05/03/2006 11:00PM

Seaside Retreat is no 179-1 shot

United States Olympic skier Bode Miller, holding trainer Bob Baffert's son, Bode, gets an up close look at Bob and John on Thursday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Six of the 20 starters are listed at 50-1 on the morning line, and of those, there seems to be a consensus that Seaside Retreat will wind up being the longest of the longshots.

"If handicappers have watched him train, I don't think they'd make us the longest price," said Mark Casse, who trains Seaside Retreat for Bill Farish. "But I still think they will."

Until 1997, the number of wagering interests in the Derby was limited to 12, with the formation of a mutuel field allowing for an excess of starters. From 1998 to 2000, the maximum number of interests was lifted to 14, after which the Kentucky Racing Commission changed its rules to permit every horse in the Derby field (limited to 20 starters) to be listed as separate interests.

Despite the mathematics that have markedly increased the probability of a Derby starter being sent away a huge longshot in a 20-horse field, there have been only two starters to be sent away at higher than 99-1, and both were in the 2001 field: Arctic Boy (12th at 101-1) and Startac (10th at 102-1).

The record for the longest shot in Derby history is Royal Shuck, who was 179-1 when finishing 12th and last behind Northern Dancer in 1964. Casse, and most handicappers, believe that record is safe for another year, "but I'm sure it'll be broken some year soon because of the 20" wagering interests, said Casse.

Farish smiled when talking about how Derby fans will dismiss Seaside Retreat. "The higher the odds, the better, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "We've gotten this far, so at this point it doesn't matter."

Zito relegated to background this year

As the media horde descended upon Bob Baffert's Barn 33 on the Churchill Downs backside Thursday morning, some reminisced about the crowds that surrounded Nick Zito's Barn 36 last year.

Then someone blurted out, "Is Nick here?''

That's what a difference a year makes. In 2005, Zito was the star of Derby 131 as he equaled a record by saddling five starters, including favorite Bellamy Road, who finished seventh. This year, Zito does not have a Derby starter for the first time since 2003 and just the fourth time since 1994.

"I knew there would be no fence this year,'' Zito said, referring to a makeshift fence that was put up around his barn last year. "I don't miss the circus but I do miss talking to you [media] guys with legitimate shots. I like the Derby. It's what you really want to do. This just makes people realize how hard it really is.''

Zito's inability to make the Derby wasn't due to a lack of trying. His top 3-year-old, Great Point, got hurt, and several of his others didn't come around. But Zito is indeed in Louisville, where he has a barn full of horses. Zito had several runners on Friday's card, but does not have anything in on Saturday and wasn't sure if he would be onsite to watch the race.

Zito is hoping to make an impact with his 3-year-olds during the second half of the season. Great Point, who finished second in the Holy Bull but was injured when last in the Fountain of Youth, could be back by Saratoga. Zito also expects improvement from Hemingway's Key, Little Cliff and Hesanoldsalt.

"I've been grateful to be in it," Zito said. "I'll look forward to trying again next year."

Sexton says he's keeping Bellamy Road

It appears as though Bellamy Road may be changing hands. Ed Sexton, a former trainer who serves as the racing manager for George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Farm, said Thursday that he plans to train Bellamy Road this year. Sexton said he has the backing of Steinbrenner, who owns Bellamy Road.

"He's going to remain with me; I'm going to train him myself,'' Sexton said Thursday morning after arriving in Louisville. "Maybe I'm as good as anybody myself. Nothing against Nick Zito, who did nothing wrong and who is a great trainer, and nothing against any trainer, but I know the horse better than anybody. I'm going to keep him under my own wing now.

"I've trained plenty of winners," Sexton added. "A good horse trains himself, anyway, I believe. It's just a matter of keeping them sound.''

Bellamy Road raced as a 2-year-old for Michael Dickinson. The horse was moved to Zito for his 3-year-old season. When he won the Wood Memorial by 17 1/4 lengths, Bellamy Road became the favorite for the Derby. He finished seventh, and was found to have a popped splint bone in a front leg. Bellamy Road returned in the Travers, where he finished a game second to Flower Alley, but later was found to have reaggravated the injury.

