01/04/2006 1:00AM

Stevie Wonderboy at 8-1 for Derby


Since all 2-year-old horses turned 3 last Sunday, and since John Avello posted his Kentucky Derby futures four months ago at Wynn Las Vegas, and since the first Saturday in May is just four months away, it seems like a good time to check in on the Derby odds.

To no one's surprise, Stevie Wonderboy is the favorite at 8-1, despite the fact that no Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has gone on to pull off the double in the Derby. Even Avello thinks he has the odds too low.

"That's way too short," said Avello, who opened Stevie Wonderboy at 50-1. "But I've got a ton of money on him."

Of course, even though Avello would have to shell out a lot should Stevie Wonderboy or another heavily bet horse win the Derby, there are an awful lot of losing bets to offset those payouts.

"In September, I started about 60 horses and now I'm up over 200," he said on Wednesday. "People are constantly asking for horses that they've heard of to be added. I probably average adding two a day."

The second choice in the future book is First Samurai, who opened as the 30-1 favorite back in September and is now 15-1. Henny Hughes has been bet down from 50-1 to 20-1. Another horse at 20-1 is Bluegrass Cat, who opened at 250-1. Other big movers cited by Avello were Brother Derek, bet down from 150-1 to 30-1, and Your Tent or Mine, bet down from 200-1 to 40-1.

Avello said he has seen a change in recent years.

"Even as recently as three years ago, if a colt won at 2, you would still have to hope they stay healthy through three or four prep races," he said. "Now, if one wins at 2, the trainer might just map out one or two prep races. That's a better shot to get there, and I think that gives the advantage to the player.

"Of course, there's still no guarantee. In the Derby, there's probably going to be a field of 20 runners, you might get a bad post, you might get a bad ride. You still need luck."

And that's why it's gambling.

* Avello also has odds on the Breeders' Cup Classic at Wynn. Borrego and Flower Alley are the co-favorites at 8-1.

'Brokeback Mountain' making a run

Avello is also busy at this time of year putting up Academy Awards odds - for "entertainment purposes only," since Nevada gaming regulations forbid wagering on anything decided by a vote, especially since someone (even a trusted accounting firm) knows the result and could bet with insider information. Avello originally had Steven Spielberg's "Munich" as the favorite for best picture but now says "Brokeback Mountain" could pull an upset. He also favors Philip Seymour Hoffman of "Capote" for best actor and Reese Witherspoon of "Walk the Line" for best actress. The final candidates in each category will be announced at 5:30 a.m. Pacific on Jan. 31, and you're sure to see Avello on national entertainment shows and quoted in newspapers at that time.

* Avello also plans to print out sheets of his odds for the Jan. 23 Eclipse Awards. The finalists were to be announced Thursday.

Boston Challenge starts at Leroy's

This Friday starts the "Beat Boston" Challenge on the Leroy's Sports Hour radio show from 8-9 p.m. Fridays on KDWN AM-720. The show airs live from the Riviera sports book.

Leroy's marketing director Jimmy Vaccaro put out the word in December that professional gambler Alan Boston, who specializes in college basketball, would be part of the show during the first part of the year, and they were looking for a handicapper to go head-to-head against him for eight weeks at odds of 3-2.

Vaccaro said he had five serious interested parties and he chose handicapper Brent Crowe, who is being backed by the sports betting site Nine.com.

"As marketing director, part of it is trying to get the word out about Leroy's, and with Crowe's association with the Tim Trushel radio show, that helps and this could lead to bigger things," Vaccaro said.

So, Leroy's and Boston are putting up $30,000 against the $20,000 from Nine.com.

"He's a gambler who doesn't need a free ride from anyone," Vaccaro said of Boston. "He wanted to risk the money on himself and reap the rewards if he wins."

Each handicapper will give out six selections on the Saturday college basketball card each week, with pushes worth half a point and a best bet worth a point and a half. The selections will be based on the current line at Leroy's when the contestants arrive before the show. Sheets with their plays will be distributed to the audience.

Stardust has date with wrecking ball

Across the street from the Riviera, plans were announced for the Stardust to be demolished in early 2007 to make room for Echelon Place, a $4 billion mixed-use resort that will include four hotels with a total of 5,300 rooms, 25 restaurants and bars, more than 800,000 square feet of convention and meeting space, a 140,000-square-foot casino, a shopping center, a 4,000-seat theater, and 8,000 parking spaces, plus room for expansion that could include more stores or residential development.

Echelon Place is planned to open in 2010 and is second in scope to MGM Mirage's $6 billion Project CityCenter, which is being built in the area of the Boardwalk on the south end of the Strip and is also targeted for 2010.