10/26/2005 11:00PM

Breeders' Cup party time all over town

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Out-of-towners who have come to Las Vegas for both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup know it's two different kinds of crowds and two totally different atmospheres.

While Derby Day annually has an outstanding undercard at Churchill Downs and strong cards at tracks from coast to coast, it's still all about the "most exciting two minutes in sports." If you're intent on spending the day playing the ponies, you can find a place to sit and spread out your Daily Racing Form without too much trouble. Plus, the sports book side isn't overcrowded with just a few baseball and basketball games competing for attention.

However, on Breeders' Cup Day, with eight championship races, there are many more horseplayers who are camping out for the whole day. In addition, with a full slate of college football games, all of the seats in most race and sports books are taken. If you haven't had the foresight (or bankroll) to get a seat reserved and don't have the time or inclination to show up several hours early, you might well be out of luck.

That's why Breeders' Cup parties are much more important than Derby parties, as they make it a lot more comfortable for everyone.

The biggest and most popular parties are held at the Orleans, Gold Coast, and Suncoast as they open up ballrooms to show the races on big-screen TV's with plenty of betting windows to help keep big (and small) bettors from getting shut out. Tickets are available in the respective race books and include a voucher for a free Breeders' Cup T-shirts, to be given out at 1 p.m.

The Coast Casinos' property on the Strip, the Barbary Coast, also has a party in its race book and T-shirts available with a $20 BC bet.

The other major local casino chain in town, Station Casinos, doesn't have parties at its properties, but it is having a special $10,000 twin quinella wager (it's usually $5,000) on two Breeders' Cup races. The Station-branded properties (Palace, Boulder, Sunset, Texas, Santa Fe, and Green Valley Ranch) will give out T-shirts with a $20 BC bet while the smaller non-Station outlets (Fiesta Rancho, Fiesta Henderson, Wild Wild West, and Wildfire) will give out Breeders' Cup glasses with a $20 wager.

The Imperial Palace on the Strip will be opening its showroom for a Breeders' Cup viewing party, complete with losing-ticket drawings for BC and IP merchandise. Most other casinos will also offer either T-shirts or glasses with a bet of $20 or $25.

While the race and sports books will be rocking during the stretch runs of the BC races, there will also be a lot of college football action before, during, and after the Breeders' Cup. Here's a look at four games during the course of the day.

Oklahoma (+1 1/2) at Nebraska

This game starts at noon Eastern, well before post time of the first Breeders' Cup race at 1:20 p.m. In years past, this would have been a marquee matchup but now it's just a rivalry game between unranked teams. Nebraska is a slight favorite, but the feeling here is that Oklahoma is still the better team. The running game should be the difference as the Sooners have one strong runner (even if Adrian Peterson is still sidelined, Jaco Gutierrez is a suitable replacement) and the Cornhuskers don't. Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor isn't good enough to do it on his own and Oklahoma should be able to pressure him relentlessly. The home field won't help the Huskers enough.

PLAY: Oklahoma for 1 unit.

Maryland (+17 1/2) at Florida State

A lot of handicappers will say that Florida State has "revenge" in its favor after losing 20-17 at Maryland last year, but I like to look at it as the Terrapins not feeling intimidated by playing the Seminoles, even on the road this time. And they have reason to feel that way. Florida State, despite a 6-1 record and No. 10 ranking, is not as talented and deep as it was previous years, especially on offense. Besides, on Oct. 20 Maryland played No. 3 Virginia Tech close before succumbing in the second half, and this Seminole team doesn't compare to the Hokies. Florida State might very well pull out the victory, but I feel very confident that Maryland can stay within two touchdowns.

PLAY: Maryland for 1 unit

UCLA at Stanford (+7 1/2)

Call it "Revenge of the Nerds III," but the smart kids from Stanford could take the undefeated Bruins down a notch. UCLA is arguably the worst of the six 7-0 teams in major college football. Yet, everyone seems to be talking about a potential USC-UCLA meeting at the end of the season. Well, there's a good chance that UCLA might have its perfect season ruined before then, and it could happen on Saturday. Stanford has run off three straight wins, including an impressive 45-35 rout of Arizona State. (Note: it was 45-7 before ASU got four garbage-time TD's.) The Cardinal defense has really stepped up and the offense should be able to keep up with the explosive Bruins. This should be a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair, so I'll take the bonus touchdown with the motivated (and smart) home underdog.

PLAY: Stanford for 1 unit.

Michigan at Northwestern (+3)

Let's make it two straight for the "smart schools" vs. the ones with more athletic tradition. I really have to think that the oddsmakers have the Wolverines as the favorites based on the history of the respective programs as opposed to current power ratings. I've won with Northwestern the last two weeks, and I'm going back to the well again. The Wildcats' offense continues to be ultra-consistent and the defense has stepped up a notch. While Michigan went to Michigan State back on Oct. 1 and barely escaped with a 34-31 victory in overtime, Northwestern went to Michigan State last Saturday and came away with a 49-14 rout.

PLAY: Northwestern for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-2 for a net loss of 0.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 13-14 for a net loss of 2.4 units.