06/04/2008 11:00PM

Vegas offers plenty to bet on besides Big Brown to win


A lot has been made of Big Brown's owners and their Wall Street ties (or lack of Wall Street ties). But when it comes to an efficient market, horse racing is right there.

When I wrote last week about the early Vegas betting on the Belmont, I told how the Wynn racebook opened Big Brown at -300 (risk $3 for every $1 you want to profit) to complete his Triple Crown quest on the Tuesday after the Preakness. After a week of action and the news of Big Brown's quarter crack, the market adjusted and the price sat at -250 (risk $2.50 for every $1 you want to profit, or the same as 2-5 in racetrack odds) to slightly less at -260.

Lo and behold, when the morning line came out Wednesday after the draw for the 140th Belmont Stakes, Big Brown was installed as the 2-5 favorite. That was even after the inclusion of surprise entrant Guadalcanal, a maiden who is not expected to get much support at the windows. If anything, the influx of souvenir $2 tickets being bought by patrons will be more likely to drop Big Brown's odds lower than going against a ninth opponent.

Even after the draw, the Wynn opted to keep its future-bet price on Big Brown up and offered +210 on the field for those looking to bet against the Derby and Preakness winner. The Wynn is probably still looking to balance its books after offering Big Brown to win the Triple Crown at 20-1 in early April and seeing it pounded down to 10-1 in short order.

Bettors will be looking for other ways to bet the race, especially those who think it'll be a coronation of Big Brown's greatness.

Just like a sports bettor who doesn't know who will win but prefers to bet the over/under, the Wynn has a prop on the running time of the race. It's set at 2:27.80, with the "over" slightly favored at -120 and the "under" at even money. That makes sense, since the last Belmont winner to go under that time was Birdstone in 2004 when he ran down Smarty Jones in 2:27.50. Point Given (2001) is the only other Belmont winner to come in under that number this decade. Of course, those who think Big Brown will be all-out with no race on the horizon to save him for and believe jockey Kent Desormeaux won't have any reason to hold him back will likely bet under. The Belmont record is Secretariat's 2:24 in 1973.

Head-to-head matchups give another opportunity to bet the race within the race, as you don't have to pick the winner but just which horse will finish better. The Wynn posted five head-to-head matchups Thursday morning, highlighted by Big Brown -260 vs. Casino Drive +220 (win $2.20 for every $1 wagered). That's interesting with the price so similar to Big Brown's odds to win the race, and the odds will likely rise with him just having to beat one horse.

Denis of Cork is -150 vs. Macho Again, with the latter at +120. Tale of Ekati is -145 vs. Ready's Echo at +115; Da'Tara is -160 vs. Anak Nakal at +130; and Ready's Echo is -135 vs. Icabad Crane at +105.

Of those matchups, I prefer Macho Again at +120 (the equivalent of 6-5) as he's also my top choice to upset Big Brown. Macho Again didn't threaten Big Brown in the Preakness, but he does gain the services of Garrett Gomez and has the right to improve off that second-place finish. I also like Icabad Crane at +105 vs. Ready's Echo, as Icabad Crane is coming off a third-place finish in the Preakness in his graded stakes debut. Trainer Graham Motion has been outspoken about the use of steroids in racing (even though legal under the current rules . . . gee, doesn't this sound all too familiar from baseball) and would be a fitting one to spoil the party.

A Triple Crown bid always causes mixed emotions for a bettor/investor like myself. As a racing fan, a Triple Crown winner would be great for the sport. But there's not much chance for making money on him. I'll be swinging for the fences (without the aid of steroids) Saturday using Macho Again, Icabad Crane, Casino Drive, and others in various combination to try and hit a home run. If Big Brown pulls off the feat, I'll be among those cheering him across the wire because Triple Crowns are rare, but that's what makes them so special.

Golf bettors pining for Woods

The second golf major of the year, the U.S. Open, takes place next Thursday through Sunday at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. It's no surprise that Tiger Woods is the man to beat, even though he hasn't played in a tournament since the Masters in April and undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Woods is a solid 7-4 favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton (he's such a low price that we used to call that a prohibitive favorite, but it's been shown that no price is too low for bettors to back Woods).

Phil Mickelson is the second choice at 8-1, and it's another big gap back to Jim Furyk at 20-1; Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, and Adam Scott at 25-1; and Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Geoff Ogilvy, and Stewart Cink at 30-1.

Earlier this year, Woods was just 4-1 to win the Grand Slam but those bettors lost quickly. Now, those who think he'll win the remaining three majors can get 8-1 at the Hilton. The prop has Woods at 3-1 to win exactly two majors, 8-5 to win exactly one major, and - if you think it's just not gonna be his year - he's 7-4 to win zero majors in 2008.