05/25/2004 11:00PM

Smarty holding steady after early action


We're a week away from the opening of parimutuel betting on the Belmont Stakes, and it looks like the odds on Smarty Jones will be 2-5 at the most.

Race books in Nevada and those located in cyberspace have been taking bets for the better part of two weeks on whether Smarty Jones will complete the Triple Crown, and the consensus line is at -250 (the sports-betting world equivalent of 2-5, or laying $5 to win $2), with bettors who chose to bet against Smarty getting +200, or 2-1.

For the second year in a row, Mandalay Bay was the first to put up Belmont odds just minutes after the Preakness became official. The "yes" on the "Will Smarty Jones win the Belmont?" prop was priced at -200 with the "no" at +160.

"We wanted to give our customers the chance to bet on or against Smarty Jones right away before they left," said Hugh Citron, race and sports book supervisor.

And bet it they did, driving the price on Smarty Jones up to -280, which would be listed at 1-5 on a tote board. The money has since come in on the "no," and the odds at Mandalay Bay were -240 as of Wednesday morning.

With all the hype surrounding Smarty Jones and with the number of his competitors continuing to shrink (only five or six are expected to run), I've been expecting to see the price on Smarty rise to the -300 range. I guess the reason that hasn't happened is chalk-players don't see the need to lock in odds of 2-5 if he's going to go off at around those odds on race day.

The bettors who wouldn't mind seeing that price rise are those who were lucky enough to only lay -200 on the "yes" at Mandalay Bay or other outlets. If the price on the "no" rises above +200 (which it did at +220 when the price was -280), they can lock in a profit by betting the other side.

Of course, if you think about it, no one is in as good of a position to lock in a profit as Team Smarty Jones, which is in line to collect a $5 million bonus from Visa if he completes the Triple Crown. The owners could hedge by getting down, say $1 million, at odds of 2-1 in case Smarty Jones doesn't fire, and lock in a $2 million profit while diminishing their winnings by $1 million if he wins, which would more than be made up in the cottage industry that Smarty Jones has become.

Plenty to bet on holiday weekend

Memorial Day weekend will be busy in the race and sports books here. The Stanley Cup finals continue Saturday and Monday, as the upstart Calgary Flames host the Tampa Bay Lightning. The NBA conference finals are heating up, with the Pacers and Pistons battling in the East on Friday and Sunday, and the Lakers and Timberwolves duking it out in the West on Saturday and Monday. There is baseball every day and night, and French Open tennis, if that's your cup of latte. And there is a lot of great horse racing on tap at all major tracks running through the holiday.

Auto racing will take center stage Sunday, with the Indianapolis 500 starting at 9 a.m. Pacific and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 starting at 3 p.m. Pacific. With two big races, this day ranks up there in handle with the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR race held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

At Station Casinos, Sam Hornish Jr. is the 4-1 favorite in the Indy 500, followed by two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves at 9-2, Tony Kanaan at 7-1, Scott Dixon at 8-1, and the trio of Bruno Junqueira, Dario Franchitti, and Dan Wheldon at 12-1.

As has become standard with auto-race betting, there are plenty of ways to wager on the race. Stations has six head-to-head matchups, plus proposition wagers such as over/under 8 1/2 drivers to finish on the lead lap, over/under 8 1/2 lap leaders, and whether the winning engine will be a Toyota (-170) or a Honda or Chevy (+140). In addition, with many of the top drivers coming from Brazil - Castroneves, Kanaan, Junqueira, Vitor Meira - you can take them all and get +200 or take the rest of the world and lay -250.

Robby Gordon is again going to drive in both races Sunday, and Micah Roberts, auto racing oddsmaker for Stations, has made the over/under on Gordon's combined finish for both races at 34 1/2.

Matt Kenseth, who won last weekend's Nextel Cup All-Star Challenge, is the co-favorite at 8-1 along with Jimmie Johnson in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 9-1, along with Tony Stewart; Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, and Kurt Busch are 10-1; and Bobby Labonte and Kevin Harvick are 12-1.

The props keep coming in the NASCAR race. In addition to seven head-to-head matchups, Roberts has over/under 12 1/2 lap leaders, over/under 10 1/2 cautions, the winning engine being Ford or Dodge (-140) vs. Chevrolet (+110), and the winning car number being 0-23 (-140) or 24-99 (+110).

Pop culture in Vegas

People aren't coming here for the long holiday weekend just to watch sports. There will be a lot of people-watching, too.

Kicking off the weekend is Friday's final table of the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Vegas. The winner of the tournament walks away with $5 million, which will be piled on the table in cash when the final two players square off.

Play is slated to begin at noon in Benny's Bullpen upstairs, and an overflow crowd is expected. Be aware, however, that the final table is determined Thursday night, and last year play lasted until 3 a.m. Friday before the final nine players were determined. Friday's action resumed at 2:30 p.m. Chris Moneymaker won the title at 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

People-watching will also be in vogue on the Strip. Madonna will be playing sold-out shows Saturday and Sunday at the MGM Grand, and Prince has concerts on the same nights at Mandalay Bay. Prince's Saturday night show is actually part of Tiger Jam VII, the fundraiser hosted by Tiger Woods, so there will plenty of celebrities on hand for that event.

If you can't afford the scalper's tickets for any of those shows and still want to be star-struck, the Celebrity Impersonators Convention is taking place Sunday through Wednesday at the Imperial Palace.