05/15/2002 11:00PM

In Preakness futures, early bird gets the overlay

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While the Preakness certainly won't attract the party atmosphere or the handle that the Derby did two weeks ago in Las Vegas, it's still the top racing event of the weekend, and bookmakers are doing whatever it takes to increase betting.

Preakness betting actually started a month ago at Coast Casinos when oddsmaker Frank Minervini put up future-book odds on the second leg of the Triple Crown. Minervini made Harlan's Holiday and Medaglia d'Oro the co-favorites at 5-1 at that time, with Buddha and Sunday Break at 6-1.

"The Preakness futures mostly attracted small action," said Minervini. "We like to give players the option to bet it early, though a lot of the odds are about the same as you'll get race day."

But there was one notable exception. After the running of the Derby, one observant bettor noticed the trouble encountered by Medaglia d'Oro and quickly made a Preakness future bet on him at 5-1.

"He noticed the trouble and bet it right away," Minervini said. "I was busy at that time and didn't see how much trouble Medaglia had. Now that's what everyone is talking about and he's the hot horse. The bettor deserved to get 5-1 by being quick on his feet and betting two weeks in advance."

Medaglia d'Oro was made the 5-2 favorite on DRF's morning line, so that bettor has a nice overlay.

But that's nothing compared to the free play that three players earned at the Rampart Casino on the west side of town. The Rampart held a promotion in which any bettor hitting a $20 quinella on the Derby would win a free $100 one-way exacta on the Preakness.

Quinella wagering isn't offered at Churchill Downs, so the house quinella was used. House quinellas are computed by taking the win mutuel times half the place price. In this case, War Emblem paid $43 to win and Proud Citizen paid $24.60 to place, so the house Q should have returned $528.90, but books typically cap their house quinellas. The Rampart caps its house Q's at 150-1, so the three who cashed still collected at least $3,020 (since they had it at least 10 times with the $20 minimum wager).

"We were extremely happy with the promotion," said Eric St. Clair, assistant race and sports book director. "We had a high hold percentage and got a lot of people to come see our book. It was a way to give players something extra for a bet they were going to make anyway."

The promotion was risky for the Rampart. If two favorites such as Harlan's Holiday and Saarland had run one-two, the Rampart would have had to give away many $100 exacta tickets on the Preakness. But St. Clair said it was a risk they were willing to take.

"We believe to have a great promotion the book has to have some liability," he said. "People gamble because they want to win big. They don't want to bet $5 to win $5, they want to bet $5 to win $5,000. You have to give them something to shoot for."

War Emblem is the only 3-year-old with a shot at the Triple Crown. There are some people who think he can get it done. Before the Derby, Park Place Entertainment had a prop on a Triple Crown winner at +650. After War Emblem's victory, the odds went as high as +950, and now it's been bet back down to +750. If you don't think he can win both the Preakness and Belmont, you have to lay -950 (bet $9.50 for every $1 you want to win).

"We've had good two-way write on it," said John Avello, race and sports book director at Bally's.

Avello said he will have five head-to-head matchups on the Preakness, though he hadn't settled on the odds. Minervini said he's leaning toward making Medaglia d'Oro a -150 favorite over War Emblem (+120) in head-to-head matchups he'll release by 10 a.m. Saturday.

Horses, then hoops

After NBC wraps up its Preakness coverage, the network will send viewers to Sacramento, Calif., for the start of the Lakers-Kings Western Conference finals.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants made the Lakers a -270 favorite to win the series with the Kings at +210. A survey around town Wednesday found the Lakers mostly favored in the -200 to -220 range.

Doug Castaneda, a sports book supervisor at the Stardust, said on the "Stardust Line" radio show Wednesday morning that the casino opened the Lakers as a -300 favorite to draw action on the Kings to balance its future book.

The Kings are a 2-point favorite in game 1 and are expected to be about the same price in game 2. So, even though the Lakers are a solid favorite to win the series, they will be small underdogs in at least half the games in the series.

I'll take the Lakers +2 in Saturday's game 1. If the Lakers lose game 1, I'll come back with the same play on game 2. If they win, I'll take my winnings and pass on Monday's game 2. The Nets-Celtics series is anyone's guess. The Nets are a 3 1/2-point favorite in Sunday's game 1 and a -160 favorite to win the series.

Preakness, then pucks

The opening game of the Red Wings-Avalanche Western Conference final series will be ending right about post time of the Preakness. The Red Wings, the prohibitive future-book favorite around town, defeated the Blues four games to one and have been waiting for the Avalanche to oust the Sharks, which they did with a 1-0 shutout Wednesday night.

With the goaltending of the Avs' Patrick Roy and the Wings' Dominik Hasek, the under is the obvious play, but bookmakers are making bettors lay -130 (Caesars Palace) or -135 (Stardust) to bet under 5 goals. That makes it a no-play.

I'll play the Avalanche at +200 in their first two games at Detroit (same strategy as with the Lakers - if they win game 1 I'll pass on game 2).