05/31/2004 11:00PM

Smarty's a favorite in more ways than one


Any bettor who believes that Smarty Jones is unstoppable would probably love to lock in 2-5 on the two-time classic winner for Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

Good luck.

Despite a plethora of betting opportunities for the technologically savvy horserace bettor who doesn't mind stretching the law, wagering sites legal and illegal are not jumping at the opportunity to post a line on Smarty Jones, at least not yet. William Hill and Ladbrokes, two of the largest bookmakers in the Western world, have not posted a future price on Smarty Jones, and a review of many of the top offshore bookmakers, who typically pay track odds, revealed that none have posted any fixed-odds prices on Smarty Jones either.

Without the possibility of getting fixed odds, bettors will likely have to settle on the commingled pool. Although Belmont's linemaker, Don LaPlace, said on Tuesday that Smarty Jones will be 2-5 on the morning line, the horse figures to be 1-5 in the actual betting, in large part because a lot of smart money will probably sit the Belmont out. When considering the breadth of support Smarty Jones has gathered from novice racing fans, souvenir money will dominate the pool.

Even bettors who may not necessarily like Smarty Jones will find themselves involved with him for the Belmont. The first 10,000 people who walk into Hollywood Park in Southern California on Saturday will receive a complimentary $2 win ticket on Smarty Jones. The tickets can be cashed, but special logos depicting the Belmont emblem push the tickets into the souvenir realm.

Because of the promotion, Churchill Downs Inc., the owner of Hollywood Park and the host of the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, will be pouring $20,000 into the Belmont win pool to purchase the tickets. Still, the wager is not likely to have a significant impact on the odds - last year, the entire win-place-show pool for the Belmont was $21.3 million, and win betting is typically about 50 percent of that total. A $20,000 wager would be two-tenths of 1 percent of the likely win total.

Julie Koenig, a spokeswoman for Churchill Downs, said that she does not believe that Churchill has ever before purchased win tickets on behalf of its customers. Churchill's tracks have participated frequently in mystery mutuel voucher promotions, Koenig said, but those promotions allow bettors to choose their wagers.

Churchill is not the only track to purchase win tickets for its customers. The first 100 people with the surname Jones to walk into Turfway Park in northern Kentucky will receive a complimentary $2 win ticket. If Turfway can round up enough Joneses - a White Pages search of the Cincinnati area turned up 200 people with that surname - that's another $200 in the pool. Even with the Hollywood total, that's not enough to move the price a dime.

New Jersey residents may get the best opportunity for a better price on Smarty Jones. Monmouth Park, which is owned by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, will offer a separate pool for the Belmont Stakes, giving bettors in New Jersey a chance to shop for odds. Monmouth has frequently offered separate-pool betting on major stakes races in the past.

Typically, separate pools offer very little variation on win prices, especially on heavy favorites. But bettors can sometimes find higher prices in the exotic pools, where a discrepancy of $5 on the payoff for a $2 exacta bet using the heavy favorite can mean the difference between a small wager and a very, very large one.

"We have very astute handicappers here that will be looking at the exotic will-pays the whole race," said Robert Kulina, the general manager of Monmouth. "It's something we do every once in awhile to give them value."

Kulina also said that bettors who don't like the favorite can many times find value in specific longshot plays in the separate pools. But for every price that is higher, another price has to be lower. And if Smarty Jones is 2-5 at Monmouth, the New Jersey bettor who likes the longshot Caiman may be better off playing in the commingled pool.

Without a doubt, the best bet on Smarty Jones will be that of Roy and Patricia Chapman, the owners of the colt. Smarty Jones will collect $5.6 million if he wins the Belmont - $600,000 from the winner's share of the $1 million purse and $5 million from a bonus guaranteed by Visa, the sponsor of the Triple Crown, for any horse that sweeps all three races. With a $20,000 entry fee to start in the race, the Chapmans will be getting 280-1 on their 2-5 shot.