03/14/2005 1:00AM

Mutuel field a tepid favorite


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The unsettled outlook for the May 7 Kentucky Derby was reflected in the closing odds of Pool 2 of the , with the mutuel field, or the "all others" option, being dispatched a lukewarm favorite over a host of more familiar names.

Pool 2, which closed Sunday evening with record handle, has the field as the 6-1 choice over Afleet Alex (8-1), who was the favorite for much of the four-day run before being overtaken Sunday. Then came High Limit (9-1), Sun King (10-1), Lost in the Fog (13-1), Rockport Harbor (14-1), Bandini (14-1), and Sweet Catomine (16-1).

Handle was $511,655, easily the most for a Pool 2 since the Future Wager was first offered in 1999. The record for any Derby futures pool was set Feb. 10-13, when $620,362 was bet into Pool 1. The cumulative record for three pools was set in 2002, when slightly more than $1.5 million was wagered. Churchill Downs officials are optimistic that record will be surpassed when the third and final pool is open April 7-10.

The strongest odds push in Pool 2 came after High Limit posted his impressive victory Saturday in the Louisiana Derby. Prior to the race, High Limit was 36-1. He closed as the 9-1 third choice.

Declan's Moon, co-favored in the early betting for Pool 2, was scratched from the Future Wager when it was announced Friday that the 2-year-old champion had been removed from Derby consideration.

Meanwhile, Sweet Catomine, the champion filly who remained unbeaten Sunday with her easy victory in the Santa Anita Oaks, closed as the slight favorite in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager. Sweet Catomine, who is expected to race next against males in the April 9 Santa Anita Derby, is the eighth choice in Derby Pool 2. Her victory in the Santa Anita Oaks came after Pool 2 had already closed Sunday.

Summerly, who opened Saturday at 28-1, closed as the 6-1 second choice on the strength of her runaway victory later that day in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Then came the field (10-1), Sis City (10-1), Splendid Blended (12-1), and Sharp Lisa (12-1).

Handle for Oaks Pool 2 was $53,106, barely more than 10 percent than the Derby Pool 2 handle. Nonetheless, Churchill officials noted that Oaks handle was up 15 percent for the corresponding pool in 2004, when the Oaks futures were first offered in three separate pools.

In Pool 1, Sweet Catomine also was a slight 9-2 favorite over the field.