11/06/2006 1:00AM

Cruising Vegas on BC Day


LAS VEGAS – The saying has always been that if you can't be at the Breeders' Cup, the next-best place to watch it is in Las Vegas - roaring crowd, plenty of betting windows, big-screen TV's, lots of choices for food and beverage.

The way I saw it, I could make my bets, sit back with a few drinks, and watch the BC in one place, or I could do eight races in eight places - a mini-tour of Las Vegas's race books on racing's biggest day.

Juvenile Fillies: I started my day at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook at 9 a.m. for the awards ceremony of the 200-player Pick the Ponies handicapping tournament held Thursday and Friday. Michael Gentile, 56, of nearby Henderson, won the $38,000 first-place prize with a score of 16,420 after making 10 mythical $100 across-the-board bets each day. He said the win that put him over the top was Bayeux, a 23-1 longshot in the River City Handicap at Churchill Downs on Friday. It's the first tournament victory for Gentile, who said his previous best finish was second place in a Pick the Ponies event in 2001. The rest of the top five were: Ronald Zahn, James Frost, Ira Schwartz, and Javier Jaramillo. The race book went wild when the Juvenile Fillies field broke from the gate with Dreaming of Anna setting the pace, and many were still cheering when Dreaming of Anna finished her wire-to-wire victory as the 5-2 favorite.

Juvenile: My next stop was the Plaza, a downtown property (built in 1971, old by Vegas standards) that caters to an older clientele that prefers the way Vegas used to be. The race book is a throwback to old Vegas. The crowd had a youthful enthusiasm, but when Street Sense rallied on the rail to win at 15-1, few were jumping around like schoolchildren.

Filly and Mare Turf: I wandered up to North Las Vegas to Jerry's Nugget for the next race. Jerry's Nugget was also hosting a handicapping contest, with a $5 entry fee. There were 54 entries, so Jerry's Nugget took in $270 but paid out the guaranteed $500. Regular customer John Pierson won the $400 first-place prize. The crowd saw a championship performance by Ouija Board as the 7-5 favorite.

Sprint: I had to sprint to make it to my next stop at Palace Station. When I got there, I was greeted by Richard Saber of the GamingToday weekly newspaper. He pointed out the inside bias with the No. 1 winning the two previous BC dirt races and said I needed to bet Thor's Echo. I didn't. He did, and also hit the $955.40 exacta by boxing the Nos. 1 through 4, as Thor's Echo won at 15-1 and the No. 2, Friendly Island, was second at 58-1.

Mile: The Orleans was next. It hosted "Bankroll Breakfast" at 7 a.m. with cash giveaways and a seminar with Ralph Siraco and Jon Lindo, and while some guys were sporting a 12 o'clock shadow after rising so early, everyone was wide awake and cheering the stretch run of Miesque's Approval, the day's biggest winner at 24-1. I was among those cheering.

Distaff: I hopped over to the Palms for the Distaff. Not many people were touting Round Pond before the race, but it was another case of people kicking themselves when another No. 1 won, this time at 13-1. The mood was somber after the race when it was learned that Pine Island had broken down and Fleet Indian had to be pulled up.

Turf: I headed due east on Flamingo Road to the Bally's race book, which was hosting a handicapping contest with a $100 entry fee. Only four people entered. Actually, only three different people entered as Stephen Franklin, 42, of West New York, N.J. entered twice and won both the first prize of $160 and the second prize of $100. He also earned an entry ($300 value) in the Last Chance Qualifier at Bally's on Jan. 24 for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship to be held Jan. 26-27. Five NHC berths will be up for grabs in the Last Chance Qualifier. As for the Turf, Red Rocks won at 10-1 over Better Talk Now, the 2004 Turf winner who nearly got there for me at 17-1.

Classic: Since Wynn race and sports book director John Avello put up the first 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic futures last December (Flower Alley and Borrego opened at 8-1 co-favorites), the Wynn was my last stop. Many in the standing-room-only crowd were waiting for the coronation of Bernardini, but Invasor proved to be the best on this day as the 6-1 third choice, beating Bernardini by a length.

Futures, matchups, and props

Avello said Invasor was a good result for his future book, as the biggest odds offered on Invasor were 20-1 (a price that was lowered during the summer). A lot of other bets fell by the wayside, such as those on Barbaro (injured), Discreet Cat (wasn't entered), Lava Man, David Junior, George Washington, Brother Derek, and others. He said he made money in every other future book, too, except for the Juvenile, where Street Sense was bet from 35-1 to 15-1 in the short time that futures were offered in the 2-year-old races, and the Turf, where Red Rocks was bet pretty hard, from 20-1 down to 8-1.

* Avello was happy with the action on his 26 head-to-head matchups. Bettors beat him in the Juvenile, Filly and Mare Turf, Sprint (Thor's Echo was bet especially heavy vs. Pomeroy), and Mile, but he said he got the money back by the time the Turf and Classic were run.

* The 2:02.18 running time of the Classic went over the 2:01 time Avello offered on that prop. The under $55 came in on the "highest mutuel win payout" prop as highest-payer Miesque's Approval paid $50.60. Avello put up a prop on the exact number of wins Todd Pletcher would have from his 17 starters. The only number that moved off the opener was "1," which opened at 9-5 and got bet down to 7-5, so Avello was cheering (silently) against Pletcher's Lawyer Ron and Flower Alley in the Classic. Bettors who took the "zero" were rewarded at odds of 6-1.