04/06/2006 11:00PM

Smart strategies in Pool 3 future bets

If you like Discreet Cat, wait till Kentucky Derby Day to bet on him.

LEXINGTON, KY. - If you didn't invest in Pool 1 or Pool 2 of Churchill's Kentucky Derby Future Wager, you will have to be very cautious about starting out in Pool 3, which closes at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

This will be your first chance to bet on Discreet Cat. If you are underwhelmed by the leading candidates who have campaigned in the more traditional Derby preps, there is much to be said for an undefeated, comfortable winner of all of his races who has also run fast each time. But there are also significant risk factors associated with betting on him. His connections are on the fence about whether or not to run him in the Derby. It would be very frustrating to bet on him, and then find out a few days later that he won't be in the race, especially since he has become the wise-guy horse in the early betting. Factor in his inexperience with just three races under his belt, the long trip from Dubai, and the time between his races, and he is a dicey play at underlaid odds. If you like him you might be better off waiting to see if he makes the trip, then betting him on race day if you are as enthusiastic then as you are now.

If you are skeptical about Discreet Cat, you might be inclined to go with Brother Derek as the most solid, logical alternative. But by the time Pool 3 closes, you will have seen the Santa Anita Derby. If Brother Derek runs as well as he is expected to in that race, there won't be any betting value to be found by being among the last bettors to join his bandwagon.

The value train has also left the station if you are leaning toward Barbaro or Lawyer Ron. Barbaro is no secret with a perfect 5-for-5 record, and as the favorite of his last three races. It is a concern that he had to work harder than he was expected to in his last two races. Lawyer Ron has won his last five races by an average margin of 6 1/4 lengths. But he shows only one race from 13 career starts, his victory in the Risen Star on Jan. 14, which netted a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure.

If there is an upset in the Santa Anita Derby, the Illinois Derby, or the Wood Memorial, there might still be betting value on the winner if the favorites in the other two preps win. Another angle to look at is to play the contending second, or third, or fourth finisher in one of these preps, especially if he has a valid excuse. There is no law that says the winner of the Derby has to win his last prep race, and an attractive price would be likely.

The other way to go is to shop for value among the longshots who will not be running this weekend. Sharp Humor is improving, and finished only a half-length behind Barbaro in the Florida Derby. He might continue to move forward in the Kentucky Derby, which would be the third race of his current form cycle. He is 25-1 in the future betting as of Friday afternoon.

Strong Contender has questions to answer with just two career starts. But if you like Discreet Cat, who is also inexperienced and promising, you have to at least consider Strong Contender at 24-1 in the early betting.

Private Vow is certainly a better horse than he showed when he finished seventh in his comeback in the Rebel. If he rebounds in the Arkansas Derby on April 15, you will be glad you took the overlaid price on him prior to that race. He is only 16-1 in the early betting, but the hope is that he will be at least 25-1 late in the betting in Pool 3.