08/27/2006 11:00PM

Chicago pair dominate Bally's tourney

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Chicago-based horse owner John Orecchio and trainer Michael Dini took a $25,000 claimer named Wild Tale and won a minor stakes with him at Mountaineer Park last August, finished second in the Grade 3 Phoenix BC at Keeneland last October, and finished third in the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap last year on Breeders' Cup Day at Belmont Park.

Now they have another wild tale to tell.

Orecchio is an investor in the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts organization and came to Vegas for this past weekend's card at Mandalay Bay. He brought along Dini, and they decided to put two entries into the Summer Stakes horse handicapping tournament down the Strip at Bally's at $1,000 apiece.

Players made 15 mythical $2 across-the-board wagers each day, with six races being mandatory and nine being a player's choice. Scores were based of each horse's mutuels, with prices capped at 25-1 to win, 12-1 to place, and 6-1 to show.

Orecchio-Dini won the tournament with a final score of 262.50, and their other entry finished third with 219.20 points, earning them $38,250 for first and another $5,049 for third.

Since the winning entry is in Orecchio's name, he earned one of the two available berths in the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association's National Handi-capping Championship, which will also be held at Bally's on Jan. 26-27.

Cheryl Kaufman was second with a score of 239.40 to earn $12,699, plus another $5,100 for having Saturday's top score, as 194.60 of her total points came on the final day. She also earns a national championship berth as well as hotel accommodations during the tournament and round-trip airfare.

First-time tournament player Mike Hulett, who earned $5,100 for having Friday's top score of 144.40, finished fourth with 218.20 points, allowing him to pick up an additional $3,825.

* After big handicapping tournaments here in Las Vegas the past three weeks, players get a little bit of a break, with the next major contest being the Fall Classic at the Orleans on Oct. 5-7. In addition to going after an estimated $500,000 in prize money, the top 50 finishers will earn a berth in the Horseplayer World Series in January.

* The Coast Casino properties (Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast, South Coast, and Sam's Town) will be wrapping up its weekly Pick 5 Contest at Del Mar this Thursday. The $10 entry fee goes toward a progressive jackpot for going 5 for 5. The carryover heading into Thursday's contest is $5,890. Prizes are also awarded for the highest mutuel payoffs with $1,500 for first, $700 for second, and $300 for third.

Weekend sports wrap-up

Tiger Woods continues to amaze as he won his fourth straight tournament over the weekend, winning the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, in a playoff vs. Stewart Cink. Before the tournament, Woods went off as the "prohibitive" 3-2 favorite (or that's what it would usually be called) at the Las Vegas Hilton, but sports book supervisor and golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said that didn't stop bettors from loading up on the red-hot Tiger.

Sherman has made Woods an unbelievably low 5-4 favorite in the Deutsche Bank Championship, which will start Friday and end on Monday, Labor Day.

Sherman has opted to keep Woods at 2-1 to win the Masters next April.

"If it were within a month, I would lower him, but seven months out, a lot can happen," he said.

* Matt Kenseth is also on a roll, winning his second straight Nextel Cup race Saturday night in the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Station Casinos had Kenseth as the co-third choice at 8-1.

* Also on Saturday night, UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell needed only 95 seconds to defeat challenger Babalu Sobral at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Liddell was a -330 favorite. The victory set up a grudge match against Tito Ortiz, in December.

* In the third weekend of the NFL preseason, which a lot of people refer to as the "dress rehearsal," as starters play longer than any other week, favorites went 12-3 against the spread heading into Monday night's Packers-Bengals game, improving to 29-17-1 overall in the preseason. Good luck to anyone trying to figure out the final preseason games this weekend as many starters will sit out or play very little. Heading into Monday, unders were profitable for the third straight week at 8-7 to stand at 28-19-1 (59.5 percent) overall.

College football kicks off Thursday

On the other hand, college football starts for real this Thursday night, with nine games on the betting board.

Boston College-Central Michigan and South Carolina-Mississippi St. are expected to be the games to attract the most betting handle, as they are the nationally televised games on the ESPN networks.

The game that I'll be most interested in is Northwestern vs. Miami-Ohio. Northwestern is a 3 1/2-point favorite, but I like the game to go under the total of 55 1/2. This is one of a bunch of games I have bet under in anticipation of the public betting down some of these games the more they hear about the rule changes intended to shorten the running time of college telecasts.

But I think this game would be lower scoring even if played under last year's rules. Northwestern has had a rough off-season with the death of coach Randy Walker. His replacement is 31-year-old Pat Fitzgerald, the youngest coach in Division I, the former linebackers coach. With the loss of starting quarterback Brett Basanez to graduation and a non-offensive-minded coach at the helm, the Wildcats are expected to focus more on the running game with standout Tyrell Sutton.

Miami-Ohio is also rebuilding after losing a lot of starters to graduation (it returns just five starters on offense and two on defense), including quarterback Josh Betts and top receiver Martin Nance and most of the linemen from the Ben Roethlisberger era. The young offense will be hard-pressed to take advantage of the NU defense.

PLAY: Northwestern-Miami under the total of 55 1/2 for 1 unit.