07/09/2006 11:00PM

Mets midseason favorites to win it all


The baseball season is a little more than halfway over, with most teams having played 88 of their 162-game schedules, and the All-Star break provides the natural time to reset the future books and look ahead to the second half of the season.

The Las Vegas Hilton has the Mets as the 4-1 favorites to win the World Series. This makes sense not only because of the quality of the Mets' roster, but because they are the only division leader with more than a four-game lead - they lead by 12 over the Phillies - and they are just about the only team with its playoff ticket already punched. (Mets fans can feel free to say I jinxed them if they miss the postseason.)

The last two world champs, the Red Sox and White Sox, are both at 5-1.

I always love perusing future-book lists later in a season to see which teams that had been considered outsiders have now seen their odds plummet. In baseball, that team is the Tigers, who are the sixth-to-last team on the Hilton's list and are now the 6-1 second choice to win the World Series. Teams listed around them include the Pirates at 5,000-1, the Devil Rays at 5,000-1, and the Royals at 9,999-1.

Among the other teams expected to contend, the Yankees and Cardinals are each 10-1; the A's are 16-1; the Padres, Astros, and Blue Jays are 20-1; and the Dodgers and Angels are 25-1.

* Boston first baseman David Ortiz leads the majors with 31 home runs at the break, and the Hilton has him as the 5-2 favorite to win the homer title. Jim Thome of the White Sox is second with 30 home runs and is the second choice at 7-2. Albert Pujols of the Cardinals is next with 29 and sits at odds of 9-2, and the Yankees' Jason Giambi has 27 home runs and offers good value at 20-1.

Favorites rule World Cup

Favorites did very well throughout the World Cup, and the tournament ended that way, with Germany defeating Portugal, 3-1, in last Saturday's third-place game and Italy defeating France in Sunday's title game, by 5-3 in a penalty-kick shootout after the score remained 1-1 through overtime.

Host Germany was a -275 favorite (risk $2.75 for every $1 you wanted to profit) in the third-place game and dominated throughout. Bettors who took the Germans and gave half a goal to win in regulation only had to lay -150. The game also went over the total of 2 1/2 goals.

The championship match was much tighter, with Italy a -140 favorite, but the game went over the total of 1 1/2 goals after Italy tied the game at 1-1 in the 19th minute on a header by Marco Materazzi. France controlled the tempo in the second half and had many more scoring chances, but regulation ended with the score 1-1. At books that offered three-way betting (the two sides plus a draw as a third option), bettors who took either Italy or France were losers, and the draw cashed at +180.

Hilton sports book supervisor Jeff Sherman said more money came in on Italy, but the Hilton came out okay because it had more liability on France in the future book. Before the tournament, Italy was the 8-1 fifth choice, and France was at 10-1.

In the halftime/full time double results offered at the Hilton, the draw/draw paid 5-2. The 1-1 tie at the end of 90 minutes plus stoppage time was 4-1.

* If you can't wait to bet the 2010 World Cup, scheduled to be held in South Africa, the Hilton has posted odds on that, with Brazil the 5-1 favorite, Argentina at 7-1, Italy at 10-1, England and Germany at 12-1, and Spain and France at 15-1. In all, 87 countries are listed and Sherman said he'll add any others at customer's request.

"I'm not sure how much interest we'll get on this, but I wanted to put it up while interest was hot," said Sherman. "I made all the odds a little higher than they should probably be - and what they will be in 2010, as it always seems those top countries are always the favorites, and the winner almost always comes from the top group - but I felt I had to offset it for someone to tie up their money for four years."

Sports book notes

Cory Spinks, fighting in his hometown of St. Louis, upset Roman Karmazin as a +160 underdog Saturday night to win the IBF junior middleweight belt. The Steve Cunningham-Guillermo Jones cruiserweight bout was called off because of an injury to Jones.

* Chalk bettors went one-for-two in the Ultimate Fighting Championship card at Mandalay Bay on Saturday night, when Tim Sylvia beat Andrei Arlovski, who was a -280 favorite, and Tito Ortiz, the -500 favorite, beat Ken Shamrock.

* Amelie Mauresmo won the Wimbledon women's title over Justine Henin-Hardenne on Saturday. Mauresmo was a 2-1 underdog at the MGM Mirage properties. Roger Federer won the men's title Sunday after being the 2-5 favorite before the tournament began. Federer was a -450 favorite in Sunday's final vs. Rafael Nadal.

* There must have been something in the Chicago area air to help longshots. The biggest longshot winner of the weekend was Trevor Immelman, who won the Western Open in suburban Chicago as a 40-1 longshot. Immelman held off Tiger Woods, who was the 11-2 favorite. Also, Jeff Gordon won the USG 400 at Chicagoland Speedway as the 13-1 eighth choice at Station Casinos.

Coast contest payouts are mandatory

The Coast Casinos (the Orleans, Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, Suncoast, and South Coast) host a $5 buy-in contest on Wednesdays and a $10 buy-in contest on Thursdays, with prize money paid for the top three finishers and a progressive bonus offered for contestants who go 5 for 5.

The Hollywood Park meet goes for another week, but with the Gold Coast Summer Classic handicapping tournament taking place next week, there won't be any weekly contests and the progressives have to be paid out this week.

On Wednesday, the carryover, which will be paid to all those picking the most winners, is at $23,580 and will grow with all the $5 entry fees being added to the pot.

On Thursday, the progressive is at $27,040 before the $10 entry fees are added.

Based on the way the pools have been growing in past weeks, the Wednesday jackpot should be at least $30,000, and the Thursday jackpot should be about $35,000.