01/18/2007 12:00AM

Which horse best rewarded bettors?


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the seventh annual ROI Awards.

While horse racing's Eclipse Awards will be given out Monday night in Beverly Hills, Calif., to the equine stars who won the biggest races in 2006 regardless of price, this show here in Las Vegas honors those that gave bettors the most value for the wagering dollar last year. ROI stands for return on investment, and for our purposes it refers to the average payoff you would have received if you had wagered $2 to win on each of a horse's races during the course of the year.

It's nice to watch a great horse romp to an impressive victory as an odds-on favorite, but not a man alive paid the rent by betting 4-5.

Since these are meant as national awards, only horses who ran at major U.S. simulcast tracks that attracted sizable betting pools were considered, with a heavy emphasis on stakes races.

So, without further ado, the envelopes please . . .

Two-year-old female: Dreaming of Anna will likely win the Eclipse in this category with an undefeated season capped off with her victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but the winning payoffs in her four races were $4.20, $3.20, $6.30, and $7.20. That gives her $20.90 in total parimutuel payoffs, which we then divide by four races to give her an ROI of $5.23. That's a tidy profit, but bettors cashed in much better with others in the division. Meadow Breeze was the most consistent money-earner on the year as she won four races, highlighted by a 34-1 upset in Belmont's Grade 1 Matron, out of nine starts for cumulative payoffs of $106.10 and an ROI of $11.79. But she was only third in the division as Cash Included won a maiden special weight at Del Mar at 11-1 and the Grade 1 Oak Leaf at 13-1 for cumulative payoffs of $55 in four starts for an ROI of $13.75. They were all blown away by Bel Air Beauty, who won only one race on the year in three starts, but it was a doozy at $96.40 in Keeneland's Grade 2 Alcibiades. That made her ROI a robust $32.13.

Two-year-old male: This division had a lot of low-priced winners in 2006, so Street Sense's $32.40 victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was almost enough to give him the ROI Award along with a $3.40 payoff in his maiden victory for an ROI of $7.16 from four starts. But he was edged out by Stormello, who paid $22.20 in his maiden win at Del Mar and $25.80 in his victory in the Norfolk BC at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet for combined payoffs of $48 in six races for an ROI of $8.

Three-year-old male: If you thought that winning ROI was low, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Kentucky Derby prep races were mostly won by favorites, but even Sinister Minister's $19.40 win in the Blue Grass didn't hold up as he raced six times with only one more victory and an ROI of $4.53. Barbaro actually topped that with an ROI of $5.48 in five races. In his only loss of the year, when he broke down in the Preakness, he passed the torch to Bernardini, who won the race at 13-1 and rattled off six straight victories, piling up $47.20 in cumulative payoffs from eight starts for an ROI of $5.90 and the division title.

Three-year-old female: The battle was just as tight for the 3-year-old females. Lemons Forever won an optional claiming race at Oaklawn at 5-1 and added the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at $96.20 to finish the year with earnings of $109.40 from nine races for an ROI of $12.16, but Pine Island ended up with an ROI of $12.34 from seven starts, including a $59.80 score in her maiden victory at Gulfstream, an $18.20 victory in a Belmont allowance race, and then $4.30 and $4.10 victories in the Grade 1 Alabama and Grade 1 Gazelle.

Older male: Invasor probably deserves a Special ROI Award for going 4 for 4 in North America and probably winning the Horse of the Year Eclipse and still maintaining a $10.20 ROI from four starts. He had wins of $15.40 in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special, $4.50 in Belmont's Grade 1 Suburban Handicap, $5.50 in Saratoga's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, and then a generous $15.40 in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic. The divisional honor, however, goes to Seek Gold, who paid a whopping $185.40 in Churchill's Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap, and even though that was his sole win of the year from six starts, it still represents an ROI of $30.90.

Older female: This was shaping up to be the lowest-earning category of the year and the tightest race, with Healthy Addiction having a final ROI of $4.33, Fleet Indian at $4.32, and Spun Sugar at $4.07. But Round Pond's $29.80 score in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, along with two chalky wins at Oaklawn, gave her $36 in earnings from five starts and an ROI of $7.20.

Sprinter: Thor's Echo won the Breeders' Cup Sprint and returned $33.20 to increase his ROI to $6.23 from six starts on the year after adding a $4.20 win in Laurel's Grade 1 De Francis Dash. It wasn't enough to catch Pure as Gold, who raced 11 times in 2006 and won five races, highlighted by a $48.20 score in Del Mar's Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap and $17.80 in Santa Anita's Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap to earn $88.60 total and an ROI of $8.05.

Turf female: Ouija Board won the BC Filly and Mare Turf at $4.80, but you know that doesn't cut it at the ROI Awards. Silver Cup ran away with this title with victories in her only three starts of the year - the Grade 2 San Gorgonio, Grade 2 Buena Vista, and Grade 2 Santa Ana handicaps - at $35.40, $16.20, and $7.60 for an ROI of $19.73. That's quite impressive, and in most years that would be enough to win the ROI Horse of the Year. But that leads us to the final category . . .

Turf male and ROI HOY: Red Rocks invaded from England and won the BC Turf in his only American start at $23.60, but even that wasn't enough to top the accomplishments of Miesque's Approval. He started the year by winning Gulfstream's Sunshine Millions Turf at $99.60, then won Keeneland's Grade 2 Maker's Mark at $14 and had two chalky wins at Churchill and Monmouth before capping the year with a $50.60 upset in the BC Mile. In all, he earned $171.60 in seven starts for an impressive ROI of $24.51 to win the divisional title over Red Rocks and also the ROI HOY for consistently hitting at juicy prices.

That's it for this year's honors. Have a good night, and don't forget to tip your waitresses.