04/29/2009 11:00PM

Vegas books pulling for Derby longshots


LAS VEGAS - The four horsemen of the apocalypse are Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death. As far as Las Vegas race book directors are concerned, they're riding I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk, and Friesan Fire in Saturday's 135th running of the Kentucky Derby.

All four have taken significant action throughout the spring in this city's Derby future books, so it's not much of a revelation that the race book directors will be cheering for anyone but that quartet to be wearing the roses. Derby future books are usually a fairly easy proposition for the books to win, since action can be taken on hundreds of 3-year-olds but only 20 make the gate and there's only one eventual winner. Besides, when contenders on the Derby trail get declared from the race, that money is locked up. On the surface, this year appears no different, with horses like Midshipman, Old Fashioned, and The Pamplemousse dropping by the wayside, and a look at the Kentucky Derby Future Wager shows that 11 of the individual entries in Pool 3 less than a month ago didn't even make it to the entry box, including late defections Quality Road and Square Eddie. However, John Avello, director of race and sports book operations at Wynn Las Vegas, who runs the biggest Derby future book in town, said he could still lose because of those four top contenders still in the race.

"My future book is in better shape than it was a few weeks ago," Avello said, "but not as much as you might think. A lot of those defections were horses that were already defective."

That sentiment was echoed by others, including Jay Kornegay, race and sports book director at the Las Vegas Hilton.

"We're not looking too bad on futures like most years but still have a couple we'll lose on," Kornegay said. "Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk, and I Want Revenge are not good for us. Almost everyone else we'll be in pretty good shape. With that said, I would have still preferred to see the best field possible. I don't like to see contenders getting hurt and missing the Derby."

The Lucky's race and sports books, located in the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas, the Grand Sierra in Reno, and the Terrible's casinos in Southern Nevada, are giving bettors another opportunity to bet on or against the top four contenders with a "Fab Four vs. the Field" proposition wager. The bet opened at -350 (risk $3.50 for every $1 you want to profit) if you want the combination of I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk and Friesan Fire and +270 (win $2.70 for every $1 risked) on any other horse.

"This year, it's all about those Fab Four horses," said Dan Shapiro, marketing director for Lucky's. "We wanted to offer a prop that pits them against the rest of the field. It's always nice to have 16 horses going for you against four. But then again, those four all figure pretty tough, and there are a handful of horses this year that have little or no shot."

For those looking to find the worst of the worst, Shapiro said the Lucky's books also will be offering "odds to finish last" as well as other props and head-to-head matchups.

In the past, Avello has usually limited his matchups to 10, with one horse against one other horse, but this year he said he's posting matchups with each of the top four against each other, kind of their own round-robin tournament.

The Wynn already had several props posted even before the Wednesday draw. The running time of the race was put up a few weeks ago. The over/under was set at 2:01.60, with the over at -115 and the under at -105. Since then, money has come in on the over, which as of Thursday was at -150 with the under +130.

A prop on the win mutuel payoff was set at $18.50, with the over actually favored at -140. The top four contenders, if you believe conventional wisdom or the Derby morning line by Mike Battaglia, would be the only ones to come in under that price, but the under has been bet all the way to -210 favoritism, with the over at +180.

The prop on whether the winner's saddlecloth number would be odd or even opened -110 each way. After the draw, with more contenders getting odd numbers, the odd was adjusted to -160, with even at +140.

As of Thursday morning, I hadn't seen any Vegas books offering a prop tied to Saturday's other big sporting event, the Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao fight at the MGM Grand. The bodoglife.com offshore book had the winning margin (in lengths) in the Derby vs. the number of knockdowns in the bout.

As for any horse winning the Triple Crown this year, the Wynn opened the prop last fall with the "no" as the -900 favorite and a price of +750 for those who thought a horse could sweep the series. As of Thursday, the "no" was down to -750, with the "yes" at +550.

"The big pops come in on the no, but all the little bets on are on the yes," Avello said. "I've been booking that prop for 20 years and obviously haven't had to pay off on the yes, but I've been in some bad spots with some very good horses."

We'll see if one of the four makes him sweat again.

* Tuley the Tout's Derby selections: 1. Regal Ransom; 2. Pioneerof the Nile; 3. Mr. Hot Stuff; longshot: Musket Man.