02/07/2003 1:00AM

Vindication's departure no reason for celebration

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If you thought it was easy to run a Kentucky Derby future book, guess again. The loss of Derby favorite Vindication and Powerful Touch to injuries is a double-edged sword.

While the race books can bank all the money bet on those two horses, John Avello, the race and sports book director for Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, would rather see them run.

"It was too far away for us to be joyous about it," said Avello. "We'd rather see Vindication run. Even at low odds he would have taken money."

Vindication was taken down at 3-1 odds.

No one needs to shed tears for the book operators. Betting on the Derby winner 12 weeks before the first Saturday in May deserves a generous price.

"The first thing we'll do with Vindication out is lower the next couple a choices a little," Avello said. "Sky Mesa and Empire Maker become the next favorites."

This week, Churchill Downs will conduct Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which will be open from Thursday through Sunday. Las Vegas horseplayers will have the chance to compare odds between Churchill's parimutuel Future Wager and the future wager fixed odds offered in Las Vegas future books.

Nowhere else in the country do horseplayers have such an advantage.

"Our future book action was very heavy, facing the first Future Wager pool [last year]," Avello said. "Looking at this group of horses, you would think the Derby winner would come from the first pool."

People running the race books welcome the competition from Churchill's Future Wager because it is good for the customer.

"It gives you a chance to compare," said Frank Minervini, oddsmaker for Coast Resorts. "You can get locked in with us at odds you like rather than wait until Sunday when their pool closes."

The Coast Resorts Derby future book opened in July 2002, with Vindication as a huge longshot.

"We opened him at 80-1, he was 20-1 before the Breeders' Cup," Minervini said. "He was a big liability for us." Vindication was taken off the board there at 5-2.

No one wants to see horses get hurt, especially Minervini, who was a former jockey.

Minervini said he took much more money on the fixed-odds futures last year than on Churchill's parimutuel bet.

"We stayed open last year while the Future Wager was going on," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot of parimutuel action compared with the fixed-odds future."

"Here, people watch the simulcasts and if they see a horse they like, they can get a good number locked in immediately."

Empire Maker (8-1) and Hold That Tiger (8-1) are now the Derby co-favorites at Coast Resorts.

Minervini said that the following horses have taken recent action: Atswhatimtalknabout, Colita, Funny Cide, Indy Dancer, Ministers Wild Cat, and Ten Most Wanted.

At the Imperial Palace, assistant race book manager Paul Morris said there is a whopping 218 horses listed in the IP's future book. He takes a lot of action, he said, "because horses can be nominated late to the Triple Crown."

The favorites at the IP include Empire Maker (8-1), Indy Dancer (8-1), Sky Mesa (8-1) and Hold That Tiger (10-1). Vindication was taken down at 7-2 odds.

Some of the IP hot horses are Badge of Silver, Christine's Outlaw, Midaseyes, and Seattle Hoofer.

A unique IP future wager is on the Derby jockeys and trainers. Jerry Bailey (5-2) is favored to win among 31 listed riders. Mike Smith took a lot of action before he lost the mount on Vindication.

Among 47 listed trainers, Bob Baffert is a prohibitive 4-5 chalk, while Todd Pletcher is next at 5-1.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up Show.