Good value on several future wagers

When the field loads in the starting gate for Saturday's Derby, early Kentucky Derby Future Wager backers of Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron, Barbaro, and Sweetnorthernsaint can feel pleased about the value they landed for their wagers. All four closed at much higher prices in early future wager betting than the odds they are expected to be Saturday.

Brother Derek, the track's 3-1 morning-line favorite, went off at 16-1 odds in the first future wager pool, 10-1 in the second. Lawyer Ron, 4-1 on the line, was 21-1 in the first Derby pool, 17-1 in the second round. Barbaro, co-second choice at 4-1 on the morning line, closed at 19-1 and 15-1 in the first and second round, respectively. And Sweetnorthernsaint, 10-1 fourth choice to win the Derby, went off at 30-1 odds in the second round of future betting after being offered at 3-1 odds in the first round when part of the field - a wagering option that includes all 3-year-olds not among the 23 separate betting interests offered at the time of the wager.

The prices on the four morning-line choices weren't as rewarding in the final round of future wager betting, with all four ending at odds of 10-1 or less.

Field supporters are also well represented in the Derby. Nine of the 20 Derby entrants were among the field in Pool 1, led by Sweetnorthernsaint. Eight entrants were a part of the field for Pool 2, with A. P. Warrior - the upset Derby selection of many Daily Racing Form handicappers - being its notable representative. And four entrants were among the field in the third pool, anchored by Sinister Minister, the expected Derby pacesetter.

Although the third field wager offered the fewest representatives in the race, it offers the largest payoff of the field bets. The field closed at 15-1 for the final pool, up from 3-1 odds in Pools 1 and 2.

O.J. likes Lawyer Ron

O.J. Simpson, the Hall of Fame running back who was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend back in 1994, was a visitor to the Churchill Downs backstretch on Thursday.

Simpson, a longtime racing fan who has attended many Derbies, was asked who he liked on Saturday.

"I love lawyers, man, I'm betting any lawyers in the race, and there's a Lawyer Ron in this race,'' Simpson said. "If there was a Lawyer Johnnie, I'd bet my house on it.''

Simpson was referring to Johnnie Cochran Jr., the lead attorney who helped Simpson get acquitted. Cochran died in 2005.

Velazquez may come to Derby

Injured jockey John Velazquez said he may come to Louisville if he gets medical clearance to fly. Velazquez, who was home in New York on Thursday, was scheduled to visit his doctors on Friday.

Velazquez, who suffered a broken shoulder in a spill at Keeneland on April 20, would have ridden Bluegrass Cat in the Derby. Though Velazquez said he would like to be the one to win a Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher, he said he would still be pulling for either Bluegrass Cat or Keyed Entry - both trained by Pletcher - on Saturday.

"Definitely I would love to be the one to win it for him, but if I can't do it I'm still going to pull for him,'' said Velazquez, the two-time Eclipse Award winning rider who has yet to win a Derby.

Velazquez said he is to undergo an MRI on his injured shoulder on May 11 and after that he hopes to learn when he can begin physical therapy. Velazquez hopes to return to race-riding before Saratoga.

Oldest Derby-winning rider honored

Ira Hanford, 88, and his brother Carl, 90, were among the racing legends roaming the Churchill backstretch this week.

Ira Hanford, who rode Bold Venture to win the 1936 Derby and is the oldest surviving Derby-winning jockey, was honored Wednesday at the "Gallop to Glory" tribute at the Galt House in downtown Louisville. He lives in Ocala, Fla. Carl Hanford, who lives in Delaware, was the trainer of Kelso, a five-time (1960-64) Horse of the Year.

* Churchill is offering three lucrative guaranteed pools on multirace wagers on Derby Day, all of them ending with the Derby (race 10). Those wagers are a $750,000 pick six starting on race 5, a $1 million pick four starting on race 7, and a $500,000 pick three starting on race 8.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Byron King