07/24/2006 12:00AM

Dancing Edie clinches contest win


As the Gold Coast Summer Classic was wrapping up last Saturday afternoon, John Buckley, 51, of Novato, Calif., had a lot on his mind. That didn't stop him from winning the tournament and the $78,400 first prize.

Buckley was sitting in second place after Thursday's first day of the three-day tournament, which drew a field of 490 at $400 apiece, then moved into first place after Friday's action. His wife, Barb, had threatened to choke him in his sleep if he choked and didn't win his first major tourney. Then, when the last scoring update was posted in the Arizona Ballroom at 4 p.m. on Saturday, he trailed Gary Grous of Las Vegas by 1,320 points in the contest, in which players make $200 win-and-place bets. In addition, he had to think fast because he and Barb had a 7:30 p.m. flight to catch.

"We weren't able to get a later flight, so I knew I had to put my plays in early," Buckley said.

Up to that point, he had scored with nine winners in the tournament, none of them over the $42 cap, with the longest shot being Time Taker, who paid $31 to win in Friday's sixth race at Louisiana Downs.

Buckley said he usually plays horses in tournaments only at 6-1 or higher, but as he looked at Del Mar's sixth race, the Grade 1 John C. Mabee Handicap, he played Dancing Edie, who went off at exactly 4-1. Dancing Edie wired the field, but Buckley had to wait out a lengthy inquiry before breathing a sigh of relief when she paid $10 to win and $5.80 to place, good enough for 1,580 points.

"That was enough to pass the leader," Buckley said, "but I didn't know if he also had it or how many bullets he had left."

Even though both Buckley and Grous handicap by using Ken Massa's HTR computer program and attended the HTR seminar Wednesday at the Gold Coast, they weren't sitting together and didn't know each other's plays. Buckley watched a losing play in Del Mar's seventh, put in his final play on the ninth race (which also lost), and left for the airport.

"I didn't worry too much about it because, at that point, it was out of my hands," Buckley said. "I thought I did the best I could. The seminar helped me focus on the tournament, and especially eliminating plays."

Buckley ended up winning by a score of 32,900 to 32,540 for Grous.

Buckley's previous best in seven years of tournament play was a third in the April 2002 Championship at The Orleans.

Grous collected $29,400 for second, and he and Buckley, along with the rest of the top 10 finishers, earn a berth into the Horseplayer World Series on Jan. 18-20 at the Orleans.

More money to be made at Coasts

On Wednesday, the South Coast, located five miles south of McCarran International Airport, will host "Del Mar Day" with a free $1,000 handicapping contest on the first five races, free hot dogs and beer, and free T-shirts with a $20 wager on a Del Mar race, plus drawings.

Clocker/handicapper Jon Lindo will be in from California to do a short seminar with "Raceday Las Vegas" radio host Ralph Siraco sometime in the noon hour (between races from Saratoga).

* The South Coast and the rest of the Coast Casinos (The Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, and Suncoast) will start their weekly Thursday contest this week and run through the end of August. For the first time, Sam's Town (a Boyd Gaming casino, which merged with Coast last year) will also participate in the contest, giving residents on the east side of town a more convenient place to enter. The entry fee is $10 with a limit of 10 per person. Contestants pick the first five races at Del Mar, with the top point earner winning $1,500, second place claiming $700, and third place getting $300. In addition, the Coast is seeding the jackpot with $2,500 for anyone who goes 5 for 5, and all the entry fees get added in to the progressive, which will carry over to the next Thursday (with another $2,500 tacked on) if not hit.

There are no regular Wednesday contests during the meet, just special events like the one above.

Challenge to follow the jockeys

The New Frontier has put up a meet-long Saratoga Jockey Challenge prop. Team A, which is a -130 favorite (risk $1.30 for every $1 you want to profit), includes Edgar Prado, Garrett Gomez, Kent Desormeaux, and Julien Leparoux. Team B, which opened at even money, is John R. Velazquez, Eibar Coa, Rafael Bejarano, and Cornelio Velasquez.

The New Frontier's Del Mar Jockey Challenge was taken off the board over the weekend after it was announced that Patrick Valenzuela, part of one of the teams, would be undergoing back surgery and miss the entire meet.

* The Plaza will also be starting up its daily three-way jockey prop for Saratoga on Wednesdays in addition to the one it started at Del Mar.

Sports book notes

In hindsight, the best bet of last weekend, considering that Tiger Woods has never lost a major with a lead heading into the final round, was the 2-3 updated odds to win the British Open offered at the Las Vegas Hilton after Saturday's third round was completed. Woods held off all challengers to win his 11th major and the first since the death of his father, Earl, in May. Woods was the 9-2 favorite before the tournament, and after he proved he's back to his old form, the Hilton made him a more solid 3-1 favorite at the PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club on Aug. 17-20. Phil Mickelson is the second choice at 8-1, with Ernie Els at 12-1, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk at 15-1, and Retief Goosen at 20-1.

* For the second straight week, boxing bettors strongly backed the underdog, but this time they came away with the money. Carlos Baldomir was a +180 underdog to Arturo Gatti in their bout in Atlantic City despite being the WBC welterweight champ, and was bet down to +155 at the MGM Mirage. A week earlier, the public had pounded Fernando Vargas as a dog vs. Shane Mosley and was disappointed when he was overmatched and knocked out, but this time Baldomir dominated the fight and scored a ninth-round KO.

* To a casual follower of the Nextel Cup circuit (which I consider myself), the fact that Denny Hamlin was listed among the favorites at Station Casinos - along with the Stewarts, Earnhardts, Johnsons, Gordons, and Busches - in last Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 was enough to raise eyebrows. But auto racing oddsmakers obviously know their stuff, as Hamlin won his second straight race at Pocono. He went off as low as 5-1 at the Hilton, where he was the favorite.