08/07/2005 11:00PM

Brothers take act on road


Have tournament, will travel.

That seems to be the motto of the Bertolucci brothers, especially if there are berths on the line for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

On Sunday, July 31, I saw Robert and Mark Bertolucci at Emerald Downs outside of Seattle, Wash., trying to earn one of the nine spots at the Ultimate Qualifying Tournament. They didn't fare so well there, so they caught a late-night flight back to San Mateo, Calif., so they could work their full-time shifts at their parents' delicatessen. After working Monday through Thursday, Robert, 41, and Mark, 33, hopped a plane for Las Vegas for the Summer Stakes at Bally's last Friday and Saturday.

If the nonstop schedule was taking its toll, it didn't show as the Bertoluccis (or "the Berts" for short) were their usual exuberant selves. After Friday's competition, with each of the 169 entrants making 15 mythical $2 across-the-board wagers and contest points capped at 25-1 to win, 12-1 to place and 6-1 to show, Robert Bertolucci was in first place by compiling $202.70 in contest points.

The scoring began with Chalook, a 33-1 longshot in Monmouth's sixth race, and the day ended with Wise River, a 26-1 shot in the 10th race at Ellis Park.

Robert's name was on the winning entry, but he gave plenty of credit to his younger brother.

"We split everything 50-50," Robert said. "I couldn't have done this without him. He has an eye for the horses." He said his brother had spotted Wise River "and said he looked like a million bucks."

They earned $8,450 for having Friday's top score and were in great position, but if anyone thought the Bertoluccis would change their style on Saturday and go the safe route with favorites, then they have never met them before. The Bertoluccis hit with Helene's Dream at 18-1 in Saratoga's second race and also had All Trumps at 11-1 in the Sir Cat Stakes. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that they were running away with the tournament, but the capper came when they had Haley's Buddy at 20-1 in the 11th at Ellis Park.

"That was another one where Mark saw it on the track and said 'That's who we're playing,' " Robert said.

When Haley's Buddy crossed the finish line they gave each other a big bear hug in the aisle, and Mark yelled, "Good-bye, everybody. It's over."

As they say, it's not bragging if you can back it up.

Their final score of $417.70 blew away the rest of the field to earn the Bertoluccis the first-place prize of $63,375. Their second-day score of $215 was also the top score on Saturday - a daily double feat that none of the veteran handicappers on hand could recall being done before - for another $8,450 in earnings to put their two-day take at $80,275.

The Summer Stakes has a $1,000 entry fee, so the 169-player field was full of serious tournament players going for the national championship berths, and there was a seemingly endless stream of congratulatory handshakes and concession speeches, another tournament rarity, as usually contestants stay mum about their point totals. But this was such a blowout that it had to be admired.

"My only regret is that I was hoping to qualify at one of the tournaments with a bonus," Bertolucci said, referring to the $300,000 being offered by Emerald Downs if one of its qualifiers goes on to win the championship or the $1 million bonus to a winner of a contest run by Churchill Downs who goes on to win the national championship.

"But the most important thing," Robert said, "was to get qualified and get that out of the way, and now maybe we can get Mark or my wife to win one of the Churchill contests."

Murray Kram, another tournament player who isn't shy about cheering home his longshot winners, finished second with a very respectable score of $342.70, earning him $20,280 plus another $3,380 for having Saturday's second-best score. Kram is one of the old-timers on the tournament circuit, with several tournament titles from back in the day, but this is the first time he has qualified for the National Handicapping Championship. Kram quipped that his only complaint was that he and his wife just moved to Las Vegas from Miami, so he misses out on the free round-trip airfare that goes to championship qualifiers.

Philip Barbaree was third with a final score of $299.20, earning $9,252.75. Because the tournament was advertised to be giving only two national championship berths, he was originally disappointed when he learned of his placing until race and sports book manager Chris Eggers informed him that she was increasing the qualifying spots to three.

Just missing out on a berth was the Hinson family, as Jennifer Hinson was fourth with a score of $296.50, a mere $2.70 away from third.

Sports book notes

The big news in Vegas recently was the announcement that the city will host the 2007 NBA All-Star Game, the first time a non-NBA city will host the midseason exhibition. As a concession, the game will be off the boards in Nevada's sports books.

* There's a style of handicapping I call the "Imagine the next day's newspaper." Think of the best story that could come out of an event and make the biggest news, and that's sometimes the best way to bet. Some also call it the "conspiracy theory." For whatever reason, it seems to happen more often in auto racing than in other sports. Think of Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the next race at Daytona after his father's death. It happened again Sunday when Tony Stewart, an Indiana native, finally won a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard on Sunday. Of course, if you had bet him every year based on that theory, you would have finally broke even when he won the race at 8-1.

* Retief Goosen won The International in Castle Rock, Colo., as the second choice at 10-1. He was the last of the "Big 5" golfers to win a tournament this year.

At the Las Vegas Hilton, Tiger Woods is the 2-1 favorite in the PGA Championship this Thursday through Sunday at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. Vijay Singh is the second choice at 6-1, with Phil Mickelson and Goosen both at 12-1. Ernie Els, the other member of the Big 5, is out with a knee injury.