Money equations with Fu-Peg add up to an exacta science

125th Preakness

May 20, 2000|By JOHN EISENBERG

With a 3-5 favorite in the field, the Preakness isn't a mystery for bettors this year. It's a dare.

Do you dare bet against a horse who has a serious shot at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978?

Are you willing to live with looking extremely stupid in hindsight?

The Umpteenth Annual Unofficial Preakness Betting Guide, faithfully presented in this space on race day, raises the point not to be catty, but as a public service, a warning.

Just to let you know what could be at stake when you reach the betting window today.

Bets are always about money, but this one could involve your reputation, too.

When Secretariat won the Preakness at 3-10 odds 27 years ago, he beat a horse named Sham who left the starting gate as the second choice at 3-1. A lot of folks bet on Sham that day, in other words.

Talk about a choice that looks bad in the rear-view mirror.

Not only did the bettors lose their money, but they also were consigned to spending the rest of their lives branded by racing's version of a scarlet letter - the knowledge that they bet against the century's greatest thoroughbred in the Preakness.

Duh.

None of the thousands who made that mistake - let's called them "the Shammed" - would ever confess to it now, if they ever did. But as the saying goes, they still have to look at themselves in the mirror.

You could end up in the same position today if you bet against Fusaichi Pegasus, the Kentucky Derby-winning colt whose obvious talent has the racing industry dreaming of a Sport Illustrated cover.

If you bet on him and he wins at Pimlico and also goes on to take the Belmont Stakes, you're going to look smart. You got it right.

But if you bet on someone else, "Sham" on you.

That's offered not as handicapping advice, but just as a warning to the many fans planning to back Red Bullet, the probable second choice, or any of the other six horses in today's field.

Not to discourage you, but even those challengers probably are putting a nickel or three on the favorite.

Confident, they're not."Not only would I trade my horse for [Fu-Peg] right now," said Bob Baffert, trainer of Captain Steve, "but I'd throw in [top filly] Silverbulletday, too."

What does Baffert's horse have to do to win?

"Turn into Captain Steve Pegasus at the head of the stretch," the trainer said.

The problem with betting on Fusaichi Pegasus, of course, is that you aren't going to get rich doing it, and that's kind of the point, right?

If the colt wins at 3-5 odds, a $2 win bet will return somewhere in the vicinity of three cents above the original wager. How exciting.

On the other hand, handing over a $2 win bet on 20-1 shot Hugh Hefner is tantamount to taking the two bills and just giving them to someone driving by your house. You probably aren't going to get the money back.

The solution? The Umpteenth Annual Unofficial Preakness Betting Guide is advising all its suckers, er, clients to consider making an exacta wager this year instead of a simple win bet.

For those who don't know, the exacta is a bet in which you have to pick the top two finishers instead of just the winner.

The odds are higher, but so is the payoff.

You could bet $2 on Fusaichi Pegasus to win and Red Bullet to finish second, and depending on the odds, get as much as $20 in return.

Or you could really go nuts and bet on Fu-Peg to win and Hugh Hefner to finish second and, if Hef comes in second, you could win something like $75 and a pair of pajamas.

Seems like the way to go, doesn't it? You can uphold your reputation and still make a little money provided Fu-Peg doesn't run like a depressed horse who has spent the previous three days in isolation on Pimlico's east side.

Picking the right second-place horse is the key, and don't worry, the Unofficial Preakness Betting Guide is here to help. Here's some inside info on each of the other horses in the field:

High Yield: Finished so far back in the Derby that trainer D. Wayne Lukas claimed not to know him.

Captain Steve: Distracted by trade rumors.

Snuck In: Nine career starts, nine in-the-money finishes. Streak in jeopardy.

Red Bullet: If he wins, will change pronunciation to "Red Bool-ay."

Impeachment: Ditto-head alert. Mother is Misconduct. Grandfather is Criminal Type.

Hal's Hope: Speedster led Kentucky Derby for three-quarters of a mile. He reportedly was upset that trainer didn't tell him race was a trifle longer.

Hugh Hefner: Rumor is true. Will race in bathrobe.

Sure, there's always a chance one of these contenders will jump up and surprise Fusaichi Pegasus, particularly if rain muddies the track.

But there's a better chance Fu-Peg will gobble up the second jewel of the Triple Crown, perhaps with a performance that writes some new Pimlico lore.

Call it Fu-Peg, Red Bullet and Snuck In, in that order.

And if you bet against the favorite, don't worry, it's just the rest of your life.

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