08/10/2001 12:00AM

Playing the odds after Lewis and Congaree hurt

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A common phrase used to wish someone good luck is "go out there and break a leg." Well, don't say it around a Las Vegas future book bettor.

Two significant knee injuries this week, one to 3-year-old colt Congaree and the other to Baltimore Ravens tailback Jamal Lewis, will affect the future books for the Breeders' Cup and the National Football League.

Lewis was an impact rookie last season, rushing for 1,364 in 13 games for the Super Bowl champion Ravens. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Wednesday, and is likely to miss the season. His backups are untested rookies Jason Brookins and Chris Barnes, neither of whom has played a down in an NFL game.

"Defense carried the Ravens last year," said Rich Dressler, race and sports supervisor for the Imperial Palace. "They looked to open up the offense some, [but] now with this change, they're going to have to."

The Ravens had signed former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac to upgrade their passing attack. However, John Avello, director of operations for race and sports for Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, is not impressed. "Elvis Grbac needs a lot of protection," said Avello. "He's never been a big winner overall."

Said Dressler: "Where it really affects you is the Tennessee Titans become the AFC favorites. The Titans opened at 10-1; they are now 6-1 to win the Super Bowl."

Avello took a different view. "Lewis is one player; he'll take the team down a notch. But the AFC is so wide open. I can see that Tennessee, Denver, the Colts, Raiders, and Jaguars all could win it."

When the Lewis news broke Wednesday, Dressler compared it to "a PBS jungle special."

"The lions sit and wait to spot a gazelle with a limp," he said. "The wise guys are the lions, looking for a sports book that didn't catch the news - or if Las Vegas Sports Consultant didn't send over a flash message telling them to adjust the number on the Titans."

"You make a little adjustment, but you don't make it ridiculous," said Avello, who moved the Ravens from 3-1 to 4-1 to win the Super Bowl.

In books around town, the Ravens were 4-1 at Station Casinos, 3-1 at Boyd Gaming, 5-2 at Arizona Charlie's and Stratosphere, 6-1 at Castaways, and 3-1 at Coast Resorts to win the Super Bowl. The Imperial Palace raised them to 6-1.

Meanwhile, Congaree came out of last week's Jim Dandy at Saratoga with a knee injury. Avello had him posted in both the Breeders' Cup Classic and Mile Turf races.

"Congaree was probably going to move to the Mile on grass," said Avello. "I thought the 1 1/4 miles might not be the right distance for that horse. I was welcoming all bets up to this point."

Congaree opened at 40-1 in the Classic and was taken down at 12-1. He opened at 20-1 in the Mile and was off the board at 10-1.

"We only book the Classic; he never got real short here," said Tara Martinez, racebook manager at the Imperial Palace. "Congaree opened at 45-1 and closed at 40-1. His lowest price was 20-1."

The current Classic favorites at Bally's and the Imperial Palace, respectively, are: Point Given (5/2, 2/1), Galileo (5/1, 4/1), Albert the Great (6-1, 6-1), and Tiznow (7-1, 12-1).

Richard Eng is turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.