02/09/2007 1:00AM

Take field and a few bombs


LEXINGTON, Ky. - "Did I ever tell you the story about the time I cashed a $100 bet on the Kentucky Derby Future Wager mutuel field at 5-2 back in 2007? Here's how I did it - I used my superior handicapping skills to narrow the race down to every other registered 3-year-old Thoroughbred on planet Earth besides the 23 who were listed individually in Pool 1, and a few months later it turned out that I was right!"

Unfortunately, that story wouldn't entertain anyone you tell it to on the day of your victory, much less a few years down the road. You would win some money, but would earn zero bragging rights. But even though a winning field bet earns you no respect among your handicapping buddies, it can still be a very smart play.

Why is the field a good bet? Many well-liked contenders will disappoint and will be taken off the Derby trail by their connections. Others will hope to run, but won't qualify to get into the field based on their lack of sufficient graded stakes earnings. A few contenders will probably be injured. Other contenders will look good coming into the Derby, and will participate in the race, but they will run poorly for no apparent reason. It happens every year.

Meanwhile, a number of second-tier contenders who are not listed among the 23 individual betting interests in Pool 1 will turn out to be serious threats. Some other horses who are not currently being taken seriously by anyone besides their connections will prove to be major players. There will be plenty of surprises on the road to the Derby, and surprises are always good news for field bettors.

So should you bet on the field in Pool 1, and ignore the individual betting interests entirely? Or should you do your best to find a winning longshot that your handicapping friends overlook completely, thereby irritating them tremendously, while proving your intellectual superiority to them for many years to come?

I prefer to have the best of both worlds. My recommendation is to take two-thirds of your available betting money and wager it on the field. Use the remainder for bets on overlaid contenders who might earn you bragging rights, and nice profits.

With that in mind, let's go for the bragging rights by searching for overlays among the 23 individually listed runners.

The first issue to deal with is the fact that some of the individual betting interests will be running this weekend, while betting on Pool 1 is still open. The horses who win, or run very well in defeat, will be bet down to lower odds. The odds on the horses who run poorly probably won't be high enough to offer betting value on the hope they will rebound. A horse who has an obvious troubled trip might also be overbet. The best deals to be found will likely be on the horses who don't run this weekend.

For all of the reasons that the field is a good bet in this pool, any horse at single-digit odds is a bad bet. Too much chaos will ensue between now and Derby Day to make those horses a good risk.

Ravel is lightly raced. He won his maiden second time out, then took another big step forward when he won the Grade 3 Sham in his third career start. Unfortunately, he is only 9-1 as of early Friday afternoon, so I will have to pass. But there is another contender who looks just as good. Any Given Saturday has also run just three times, improved significantly second and third time out, and is a much better price at 20-1. I like him.

If you are a fan of Ravel at 9-1, you have to also respect Liquidity, who dueled throughout, then finished second, just one length behind Ravel in the Sham. Liquidity is an attractive overlay at 50-1.

Adore the Gold won a sprint at Delaware Park in his debut, then stepped up to stakes company and won a 1 1/16-mile race by 2 1/2 lengths. He earned a strong 102 Beyer in the 6o1/2-furlong Swale in his return from a two-month layoff. If he runs as well, or better when he stretches out, he will be a major player. His 40-1 odds on early Friday afternoon provide good betting value.