07/05/2001 12:00AM

From desert to Del Mar


Del Mar is the No. 1 destination for Las Vegas horseplayers.

That's the conventional wisdom around town, and it was also confirmed by an unscientific survey I took in local race books.

Of 20 people questioned, 12 chose Del Mar as the track they would most want to visit this summer. Saratoga was second with 5 votes, followed by Arlington (2) and Ascot (1).

There is no track in Las Vegas, so the majority of local horseplayers learned the game elsewhere before moving here. They get the itch to see live racing after watching simulcasts all the time, and getting away from the desert heat is another incentive.

For those fans, there's a new promotion. Texas Station and Santa Fe Station are combining to send a bunch of local horseplayers for a day of racing at Del Mar. The two casinos recently completed weekly drawings for cash that were so successful that they decided to do it again. But this time they decided to add an extra incentive.

The trip will be Sunday, Sept. 2, on a charter flight to San Diego. The winners, along with their guests and Station Casinos executives, will then take a bus to the track. Winners will get free admission and access to a private suite, including lunch. The group will make the return trip that night.

"We wanted to do something special for our players," said Norm Stalzer, race and sports book manager at Texas Station. "Del Mar is setting up a nice room for us, and giving our players the VIP treatment."

Station Casinos, which has locals casinos throughout the valley, do a lot of drawings like this for cars, trucks, cash, and the like. But those drawings generally include entries from the legions of slot players. The odds of winning are astronomical.

This contest, however, is exclusively for horseplayers, so the odds are much more reasonable. In all, 32 tickets are drawn at each property with cash and prizes worth $2,500.

Texas and Santa Fe are sending cards in the mail that can be redeemed for 20 drawing tickets, but there's another way to increase your chances. For every $10 bet on the races, you get a drawing ticket. Bet $50 on a trip to the window, get five tickets. In addition, you get two drawing tickets for every ticket cashed, regardless of the amount.

Drawings will be each Friday, starting July 13 and running through Aug. 24. Tickets are earned Friday (the first day was July 6) through Thursday. The drawings are at 10 a.m. Fridays and prizes must be claimed by 9 p.m. that same night. The drum will be emptied and then tickets start getting earned for the next week's drawing. The first ticket drawn at each property will get the trip for two to Del Mar (valued at $1,000) or $500 cash.

"We're certainly hoping the grand prize winners take the trip," said Micah Roberts, Santa Fe race and sports book manager. "Cash is nice, but you forget you won it a few weeks later. Instead, we're giving people a trip to Del Mar, which is like the premier meet out here. That experience is something that will last longer than money. We're giving away memories."