04/18/2002 11:00PM

Tear up tickets on early favorite Officer


LAS VEGAS - Officer's tendon injury on Thursday was beneficial to Kentucky Derby future books in Nevada.

Officer was the early favorite for the Derby last fall before he lost the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He opened at 30-1 at Coast Resorts in August and was bet all the way down to 2-1 by BC Week in October. At the Park Place Entertainment properties, Officer opened at 12-1 and was also a popular play.

Despite some losses, Officer remained a favorite among bettors, even after the colt's trainer, Bob Baffert, said the Derby was no longer a goal.

Betting on Officer slowed down early this year, since Baffert didn't enter him in any major Derby preps, and he slowly disappeared from future books in Vegas.

However, when Officer romped April 7 in the Zany Tactics Stakes at Santa Anita and was entered in Saturday's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, more bettors came forward and inquired why Officer wasn't available to bet on the Derby futures.

"Quite a few people came in the last few weeks wanting to bet him," said John Avello, who sets the Park Place future books odds from his office at Bally's. "I told them he was off the board because he wasn't being aimed for the Derby, but they insisted they wanted to bet him."

Avello said the bettors felt Baffert didn't have any legitimate Derby contenders - this was before the acquisition of War Emblem - and thought he still might enter Officer in the Derby if he won the Lexington.

"I gave them the odds that were in the computer when we took him off," Avello said. "We've had him at 50-1, 100-1, and even 150-1 last week."

Obviously, with Officer now heading back to California, all bets on him are losers. But Avello can rest assured that he gave bettors a fair shake.

"We're not here to deceive anybody," he said. "I want their money only if they really think a horse has a chance."

Last year Avello drafted what he has dubbed the DRF rule, which is: "If the bettor can verify that a wager had been made after a horse was declared, the wager will be refunded."

Avello said he would accept as proof that a horse is declared out a story from Daily Racing Form or any other credible racing publication.

"If I'm caught napping and someone bets a horse after it should have been taken off the board, I'll refund the money," Avello said. "Our reputation is more important."

Preakness futures get under way

An Officer anecdote: Frank Minervini of the Coast Casinos, the new name for Coast Resorts, put up Preakness futures this past week. Officer opened at 18-1, and was the most popular play, being bet down to 15-1 and then 12-1. That's more money for the house now that he's out.

Harlan's Holiday and Medaglia d'Oro were the co-favorites at 5-1. Buddha was next at 6-1, and was bet down to 5-1. With Officer out, 33 horses remain on the list.

NFL futures unaffected by draft

Entering the NFL draft, which concludes Sunday, the Rams were the 5-2 favorite to win the Super Bowl, according to odds released by Las Vegas Sports Consultants. Those are the same odds that the Rams opened at when they were released in January.

The Steelers are the second choice at 6-1, followed by the Eagles at 8-1; the Colts, Raiders, and defending Super Bowl champion Patriots are next at 10-1; the 49ers, Broncos and Dolphins at 12-1; and the Packers, Bears and Titans at 15-1. The 2000-01 champion Ravens, who continue to lose players in salary-cap moves, have risen from 15-1 to 18-1.

While teams will certainly be filling holes in their lineups, and coaches will proclaim that they are happy with their picks, don't expect a key player or two to affect greatly any team's Super Bowl future odds. Football is too much of a team game for one or two players to make a huge difference, especially rookies.

Race & Sports Book notes

No two NBA playoff games are being played at the same time, and every game is on TV (at least in the sports books). That helps increase betting handle on the games.

Now, if only the NBA would keep games from tipping off immediately after an earlier one ends so winners can cash their tickets and re-bet. But don't expect commissioner David Stern, who doesn't even like to acknowledge that people bet on his league's games, to listen to that request.

The starting times are staggered to increase TV ratings, not for betting purposes.

o Despite NHL totals being lowered in the playoffs, five of the first eight games went under on Wednesday and Thursday. But the biggest surprise was that the No. 1 seeds in each conference, Detroit and Boston, both lost their opening games as prohibitive favorites.

o The Station Casinos begin a co-mingled horse handicapping contest on Wednesdays at seven properties. The individual Stations will keep their existing contests, including Texas Station's own Wednesday contest.

o The Coast Casinos ended its "King of the Hill" handicapping contest on Thursdays with the close of the Santa Anita meet. A new contest is in the works.