09/29/2004 12:00AM

Derby fever strikes early


You don't have to tell John Avello that horse racing is a year-round sport. As the person who puts together the future book odds for the Caesars Entertainment race books, he is reminded every day.

"For the past two months, not long after this year's Triple Crown ended, I've been asked at least once a day, 'When are you going to put up 2005 Kentucky Derby odds?" Avello said. "There is a lot of interest, and it seems to grow every year."

On Tuesday, Avello posted 82 contenders for next May's Run for the Roses, and bettors stepped up to take their best shots. Avello made Roman Ruler the 35-1 favorite, and he immediately got bet to 30-1 and then down to 25-1. Scipion was the second choice at 50-1, but he didn't receive any early action. Avello put three contenders at 60-1, and Proud Accolade got bet down to 50-1, while the other two, Afleet Alex and Declan's Moon, didn't receive any significant action to lower their odds.

"I know which ones are on people's minds, either from running well in 2-year-old races or the ones that have stories written about them in the Racing Form," Avello said of how he arrived at his opening odds. "The trick is you don't want to put up a ridiculously low price, because I need to generate some handle, so I have to price each horse so it looks attractive to the bettors without giving up too much."

Avello said the Derby future book is a different animal compared to other future books because, while the NFL has to crown a champion from among 32 teams, there are many more potential 3-year-olds, including some we may not have heard of yet.

* If you can't make it to Paris for the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, the Paris Hotel in Vegas is the next best thing. Avello said the Paris book will open by 6:30 a.m. for the first race, scheduled for 7 a.m. There will be free coffee and croissants available for horseplayers.

* The Las Vegas Hilton's Pick the Ponies handicapping tournament, to be held Oct. 27-29 and limited to the first 200 entries, is filling up fast. The early-bird deadline, which allows contestants to enter for a reduced fee of $400 instead of the full $500, is Monday at 5 p.m. As of noon Wednesday, there were already 161 entries.

Technology helps market racing

There wasn't a lot of news to come out of the NTRA Annual Meeting and Marketing Summit earlier this week at the Mirage, but one item could go a long way to bringing more fans - especially younger ones - to the sport.

The NTRA and Breeders' Cup Ltd. announced the launch of the first officially licensed horse racing wireless video game, developed by wireless gamemaker Magmic Inc.

The player purchases a horse, decides how to train them through various methods, and then enters them in races through the racing calendar to try to get them through their conditions and earn enough money to run in the Breeders' Cup.

In addition, there is also a wagering application (for entertainment purposes only) that is designed to resemble a self-serve wagering machine.

The game is available now to Nextel customers in the U.S. for a one-time download fee of $6.49 and Telus customers in Canada for $5. Cingular and T-Mobile versions will be available in two to three weeks, with other carriers to follow.

The current version is a one-player game, but plans are in the works for later this year to make it so people can enter races from all over the world and compete together in real time.

* Another product expected to be released in late 2005, by gamemaker Bethesda Softworks, is a Breeders' Cup game for Playstation2 and Xbox, with an expected retail price of $39.95.

"Both companies saw that horse racing was underserved in the video game market," said McKay Smith, NTRA director of product development. "We asked both companies to make the games as real as possible, including wagering. In addition to being fun, it is also a valuable fan education and player development tool for the industry."

Battle of one-time perfect pickers

In its 10th year, the Stardust Invitational football handicapping tournament has had only two handicappers go 7-0 in a given week: Cal-Berkeley math professor Mike Orkin in the 2001 semifinals and handicapper Kevin O'Neill a year ago last weekend in the first round. At 9 p.m. this Friday, the two will square off in a first-round matchup. They will both submit their top seven picks on this weekend's card, including a best bet used as a tiebreaker, with the winner advancing in the single-elimination tournament.

Last week, independent oddsmaker Cesar Robaina went 4-2-1 to defeat handicapper Pete White, who went 3-4 after losing all four college selections and then winning his NFL plays. For the season, the contestants are a combined 25-16-2 (61 percent) and 3-1 on best bets. The program is aired live in nine Western states on KDWN AM-720 and on the internet at kdwn.com.

Another comeback in boxing

In the past decade, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay have become the top boxing venues here in Las Vegas, but now they're facing competition from an old pro.

This Saturday night, Caesars Palace gets back in the ring and unveils an open-air arena in the new Roman Plaza for a tripleheader boxing card, which is being promoted as Octoberfist.

"Boxing and Caesars were synonymous in the 80's and early 90's and we're excited about getting back in the game," said Chuck Esposito, director of race and sports for the Caesars Entertainment family of casinos.

The feature is a heavyweight bout between Wladimir Klitschko and DaVarryl Williamson. Klitschko, who is trying to get back in line for a title shot, is a -500 favorite (bet $5 to win $1), with Williamson offered at +350 (bet $1 to win $3.50). On the undercard, Kassim Ouma is a -220 favorite as he puts his IBF light middleweight title on the line vs. Verno Phillips, and Jeff Lacy is a -170 favorite over Syd Vanderpool as they fight for the vacant IBF super middleweight title.

* Another famous boxing venue will also be rocking Saturday night, when Madison Square Garden hosts Felix Trinidad vs. Ricardo Mayorga. Trinidad is the -250 favorite.