08/08/2002 12:00AM

Missing contenders change future bet


DEL MAR, Calif. - When a horse such as Special Ring smashes a Del Mar turf course record by blazing one mile in 1:32.72, usually everyone notices.

Not this time. Special Ring's brilliant Aug. 2 victory in the Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar followed a stunning classified win July 7 at Hollywood Park (a mile in 1:32.91) that was less than .20 off the course record. Special Ring's explosive performances earned Beyer Speed Figures of 110 at Hollywood, 108 at Del Mar, and established him as California's fastest turf miler in training.

California, of course, produced the last three winners of the Breeders' Cup Mile - Val Royal, War Chant, and Silic. Yet when future wagering on the BC Mile opened Friday, it began with not just one conspicuous oversight, but two. Special Ring, California's premier turf miler, was not one of the 23 individual runners offered, nor was Beat Hollow, widely considered the best middle-distance turf horse in the country.

The omission of Special Ring and Beat Hollow from the BC Mile future wager has turned strategy upside down. For bettors familiar with California racing, Special Ring and Beat Hollow would have been among the most fancied in the race. Each has more appeal than these West Coast-based runners who are listed: Congaree, Decarchy, Inesperado, Irish Prize, Redattore, and Rock Opera.

Congaree's dull performance Sunday - his second straight flop - suggested he might be finished. Decarchy was injured and has not breezed since the middle of May. Inesperado was all-out to win a weak stakes for 3-year-olds his only U.S. start. Irish Prize has disappeared, and gone two months without a work. Redattore requires a $200,000 supplement to start. Lightly raced Rock Opera is not good enough. Not yet anyway.

It's a muddled cast, though a lot will change between now and Oct. 26.

Bettors who prefer Special Ring in the BC Mile may still back him in the future wager by betting the field. That is, all runners not listed among the 23. Bettors who recognize Beat Hollow's distance limitations, and foresee trainer Bobby Frankel pointing him to the Mile instead of the Turf - for which he is listed at 10-1 on the future bet morning line - can still wager on him in BC Mile future by betting the field.

This poses a major problem because of the limited scope of the wager. With only 24 interests available, most of the odds are too low to make an intelligent wager.

In Round 1 of the BC future wager (July 4-7), Street Cry closed at 4-1 to become favored in the Classic, and Azeri closed as the 5-2 favorite in the Distaff. A wager on those two was not based on analysis of their talent. It was a gamble they would remain healthy and maintain form for another four months.

Unfortunately, four months is an eternity in North American Thoroughbred racing. Horses rarely maintain top form that long. When they do, they frequently are used up by Breeders' Cup Day. Look what happened to 2001 Classic favorite Aptitude and 2000 Distaff favorite Riboletta. Both finished off the board.

Instead of accentuating the positive, parimutuel future wagering has highlighted the negative. With only 23 individual runners listed in each bet, bettors are becoming increasingly well-educated in the fragility of the breed.

Several of the horses listed in Round 1 of the BC future wager are injured or have disappointed.

Several leading Classic contenders have suffered misfortune. Mizzen Mast (10-1) is done for the year, Street Cry (4-1) ran a disappointing second in the Whitney, and Macho Uno (8-1) finished a dull fourth. Among the future wager runners for the Sprint, Swept Overboard (9-1) is injured and out, and Crafty C.T. (9-1) ran poorly in Florida and will abandon six-furlong sprints for now. He'll try two turns Sept. 1 at Del Mar. Caller One (14-1) was injured and retired. Left Bank (10-1) is suddenly a candidate for the Classic, not the Sprint, after his unlikely Whitney upset.

These regrettable developments bring depressing publicity to the Breeders' Cup. However, they also bring profits to cold-hearted bettors who factored the likelihood of injuries, retirement, and form regression into personal betting strategy. It is a cynical approach, but the uncharted territory of future wagering requires bettors to welcome chaos. It requires a bettor to expect the unexpected.

No one knows which leading contenders will break down in the months leading to the Breeders' Cup. Unfortunately, breakdowns will occur. Brittle Thoroughbreds cannot be expected to maintain form for months on end. Therefore, the only sensible future wager to make - usually - is on the field. A wager on the field is a wager on the unknown. It is a wager that the proven horses will vanish; that new heroes will emerge to take their place.

Until the future wager is improved by expanding the list to more than 24 interests, a field bet will remain perhaps the only successful strategy.

There are exceptions. This weekend, the BC Mile is one of them. Because neither Special Ring nor Beat Hollow are listed among the 23 individual runners, it is virtually guaranteed the field for the BC Mile will be badly underlaid at 3-1 or less.

Bettors may consider 3-1 acceptable on an entry that includes the fastest horse, Special Ring, and the best horse, Beat Hollow. But as long as horses continue to be injured, and odds continue to be suppressed, future wagering cannot be conquered by supporting individuals. Bettors will funnel money toward the BC Mile field primarily because of two horses. The single-minded aim will water down the odds. At 3-1, the BC Mile field is unattractive.

On the other hand, 6-1 on the BC Turf field or Filly-Mare Turf field looks mildly appealing.

Perhaps the Special Ring-Beat Hollow oversight is a blessing in disguise. Without larger fields that would drive up all the prices, and without two of the country's best turf milers in the BC Mile lineup, no bettor is required to make any wager whatsoever.

This weekend, that may be the smartest move of all.