05/02/2006 11:00PM

Derby fever spreads all over Vegas


If you're in the Las Vegas valley on Friday night and need some last-minute advice on Saturday's Kentucky Derby, there's a seminar near you no matter where you are.

All of the free seminars include well-known handicappers who come with a different viewpoint.

East side: Sam's Town's seminar starts at 6 p.m. and will include the crew from the "Track Talk" radio show: John Kelly, Gordon Jones, Patrick McQuiggan, and special guest Mike Willman, Santa Anita's director of publicity. In addition to their two-hour seminar, which will also consider races on the undercard, they will also be on hand Saturday in the race book dispensing advice and organizing group pick-six tickets.

West side: The new Red Rock Resort will feature handicapper Jerry Jacovitz, whose ratings - called Jerry J's Power Page - are distributed free daily at all Station Casinos, plus the Excalibur, Stratosphere, Arizona Charlie's, Rampart, and Hard Rock. The seminar starts at 6:30 p.m., and includes free refreshments and finger food.

Strip: The above seminars will definitely be popular with locals who don't want to deal with going to the Strip on a Saturday night, but for those in town and staying in the tourist corridor and who don't want to spring for a $20 to $30 cab ride to the suburbs, the Aladdin will be the place to be. Its seminar, featuring radio host Ralph Siraco, trainer Craig Dollase, handicapper Jon Lindo, and Jeff Bloom of West Point Thoroughbreds - will take place at 6 p.m. in the Club Sports Lounge.

Derby parties and promos

There are many people who will gravitate to the TV screens around 3 p.m. local time as the Derby horses are headed to the gate. But if you want to have a seat, you better arrive hours before that.

For those who don't want to get crammed into an overflowing race book, there are several Derby parties that are open to the public.

The aforementioned Aladdin is hosting a free all-day party in its Grand Ballroom with food and drink specials, including mint juleps.

Also on the Strip, the Imperial Palace will again open its Legends in Concert showroom for an all-day party, including drawings after every Churchill race.

The biggest and most popular parties every year are held in the ballrooms at the Coast Casinos (the Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast and the new South Coast). Turf Club members should have already received their tickets in the mail, but if you just go to the race book and place a $20 bet on Saturday, you'll get a party pass that include a free hot dog and refreshments.

A time-honored tradition of many is to go around town and pick up as many Derby T-shirts as possible, though most require a $20 minimum wager on the Derby. Among the race books planning to give out T-shirts are all the Coast properties, the Station Casinos, Las Vegas Hilton, Caesars Palace, Imperial Palace, Palms, Terrible's, Stratosphere, Arizona Charlie's, and Jerry's Nugget.

The mint julep glasses with the list of all past Derby winners are harder to find, but you can get them at the Las Vegas Hilton, Treasure Island, Imperial Palace, Fiesta Rancho, Fiesta Henderson, Wild Wild West, and Wildfire.

For Saturday's editions, I'll look at special Derby wagers available in Las Vegas, including proposition bets, head-to-head matchups, and twin quinellas.

Racing with octane instead of oats

Adding to the excitement in the race and sports book Saturday will be the theoretical kind of horsepower. The Nextel Cup series, which usually runs its races on Sundays, will instead run right after the Derby at 4:35 p.m. Pacific, with the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Station Casinos has defending champ Tony Stewart as the 6-1 favorite with Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne at 8-1, and the quartet of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth at 10-1.

NBA zig-zags

Adding to the action Saturday will be potential game 7 battles in the NBA playoffs. Four series were scheduled to have game 6's on Thursday night. Times for any Saturday matchups will be announced after the league and TV networks see which series go the distance.

The zig-zag theory (aka "loser of the last"), in which bettors are advised to back the loser of a playoff game against the spread in the next game, has gone 16-10-3 (61.5 percent, after throwing out pushes) through Tuesday's games. That's actually a dropoff, because the system was 8-4-2 (66.7 percent) through last Friday.

In other trends, home-court advantage has meant a lot through Tuesday. Home teams were 28-9 straight up, which isn't surprising, but a very impressive 20-14-3 (58.8 percent) against the spread.

Underdogs had been ruling in the early games of the eight series, but favorites won all seven games on Monday and Tuesday and were 6-1 against the spread to improve to 17-16-3 overall (one game was pick 'em).

Hispanic hero back in ring

I'll leave the commentaries about Monday's Day Without Immigrants protests to the political writers, but Las Vegas is counting on a huge economic impact from the Hispanic community this weekend. There is traditionally a big Hispanic fight scheduled here for Cinco de Mayo weekend, and this year the most popular Hispanic fighter of all is in town.

Wrapping up the Derby Day action is the Oscar De La Hoya vs. Ricardo Mayorga fight for the WBC super welterweight title at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. De La Hoya, who has not fought since getting knocked out by Bernard Hopkins nearly 20 months ago, has been promoting fights, but couldn't resist the payday to get back in the ring and possibly set up a megafight with undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr.

The most attractive price I found on De La Hoya is -270 at the Palms, which is dealing a competitive 30-cent line with Mayorga offered at +240. Mayorga is +250 at Stations, which has an 80-cent line with De La Hoya at -330. So it depends who you like as far as where you should bet.