06/08/2005 11:00PM

Alex over Giacomo head-to-head

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Horse racing fans and the race books here have been spoiled the past three years with horses going for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

With War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones racing for the crown, crowds flocked to Vegas to witness history and be part of the big party atmosphere.

The feeling has always been that when there's not a Triple Crown bid, Belmont Day is just another big stakes day, like Big Cap Day or Travers Day. And, granted, there are no big Belmont parties planned at Vegas casinos.

But the race books might not see as much of a dropoff in handle Saturday as one might expect.

"It's still an event," said Bally's race and sports book director John Avello, who sets the horse racing odds for the Caesars Entertainment properties. "They have a very nice undercard, and the Belmont field is bigger than normal, so if the weather is nice, they should still have a big crowd in New York and we should be packed here, too, and that's a good combination for a lot of betting."

With no Triple Crown bid to dominate the storylines, the Belmont is being billed as a rubber match between Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and Preakness winner Afleet Alex, especially since each finished third in the other's victory.

"The rivalry adds a lot to this race," said Lou D'Amico, race and sports book director at the Plaza in downtown Vegas. "If Afleet Alex runs the race he ran in the Preakness, he should win, but you don't know if that took a lot out of him. It should be exciting."

"Afleet Alex, with the Lemonade Stand and the spectacular way he won the Preakness, is quite a draw," Avello said. "Previous to Smarty Jones, and throwing out the following of Funny Cide the New York-bred, he carries as much appeal as any other Belmont favorite in recent years."

With that in mind, Avello made a head-to-head proposition wager with Afleet Alex at -260 (risk $2.60 for every $1 you want to profit) and Giacomo at +220 (win $2.20 for every $1 wagered). I've already gone on record on Las Vegas radio as liking Giacomo +220 and hoping public sentiment drives the price up higher (Note: My top pick in the race is Reverberate, and I said to box him in the exacta with Giacomo).

For those looking to bet on Afleet Alex, the Plaza has Afleet Alex at -240 and Giacomo +200.

On Thursday morning, Avello put up four other Belmont matchups: Reverberate -160 vs. Chekhov +130, Southern Africa -150 vs. Andromeda's Hero +120, Indy Storm -135 vs. Pinpoint +105, and A.P. Arrow -180 vs. Watchmon +150.

Avello didn't use Nolan's Cat, but D'Amico has Nolan's Cat -135 vs. Indy Storm +105.

Avello has also set the over/under on the running of the race at 2:28.20, with both sides laying -115, and said he would have matchups on Saturday's other big races.

More than football titles on the line

ArenaBowl XIX is being held at 11:30 a.m. Sunday here at the Thomas & Mack Center, the first time the Arena Football League's championship game has been held at a neutral site, like the Super Bowl.

When the Georgia Force takes on the Colorado Crush, more than the AFL title will be at stake. Las Vegas's suitability as host of a big-league sporting event will also be scrutinized. Las Vegas is in negotiations to host the 2007 NBA All-Star Game and, even though the ArenaBowl isn't as large an event as NBA's All-Star Weekend, a smooth weekend would go a long way toward proving Sin City's suitability.

AFL commissioner David Baker has said that when he decided to put this year's ArenaBowl in Vegas that he felt he was being a pioneer for other pro sports to follow.

As for the game, the Force opened at most Vegas sports books as a 3-point favorite with a total of 106 points. As of Thursday morning, the line had inched up to 3 1/2 at the Caesars Entertainment books, plus the Station Casinos and the Palms. The total was bet down to 105 1/2 at the Palms and was available as high as 106 1/2 at the MGM Mirage properties.

The value looks to be on the dog and the under in what should be a closely contested game. I'll be waiting to see if either number gets bet higher when the tourists come to town, but for documented purposes I'll take the Crush +3 1/2 and under the total of 106 1/2 (every half-point counts).

* There's another football championship being held this Sunday - World Bowl XIII with the Berlin Thunder taking on the Amsterdam Admirals in Dusseldorf, Germany. Caesars has Berlin favored by 3 1/2 with a total of 47.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Well, maybe not. At least I can tell you that Berlin has the league's offensive and defensive MVP's in quarterback Dave Ragone (formerly of the University of Louisville and now the property of the Houston Texans) and linebacker Rich Scanlon (Syracuse, Kansas City Chiefs). In all, Berlin has seven all-Europe players while Amsterdam has five, but the Admirals do have Jarrett Payton, former University of Miami player and the son of the late, great Walter Payton.