct when I was 12 years old. When I make bets like this, I'm looking for one longshot to make the super, expecting the other three to be favorites. This time we got three longshots and one favorite. It's the ultimate score for a horseplayer."

The notoriety is new for Madden and his daughter but not for Corrado, an actor who has appeared in dozens of projects, both on television ("The Restaurant" and "Sex and the City") and in movies ("Hannibal" and "Mail Order Bride"). For all of his time in front of the camera, however, until he cashed the big ticket, Corrado had never made it onto "The Today Show." He did that last Monday, along with Mark and Lisa Marie. Inside Edition was next. On Tuesday night, Corrado celebrated by taking Lisa Marie Madden to a Lisa Marie Presley concert. It was a great night, right up until Corrado was tossed out of a backstage party when he came up one ticket short for admittance.

Hey, fame is fleeting.

Corrado said he won't be around for the Preakness. He'll instead be in the south of France for the Cannes Film Festival, a long way from Baltimore. Still, he'll map out with his partners another $360, six-horse superfecta box, and they'll try to make a once-in-a-lifetime score for the second time in two weeks.

"We'll use Afleet Alex for sure," he said. "I'm starting to like Noble Causeway a little. Of course, we'll use Giacomo. After that, I'm not sure."

For Madden, the Preakness is still a little far off. There are too many races to be run between now and then, and he said he is eager for Saturday and the start of the 2005 Monmouth meet - something akin to New Year's Day for New Jersey horseplayers.

"Opening day is Saturday, baby," he said, his voice coming alive as his umpteenth interview about "The Score" finally concludes. "I can't wait. I got to lose some of this back, or I've got to pay taxes on all of it."