05/28/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown at 2-5 may be a bargain


Belmont Park's official track morning line for next Saturday's Belmont Stakes won't be posted until the field is drawn Wednesday, but oddsmakers here in Las Vegas and elsewhere around the world have already been taking bets on Big Brown's Triple Crown bid.

As of Thursday morning, the Wynn Las Vegas had Big Brown listed at -260 (risk $2.60 for every $1 you want to profit) to win the Belmont with +220 (win $2.20 for every $1 wagered) on the field of all other runners. Those are sports book money lines, but if you convert it to traditional racetrack odds, the -260 would result in a payoff slightly less than 2-5 - which is a -250 money line, or winning 40 cents for every dollar wagered - or a $2.80 payoff on a $2 win bet.

Conventional wisdom says that Big Brown will likely pay less than that through the parimutuel pool if he wins on June 7, especially when you factor in the flood of anticipated "souvenir" tickets that will bought on Big Brown in case he ends the 30-year Triple Crown drought.

In fact, when the prop was first posted a week ago Tuesday, Wynn race and sports book director John Avello made Big Brown -300 to pull off the feat with +250 that he wouldn't. He only put up the prop after he was reasonably sure of the field that Big Brown would face, which includes the undefeated Casino Drive. When the news broke this past Sunday that Big Brown had a quarter crack and had missed some training, however, Avello dropped it on air (meaning without taking a bet) to -250/+210. He has since taken more money on Big Brown and raised it to the current -260/+210.

Upcoming contests at race books

Most of the discussion in the race books these days revolves around the potential Triple Crown, but there are a number of upcoming opportunities for horseplayers to go for the money and the glory themselves.

* Next Thursday, June 5, the Gold Coast is hosting a one-day $100 buy-in contest, with the top five finishers qualifying for the Horseplayer World Series, to be held at the Orleans on Feb. 19-21, 2009. There are a couple of bigger tournaments with higher entry fees and more Horseplayer World Series berths: the Gold Coast Summer Classic on July 24-26 and the Fall Classic at the Orleans on Oct. 9-11. Other world series qualifying tournaments held throughout the country and online can be found at coastrace.com.

* On Fridays, Jerry's Nugget is hosting a rare contest for East Coast handicappers (most Vegas contests use SoCal racing), which comes in handy with Hollywood running on Friday nights. Entry requires a More Club membership (free) and a $300 wager. Players get one entry for each $300 wager. After making each wager, the player then fills out an entry card with five of eight predetermined races at an East Coast track. Points are accumulated based on each horse's win, place, and show payoffs. The person with the top score will win $500 with the runner-up receiving $300. Contest windows open at 9 a.m. each Friday at Jerry's Nugget, which provides free Daily Racing Forms.

* The South Point has announced a year-long series of contests leading up to the South Point Finale Handicapping Contest on April 17-18, 2009. The finale will have a $500 entry fee, but there are qualifying contests - called Pick Our Five contests - for just $150 apiece, to be held June 19, Sept. 4, Oct. 16, Nov. 20, and Jan. 19 at the South Point. Players make mythical $20 across-the-board wagers on five mandatory races and five of their own choice. The top five finishers in each contest will earn a free South Point entry, plus anyone picking all five winners in the mandatory races will also qualify.

* On Saturdays, the Las Vegas Hilton has SuperBook Saturdays with a $30 buy-in contest. All entry fees are paid back as prize money, with the Hilton seeding the pool with an extra $500.

* Time is fast approaching for the first of the local qualifying events held by the Station Casinos for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, to be held Jan. 23-24, 2009, at the Red Rock Resort. The Red Rock will host the first $200 buy-in event on June 21, with the others being July 26 at Santa Fe Station, Aug. 30 at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, and Dec. 6 at Aliante Station in North Las Vegas. The Red Rock will also host a Dec. 13 event for 100 players who qualify in 10 separate $40 buy-in contests throughout the year. The full list of those events as well as other qualifying tournaments throughout the country can be found at ntra.com/nhc.

World Series of Poker under way

The World Series of Poker was scheduled to begin Friday at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and runs through July 14 with 55 different tournaments, including all kinds of poker (no-limit hold'em, limit hold'em, pot-limit hold'em, stud, Omaha, Razz, etc.).

Actually, that July 14 end date is misleading because the $10,000 No-Limit Texas Hold'em World Championship aka the Main Event - will start on July 3, but when the final table is determined on July 14, those nine players will take 117 days off and return on Nov. 9 to compete for the title and the coveted championship bracelet. That is being done to allow the World Series of Poker to market the event and build up the hype (and make stars of the finalists), and the final table will be shown on ESPN (on tape delay) starting at 9 p.m. Eastern on Nov. 11, less than 24 hours after the winner is determined instead of months later.

Last year, the number of entrants in the Main Event dropped to 6,358 from the record 8,773 that took part in 2006, but the World Series of Poker as a whole had a record 54,288 entries in all events with total payouts of nearly $160 million.