04/24/2003 11:00PM

Two bets, two different strategies


With the 129th Run for the Roses on Saturday, it is time to take a final look at this year's Kentucky Derby future bet season.

Future-book wagering on the Derby has been a longtime standard of race books in Las Vegas. With the advent of the parimutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager, first conducted in 1999, bettors here have another option.

While the parimutuel future bet is relatively new, it is sure to outpace the local fixed-odds offerings. The number of outlets for the Kentucky Derby Future Wager will continue to grow, while fixed-odds futures are conducted by relatively few race books.

But Nevada's fixed-odds futures still offer an opportunity to grab the best price on a horse before he becomes horse racing's newest household name.

When it comes to betting strategy, each form of the future wager has a proven way to go.

With the Las Vegas fixed-odds propositions, the best prices are usually secured as soon as the future book opens. The two most notable fixed-odds future books in Las Vegas, Bally's and Coast Casinos, hang the first offerings shortly after the Breeders' Cup Juvenile each year. Astute players will pass on the Juvenile winner for lesser-known horses with potential. When the field breaks from the starting gate for Saturday's Derby, only one who competed in last years Breeders' Cup Juvenile will be running, Kafwain.

So, the key to finding juicy prices on the fixed-odds wager is to bet on a horse before he becomes the flavor of the week. Those who jumped on the Empire Maker bandwagon while Juvenile winner Vindication was getting played off the board last fall now have the Derby favorite at a pricey overlay. After the first rush of wagers, odds are the odds won't be attractive anymore.

The parimutuel pools offer another strategy. The three separate pools are placed on weekends that have a cluster of stakes races for Derby hopefuls, and betting early in the four-day wagering period could leave a player frustrated with the spread between the opening odds on Thursday and the closing price on Sunday. In the parimutuel offering, the bulk of action comes in the final moments before the pool closes.

Thus, value is usually found on a promising prospect that doesn't win one of those Derby preps. Horses who didn't fire in the big races on a Kentucky Derby Future Wager weekend will be a better price after the race than before. The catch is you have to be able to forgive his performance.

Empire Maker offers an example of this method of future betting, too. Empire Maker's runner-up effort in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita resulted in his odds closing at 12-1 in the first pool. He closed at 7-2 in Pool 2 and 5-2 in Pool 3. With Empire Maker expected to be a heavy Derby favorite, those who forgave his Sham performance and bet him in Pool 1 are holding an overlay.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.