07/20/2005 12:00AM

Del Mar trip can't come soon enough


An unbearably hot week here in the desert got even worse Tuesday when the mercury hit 117 degrees, breaking the city's record for the highest recorded temperature in history.

At least it's a dry heat (or we'd all really be miserable).

This has made the locals wish they were anywhere cooler. Alaska. Reno. Hell.

But the most popular getaway destination, especially for horseplayers, is San Diego and, more specifically, Del Mar. With the opening day of the meet on Wednesday, there were sure to be a lot of players sitting in the race books here who were California dreamin' about being at the seaside resort, with temperatures in the mid-70's and cool ocean breezes.

Well, Station Casinos is trying to make some of those dreams come true with its second annual Del Mar Labor Day Getaway promotion. On the seven Fridays during the meet, the company's seven race books (Palace, Boulder, Texas, Sunset, Santa Fe, Green Valley Ranch, and the Fiesta Rancho) will be holding drawings after the eighth race, with the winners at each book receiving a free day trip to Del Mar on Labor Day, Sept. 5. The trip includes a bus ride to McCarran Airport, round-trip airfare to San Diego, a shuttle to the track, and a food-and-drink spread in a VIP clubhouse suite.

The prize is non-transferrable, but winners who can't make the trip (or decide to go by themselves) can receive $250 cash.

Each drawing will also have a second prize of $200 and a third prize of $100. Participants must be 21 or older and must be present to win.

Drawing tickets are earned for every $20 wagered at the betting windows during the Del Mar meet. There is a limit of 10 tickets per visit to the windows, but no limit on the total number of tickets earned. The tickets are good only for the upcoming Friday's drawing.

Each person can win only one Del Mar trip, and will be given the $200 cash prize if drawn first in subsequent drawings, but there is no limit to the number of second- and third-place prizes earned.

The only downside to the promotion is that the trip doesn't come until the temperatures here fall into the low 100's. Here's a thought for Stations or even another race book: Hold a promotion during the Hollywood meet and take a group to Del Mar for the opening week when the weather is the worst here.

Spa meet promotions dwindling

It used to be that race books here would put on all sorts of promotions to lure horseplayers during the Del Mar and Saratoga meets. Recent examples would be the Toast of the Coast handicapping contest at the Coast Casinos at the turn of the century and, for a few years after, the Pick 6 Club at Bally's last summer. There also were future books on the Del Mar and Saratoga jockey standings at the Palms, Imperial Palace, and Casino MonteLago.

None of the above properties are doing promotions this summer, and the only one I found around town was at the New Frontier. On Wednesday's opening day, race and sports book director Tony Nevill closed a pre-meet prop in which bettors tried to determine which group of four jockeys would have the most wins during the Del Mar meet. The team of Victor Espinoza, Alex Solis, Tyler Baze, and Rene Douglas opened as a -140 favorite over the team of Patrick Valenzuela, Garrett Gomez, Corey Nakatani, and Jon Court, which was offered at +110, but bettors jumped all over the underdog - probably prompted by Gomez winning the Hollywood riders' title - and bet it to -130 favoritism.

"We get a lot of interest from our regulars because it's a fun wager that people can follow every day," Nevill said, "but we also see the same people coming in who have bet it other years to see if we have it again."

A similar prop on the Saratoga meet will be up until opening day next Wednesday. The team of Jerry Bailey, Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, and Richard Migliore is a -130 favorite over Edgar Prado, John Velazquez, Pat Day, and Eibar Coa, which is offered at even money.

"The thing that makes it exciting is that if a team gets hot it can make up six races in one day," Nevill said.