Friday, June 6, 2003 | 10:10 a.m.
With a small field challenging Funny Cide in New York on Saturday, Robert Walker, director of race and sports books for MGM Properties, believes the Belmont Stakes will not draw much gambling attention.
Moreover, another story or two has overshadowed Funny Cide's run to become the first horse since Affirmed, in 1978, to win the sport's fabled Triple Crown.
"The fact is, you have a horse going for the Triple Crown," Walker said. "But it's not just any horse. It's a gelding and a New York-bred going back to the Belmont to win it all.
"It's a huge story. Or, if it weren't for Annika and Sammy Sosa recently, it would be a huge story."
Annika Sorenstam recently became the first female in half a century to compete in a PGA Tour event when she played in the Colonial, where she missed the cut but drew an abundance of attention.
Cork was discovered in the shattered bat of Sosa, the sluggin' Chicago Cub, on Tuesday, and the possible tainting of his image has been a hot topic on the air waves and in print.
Then there's Funny Cide, who is 3-for-3 on his home track and was purchased by a group of six pals, looking for a reason to be together more frequently, in upstate New York.
"People are starting to talk about it more on the radio shows, and I've gotten several calls today about it," Walker said. "I just wish there were more horses in it, from a betting standpoint.
"I have to bet the trifectas in these races, because it's the only way to make money. And that makes it hard, not to have him on top. That's not what I want to see. I want to see him win it. With six horses, there's no value."
Race books in Las Vegas casinos won't start taking parimutuel wagers on the Belmont until today.
Stardust race and sports supervisor Eric Biggio is hopeful that the Belmont will mirror the Kentucky Derby, which produced the highest handle for that race in four years last month.
"A New York horse at the Belmont, that should be a good scene," said Biggio, who attended the Belmont in 1998, when Real Quiet missed its chance at the Triple Crown after winning in Kentucky and the Preakness.
Biggio went out of his way to buy a copy of the New York Post on Thursday morning.
"They're really hyping up the horse," he said. "It will create some atmosphere. Real Quiet petered out down the stretch, but it was a carnival scene. There was a lot of pressure on the jockey and trainer, but (Funny Cide) seems real strong. I think he can do it."
Imperial Palace is running a handicapping contest, for a $10 entry fee, in which winners and alternates are picked in designated races at Belmont and a West Coast track. Point awards are 20-10-5, including the mutuel price of the selected horse.
The payoff is $800 for winning, $400 to place and $200 to show.
Imperial Palace race book manager Tara Martinez said more money has been wagered, on its futures book, on the other five horses. Funny Cide has been listed at even money.
"I'm expecting a big crowd, with it possibly being the first Triple Crown winner since 1978," Martinez said. "And, hopefully, it will generate a lot of business."