06/03/2003 11:00PM

A challenge to pick seven


Belmont fever is spreading around Las Vegas. As the public gets more and more excited about Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid on Saturday, race books have been scrambling to attract the masses to their gambling palaces.

The Belmont still does not rival Derby Day at most properties, but that's to be understood since there's only three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont while properties have months to prepare and market to their top customers leading up the Derby. But despite the time constraints, some inspiring promotions are lined up for this weekend around town.

The festivities actually begin at noon Friday when the Coast Casinos (The Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast) open the windows on their ambitious $30,000-guaranteed pick seven handicapping contest.

Entries can be put in at any of the four properties for $10 apiece with no limit. Contestants can play either the first seven races on the Friday (7 p.m. Pacific first post) program at Hollywood Park or the last seven races on Saturday's Belmont card. Friday's entry box will close at 6:45 p.m., and Saturday's entries will be taken from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

The scoring will be the mutuel price of each selected horse, plus 10 points to win, 5 points to place, and 3 points to show. Because of the format, you can play Friday night, and if you don't score well, you can re-enter on Saturday. The highest scorer from a single entry will win $20,000, with $7,000 for second, and $3,000 for third. If more than 3,000 entries are taken (and with four properties participating over two days, it's a distinct possibility), the prize pool will be increased proportionally.

A lot of horse racing fans will be heading out to Sam's Town for a free seminar at 6 p.m., featuring Laffit Pincay Jr. He will be joining the "Track Talk" radio crew of Gordon Jones, Joanne Jones, Patrick McQuiggan, and Bruce Finkelstein as they break down the Belmont.

"We're excited to have the world's greatest jockey coming to Sam's Town," said race book manager Norman Kelley. "This is his first appearance since his retirement and it'll be great to hear him talk about riding in the Belmont."

Pincay won the race on Conquistador Cielo (1982), Caveat (1983), and Swale (1984). But in addition to knowing the track and the atmosphere of Belmont Day, he will have more personal insights on some of the main participants.

"Laffit is also a friend of Funny Cide's jockey, Jose Santos, and he said he would talk to him and share that with our customers," Kelley said.

Saturday, Pincay also will make an appearance in the Sam's Town race book, but Sam's Town doesn't have the market cornered on Belmont festivities.

While the Coast Casinos continues its pick seven contest, its books are also throwing parties in the hotel ballrooms. Tickets can be had for a $20 Belmont wager in the race book. The parties start at 9 a.m. and include free hot dogs and refreshments and free Belmont souvenir T-shirts.

A lot of other race books will be giving out T-shirts with a $20 wager, including Imperial Palace, the Palms, and the family of Station Casinos which are spread all over town (Palace, Boulder, Sunset, Green Valley, Texas, Santa Fe, Fiesta). The Stations are also doing a special $10,000 twin quinella jackpot (it's usually $5,000) in which bettors try to tab the top two finishers in two separate races. Players pay for the number of combinations they use

"This is the first time we've ever had T-shirts for the Belmont," said Micah Roberts, race and sports book director at Palace Station, "but horse racing is at the forefront right now and we wanted to do something special."

Speaking of special, Bally's has come up with an unusual giveaway. Every bettor who makes a $10 wager on the Belmont will receive a free souvenir $2 (non-cashable) ticket on Funny Cide.

"Some people like to buy souvenir tickets on a horse to win a big race, but then they lose that money if they want to save it," said John Avello, director of race and sports at Bally's. "This way, they can make a $10 bet on Funny Cide, and if he wins they can cash it and get their money, plus still keep their souvenir ticket."

Bally's is also involved in a free online contest at letitride.com in which participants can win two free nights at the hotel. Players make $100 in mythical win, place, and show bets on the Belmont. Ties are broken by a player's finish in letitride.com's Derby contest. The Belmont also kicks off another contest at letitride.com.

TCBets.com sponsors a monthly contest. Players make $20 in mythical wagers each week on the featured race and the top finishers for the month earn wagering account deposits from $400 for first place down to $50 for fifth place. Registration at TCBets is required, but you can enter the contest without posting any funds.

For players looking for other inexpensive contests at a brick-and-mortar casino in town, they can go the Imperial Palace for its Super Saturday contest that will consist entirely of Belmont races this week. The entry fee is $10, and players will handicap races 5 through 7 and 9 through 11 (the Belmont Stakes). The eighth race will be used as a tiebreaker. Tara Martinez, race book manager, said the target score for the progressive jackpot is at 150 points (based on mutuel prices and bonus points), and if someone scores that they should win about $5,000, including the $800 first prize and the progressive which stands at $3,900 before this week's entries are added.

The Luxor also has a $10 buy-in contest on Saturday. There's a $2,000 prize pool, as well as a twin q progressive.

There's something for just about everybody as we get ready to see if Funny Cide can join racing immortality.