05/09/2004 11:00PM

Maloofs expand into horses


Horse racing is always looking for young blood and new money, and the sport has certainly found both in the Maloof brothers.

For those who don't know, the Maloof brothers are Gavin, Joe, Phil, and George. Gavin and Joe run the day-to-day operations of the NBA's Sacramento Kings and are the ones the TV cameras are usually focused on at the end of games. George runs the ultra-hip and ultra-successful Palms hotel in Las Vegas with its A-list celebrity clientele.

The Maloofs certainly have their hands full at this time, so why did they get involved in horse racing?

"We've been around the business since we were young," George Maloof said Monday. "Our father [also named George] was the racing commission chairman in the 1970's in New Mexico until passing away in 1980. We formed a passion for horse racing that has never gone away even though we've been involved in other businesses."

Phil has taken the reins of the horse racing operation - running under the name Maloof Brothers Enterprises - including approving the silks with the Kings logo on the back and in the team's colors of purple and black. It also shouldn't be a surprise that he named their first Thoroughbred King Palm. A 3-year-old Florida-bred son of Halo's Image, King Palm was Triple Crown-nominated.

George Maloof said the brothers are looking to be major players in horse racing.

"We look at it like we look at anything we get involved in: we take it very seriously," he said. "And to be serious you have to play to the higher end."

King Palm didn't develop fast enough to make it to the classic races this spring, but he has improved in each of his three lifetime races, finishing sixth, third, and second in maiden special weight races at Santa Anita. His best chance to reach the winner's circle was last Saturday, but that turned out not to be a banner day for Maloof Brothers Enterprises.

It started with King Palm being scratched from the first race at Hollywood Park as the 9-5 morning-line favorite and ended with the Kings losing, 94-89, to the Minnesota Timberwolves after leading by 10 points with four minutes to play.

Trainer Vladimir Cerin told Daily Racing Form's Brad Free that King Palm's injury, a bruised hoof, wasn't serious and that he would be looking for a race in Hollywood's next condition book.

As for the team's loss, George Maloof said it was especially painful because the Kings were trying to go up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and instead the series was tied 1-1 heading into Monday night's game in Sacramento.

"It was a tough loss, but we're trying to pull something positive out of it," Maloof said. "We got a split out of the games in Minnesota and we get to go home for two games where we have one of the best home-court advantages in the league. We feel we have the better team and a big edge in playoff experience. Hopefully that pulls us through."

Game 4 of the series is slated for Wednesday night in Sacramento with the loser of Monday's game trying to avoid going down 3-1.

Get your Funny Cide chips

In addition to getting back into the racing game, the Maloofs also promote the sport with the only casino chips featuring famous horse racing stars. Two years ago, the Palms released commemorative chips for Secretariat. Last year, it was Seattle Slew.

This year, Funny Cide is the honoree. Some of his Derby chips - in denominations of $2.50, $5, $25 and $100 - were still available as of Monday morning. The Preakness series of chips will be available at the main casino cage starting at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Gene Trimble, Palms poker room manager, oversaw the release of the previous chips. He said he contacted Sackatoga Stables principal owner Jack Knowlton last fall.

"He was coming to Vegas for something else and we hammered out the deal," Trimble said.

Also, 400 Funny Cide bobble-head dolls were given out to Derby bettors at the Palms.

"The response has been very good. Funny Cide wasn't a Triple Crown winner, but he was a popular horse with the fans and a great story that everyone loved."

Trimble said the Palms has the rights to use Ruffian's image and might come out with those chips later this year. His other goal is to get Affirmed so they have the last three Triple Crown winners on Palms chips.

Smarty's Triple Crown odds updated

Speaking of Triple Crown bids, Smarty Jones is the only 3-year-old with a chance to accomplish the feat this year.

John Avello, horse racing oddsmaker for the Caesars Entertainment race books, at one point had Smarty Jones at 35-1. He was bet down to 21-1 prior to the Derby. Last week, Avello adjusted his odds and offered odds of 7-2 on Smarty Jones winning the Preakness and Belmont. Bettors could also bet against Smarty Jones winning the Triple Crown by laying -450 (bet $4.50 to profit $1).

"The early bettors went against him and we raised the odds to -500/+375," Avello said. "But the money is trickling in that he will do it so I think we're going to get balanced action."

Avello said that in addition to that prop, he will post head-to-head matchups on Wednesday after the post-position draw.

"If it's an even-numbered field, I'll match up everyone," he said. "You can expect to see Smarty Jones vs. Lion Heart - I wouldn't be surprised is it's a two-horse race just like the Derby - and the new shooters, Eddington vs. Rock Hard Ten."

Fight's draw doesn't hurt house

If last Saturday night's featherweight bout at the MGM Grand between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez wasn't the fight of the year, I can't wait to see a better one.

Pacquiao knocked down Marquez not once, not twice, but three times in the first round. Marquez battled back and the fight ended up a draw as one judge scored it 113-113, and each fighter finished ahead on one of the other two judges' cards.

MGM Mirage race and sports book director Robert Walker said his books had a draw at odds of 14-1. He said the house usually doesn't fare well with a draw, but this time it worked out as most bettors sided with one boxer over the other.

The "draw" wager is tied to each fighter winning by decision or KO. The prop on Pacquiao by KO opened at 2-1 and was bet down to 10-11, so Walker said that would have been a much worse result for the house.

"This fight was strange," Walker said, "If you only watched the first round, you would have thought it was a mismatch. You'd think it was over. It was really an amazing fight that Marquez was able to come back from that."