03/18/2005 12:00AM

Coming soon: Thursdays won't be dull

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There are constant innovations that make Las Vegas a great place to play the horse races. The latest idea is "Real Live Thursdays" at Bally's race and sports book. The tournament-style contest will run for 18 Thursdays from March 31 through July 28.

The rules for Thursdays are a little long, but easy to follow. The weekly entry fee is $100, with all of it returned as prize money. There is a limit of two entries per person.

The weekly prize breakdown is 60 percent of the entry fees for first, 30 percent for second, and 10 percent for third.

This is a live bankroll contest, meaning that whatever bets the player wins, he gets to keep. Each Thursday the player buys a $300 voucher to make 10 $30 bets that day. All 10 bets are the choice of the player; there are no mandatory races. Contest wagers can be win, place, show, track quinella, exacta, or trifecta. The goal is to accumulate the highest bankroll each Thursday.

The contest races will usually be from New York and Southern California. In essence, a player is making bets on 10 of 17 races offered in those locales.

A player may place all of his bets in advance, but in the case of a scratch, must re-bet the scratched race. A player who makes less than 10 bets is disqualified from winning part of the entry fees.

The top finisher each Thursday will advance to the finals tournament, to be held on Aug. 4 at Bally's. The 18 weekly winners will face off with a chance to share in $2,500 in prize money. The top four finishers will earn a free berth to the Bally's Summer Stakes Tournament to be held the next day, Aug. 5. The free Summer Stakes entry is worth $1,000.

There is no limit to the number of times a player can win a Thursday contest. In the finals tournament, however, the player is limited to winning two Summer Stakes entries.

The Summer Stakes is a qualifier for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Champion-ship to be held at Bally's in January 2006.

"This may attract some locals, give them another good reason to try out our book," said John Avello, director of race, sports, poker, and keno for Bally's and Paris Las Vegas. "In the end, it may give someone a shot at winning the Summer Stakes and the National Handicapping Champion-ship."

New Derby prop wager

Lou D'Amico, director of race and sports at the Plaza Hotel, has come up with what may be a first for a Kentucky Derby prop bet. The Plaza is offering odds on the margin of victory of the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner.

There are 27 different margins to bet on, ranging from a nose to six lengths or more. So, for example, if the Derby-winning margin is a nose, that would pay off at 12-1 odds. Three lengths is 12-1, and six lengths or more is 20-1.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.