01/11/2002 12:00AM

It's not too early to catch Kentucky Derby fever


In a town where it's practically a lifestyle to try to turn short money into long money, future book betting on the Kentucky Derby is in full swing.

"In the Kentucky Derby, there is a now horse every week," said John Avello, director of operations, race and sports book for Bally's and Paris Las Vegas. "The Derby is always a fun prop bet to book."

"We have more than 300 horses listed so far," said Tara Martinez, race book manager for the Imperial Palace. "And we're adding up to 10 horses a week."

We're four months away from May 4 and steam horses are rolling in.

Stephentown and Grey Beard won allowance races at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday. Both were immediately bet down to 20-1 and 25-1, respectively, at the Imperial Palace. At Coast Resorts properties, oddsmaker Frank Minervini reported Stephentown was bet from 100-1 down to 40-1 but Grey Beard remains at 80-1.

Last Thursday, Daily Racing Form broke a story that the Breeders' Cup is considering a future wager for this year's Classic and Turf, plus possibly some proposition bets. The pools would be parimutuel, not bookmaking as in Nevada.

"I'm not opposed to a Breeders' Cup Future Book at all," admitted Avello. "Things like that helps my business. My people can look at the odds and compare."

According to the report, there could be as many as 200 horses listed.

"If you're the only game in town, they'll go to the track and bet that. If they do it in large volume it may work out," added Avello. "We tried props here parimutuel and it wasn't well received. The players in town are used to betting on fixed odds and getting a price that they can lock in."

Here are current future book odds on some popular horses in the Derby at Bally's, the Imperial Palace, and Coast Resorts, respectively: Johannesburg (6-1, 10-1, 7-1); Repent (6-1, 9-1, 7-1); Saarland (10-1, 14-1, 7-1); Siphonic (5-1, 5-1, 4-1).

The top two fillies in the country, Tempera and Habibti, have taken some Derby action also. At Bally's, the Imperial Palace and Coast Resorts, respectively, Tempera is

65-1, 50-1, and 90-1 while Habibti is 150-1, 60-1, and 100-1. Bally's lists Tempera at 10-1 and Habibti at 8-1 in its Kentucky Oaks future book.

Bob Baffert, who trains Habibti, was quoted in DRF as saying "If they were to run the Derby in two weeks, I'd run Habibti."

"Every year there's talk of some filly that could enter," said Avello. "If a trainer has one or two strong colts, he probably won't elect to run a filly. Bob Baffert has got so much in his barn. At this point, it's a lot of talk."

Richard Eng is turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap-Up Show.