04/01/2002 12:00AM

Bookies 2, public 0 in semifinals

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Bookmakers didn't only have a Good Friday, they had a Good Saturday, too, as two underdogs pulled upsets at the Final Four.

Indiana advanced to Monday night's title game with a 73-64 win over Oklahoma in Saturday's first national semifinal. Despite Indiana's upset of Duke and the Hoosiers' Cinderella status, bettors backed Oklahoma from a 5 1/2- to a 7-point favorite.

The public was also on the wrong side in the other semifinal as Kansas opened as a 1-point favorite over Maryland, got bet down to pick-em and then steamed all the way up to 2 by tipoff. Maryland was able to run with the Jayhawks and won fairly easily, 97-88, after holding off a late Kansas rally.

Bettors saved a little face as both games went over their totals. The over/under on the Kansas-Maryland game opened at 167 and was bet up to 169.

Heading into Monday night's title game - in which Maryland had opened as a 7 1/2-point favorite before being bet up to 8 and then back down to 7 1/2 - favorites in the tournament held a slight 31-28-3 edge against the spread. The over was 33-27-2, with the over coming in on the four regional finals and the semifinals.

With Oklahoma and Kansas losing Saturday, that also eliminated most books' liability on their future books. Oklahoma was as high as 75-1 at some books, and Kansas was a popular future book bet all season after opening at 15-1.

Horseplayers' Mardi Gras

Wednesday begins a full week of activities at The Orleans on West Tropicana Avenue. It's time for the twice a year Championship at The Orleans on Thursday through Sunday, but the tournament is only part of the festivities, which start this week and spill into early next week.

On Wednesday, people who registered for the Championship before March 13 will be competing in a free $20,000 early-bird contest on the last five races at Santa Anita. The main event, with its $500 buy-in and expected field of 700, begins Thursday morning in the Mardi Gras Ballroom. Contestants make a dozen $100 tournament win bets each of the three days to try and take down the estimated $112,000 first prize. Full track odds are paid for the first $20 wagered and the remaining $80 is capped at 20-1.

The liberal prize structure pays down to 80th place and there are also daily prizes of $3,500 for first, $2,000 for second, $1,000 for third, and $500 for fourth through 10th. The daily prizes are furnished by Coast Resorts and don't come out of the entry fees.

Winners will be presented with their checks at 10 a.m. Sunday, but that doesn't end the activities for horseplayers. Monday is the ninth annual Shoemaker Foundation Golf Classic at Spanish Trail Country Club.

Those who donated to the Shoemaker Foundation get to play with top jockeys and sports personalities in a shotgun scramble tournament and also attend an awards dinner, where a silent auction will be held to raise additional money for the foundation.

Finally, a lot of the jockeys who participate in the golf tournament will stick around for a breakfast Tuesday morning at The Orleans. Admission is free for Coast Resorts Turf Club members (and membership is free by signing up at The Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, or Suncoast), but tickets must be claimed by Wednesday. Additional tickets are $25 with all proceeds going to benefit the Shoemaker Foundation, which helps riders with debilitating illness or injuries.

"These are worthwhile events and we're proud to be associated with them," said Bob Gregorka, race director for Coast Resorts. "And it's a great way to thank our loyal horseplayers."

Close encounters on the diamond

The Las Vegas 51s are the Dodgers's AAA team with the funny name (which is derived from nearby Area 51) and alien logo, but the team is laughing its way to the bank as it led the minor league in merchandise sales last year.

The 51s open their season at Cashman Field Thursday at 7:10 p.m. against the Calgary Cannons. All fans with military I.D. receive free admission on opening night, while civilians have to pay $6 for general admission, $7 for field seating, $8 for plaza seating, and $10 for field seating.

Season tickets and multi-game packages are available, as well as an "Out of this World Family Deal" that includes four tickets, four meals at Carl's Jr., two caps and two T-shirts for $24.95.

"Families are definitely a priority for any minor-league team," said Aaron Artman, director of marketing and communications.

On most nights you can buy a general admission seat and move closer. But that's not the case on nights with certain promotional events, such as Saturday's first fireworks show of the season. The display follows the 7:10 p.m. game vs. the Cannons.

This year's team features Chin-Feng Chen, an outfielder from Taiwan. Chen batted .314 with 17 homers at AA Jacksonville last year, and is one of the Dodgers's top prospects. Other promising players include outfielder Luke Allen and shortstop Joe Thurston.