02/18/2002 12:00AM

Mutuel field solid 5-2 favorite

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A record $577,889 was bet on the first of three pools in the annual Kentucky Derby Future Wager as the mutuel field settled in as the 2.80-1 favorite over the 23 individual betting interests at the close of wagering Sunday evening.

The field was a solid favorite throughout the four days of wagering, drifting up to 3-1 for much of Saturday and Sunday before settling in at 5-2. Johannesburg is the 7-1 second choice, followed by Siphonic (8-1), Repent (8-1), Saarland (11-1), Came Home (14-1), and Harlan's Holiday (17-1).

At 5-2, the mutuel field is the strongest favorite in an individual pool in the history of the Future Wager, which is in its fourth year. The heaviest previous favorites were the mutuel field in Pool 1 of 2001 and eventual Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus in Pool 3 of 2000. Both closed at 3-1. The mutuel field also was favored in Pool 1 in both 2000 and 1999, at 7-2 and 5-1, respectively.

The handle surpasses the $510,815 bet into Pool 1 last year. The record was widely predicted since California, which wagered $58,323 into Pool 1, became a new jurisdiction this year for offering the Future Wager.

The California total may have been a little disappointing to some observers, considering it is North America's largest market and was outhandled by both New York ($91,227) and Kentucky ($68,338).

"We'll see what happens with all three pools before making any judgment," said Churchill spokesman John Asher. "It's a new market, and we just didn't know what to expect. Although it is a sophisticated market, maybe there's a bit of a learning curve. Frankly, we're just happy to have California on board."

Repent, an impressive winner of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, likely would have been somewhat lower than 8.90-1, but the Risen Star was run minutes after Pool 1 closed Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. Churchill Downs officials had moved the Sunday closing time from 4:30 to one hour later with the intent of allowing the Risen Star results to be considered during the final minutes of wagering, but Fair Grounds fell behind its published post times during the course of its program. Post time for the Risen Star had been listed at 5:09 Eastern.

The other major prep of the weekend, Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, did not have an enormous effect on the odds. The winner, Booklet, closed at 24-1 after being 35-1 Saturday, while the Pool 1 odds on runner-up Harlan's Holiday came down from 20-1 to 17-1.

The Future Wager is a win-only bet based on results of the 128th Derby on May 4. Pool 2 will be held March 14-17, and Pool 3 is set for April 4-7.