04/06/2003 11:00PM

Distant teammates bank windfall

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Richard Eng is getting the hang of long-distance relationships.

His wife, Sandy, is commuting to Cincinnati for her job with American Airlines until August. So it was a piece of cake for him to handle his partnership with Louis Filoso in the Championship at The Orleans last week even though Eng was in Las Vegas and Filoso was at home in Ocean, N.J.

All Eng and Filoso did, though miles apart over the weekend, was team up to win the first-place prize of $111,680 in the Championship at The Orleans handicapping contest.

Eng is the Las Vegas Sun turf editor, host of the Raceday Las Vegas Wrapup Show, and a regular contributor to Daily Racing Form. He met Filoso through a mutual friend when Eng worked in publicity for Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands racetracks in the mid-90's.

Filoso is no stranger to big handicapping tournaments. He qualified for the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship last year and finished second last month at the TurfVivor contest at Gulfstream Park. Eng sent Filoso a congratulatory e-mail.

"He's a great handicapper and an even better friend," Eng said.

Filoso mentioned that he wanted to take part in the Orleans tournament and they decided to be partners for the first time. As the contest neared, Filoso wasn't able to make the trip, but they went ahead with their plans with Eng putting in the plays.

Players in the Championship at The Orleans make 12 mythical $100 win bets each of the three days, with the first $20 paid at full track odds and the remaining $80 capped at 20-1.

Winners of the Orleans are almost always longshot players who catch lightning in a bottle over those three days. However, Eng and Filoso opted for a different strategy.

"Thursday only included six tracks," Eng said, "and after looking at the races independently we both felt it was a poor day to handicap. Instead of going for hopeless longshots, we made the conscious decision on Day 1 to grind out as many winners as possible, even if it meant going for horses in the $8, $10, $12 range."

The plan worked on a day of attrition as they had four winners and 2,520 points, good enough for 25th place in the field of 698. The highest-paying $2 win mutuel in Thursday's contest races was $31.40 and nearly half the field had zero points.

"With the addition of Keeneland and Hawthorne, there were eight tracks on Friday," Eng said. "But even though there was more to choose from, we figured we had a 2,500-point head start on most of the field and decided to stick with our plan."

The conservative strategy paid off again as they picked five winners and moved all the way up to third place with 5,770 points.

"There were tremendous cards all over the country on Saturday, but even though we knew some longshots would come in, we were committed to our strategy," Eng said. "We still thought it would take 9,000 to win it all, but we wanted to at least surpass the score of [second-day leader] Mary Osborne and let the chips fall where they may."

They had two winners early on Saturday (paying $8.40 and $7.20), but then had seven straight losers and were still below Osborne's two-day total of 7,120 points.

"With every miss, the pressure increases." Eng said. "Lou came up with our last play, Royal Fan in the last race at Santa Anita. It was probably the first time in Orleans history that a winning partnership didn't have either of its partners there to watch the winning race. Lou was in New Jersey, and I had to run to the radio station to do the Wrapup Show. I watched the race on a computer at the station and couldn't believe it. I called Lou and told him our final point total was 7,630, and we figured we would have a top five finish."

Instead, those 7,630 points ended up being the lowest winning total in the history of the Orleans tournament, and also the smallest winning margin, as they edged out Bill Hogarth of Placentia, Calif. (7,600 points) by a mere 30 points, or 60 cents on one horse's mutuel price. Third-place finishers Ann and Wynn Peterson of Los Angeles were only another 50 points behind Hogarth at 7,550.

But the disparity in prize money was far greater. Eng and Filoso shared $111,680 for the victory, with Hogarth taking home $55,840 and the Petersons $27,920. A total of $349,000 (all of the entry fees) was paid out to the top finishers, plus another $50,000 was kicked in by The Orleans for daily prizes and another $20,000 for the early-bird contest.

Master of golf's domain

In a field of the world's elite golfers, it seems insane to have one golfer at even-money. But in the stock market of sports betting, that's the price that the market will bear.

When Jeff Sherman, golf oddsmaker at the Palms, put up his Masters odds back in August, he opened Tiger Woods at 7-4.

"We had steady action on Tiger and lowered him to 5-4, which is where we took the bulk of the action on him after he won at Bay Hill by 11 shots," Sherman said. "So now we have him at even-money. You might think that price is low but people are still betting him."

The next two choices on the betting board are also very popular. Ernie Els opened at 12-1 and has been bet down to 6-1 (after being as low as 5-1). Davis Love III opened at 30-1 and is down to 12-1.

"Love has been very consistent and he has replaced Phil Mickelson (14-1) as the third most popular golfer among bettors," Sherman said. "Mickelson has traditionally been bet heavy, but the public has cooled to him since he's never won a major, plus he's been doing the family thing and then plays last week and misses the cut."

Among live longshots Sherman mentioned Sergio Garcia (40-1), Charles Howell (30-1), and Fred Couples (100-1).

In addition to odds to win the tournament, the Palms will also offer 12 head-to-head matchups and 26 proposition wagers, including: over/under winning score of 277 1/2, or 10 1/2 under par; Tiger Woods's over/under finish position of 2 1/2; low round of 65 1/2 (-160 on the under, +130 on the over), and high round of 88 1/2.

"We priced the low round that way because it's a struggle to shoot 65 at Augusta, but someone usually does it," Sherman said. "As for the high score, Arnold Palmer shot an 89 last year and he's back."

NHL playoffs start Wednesday

The Masters lasts just four days, but the seemingly never-ending NHL playoffs start Wednesday. The Red Wings are the 5-2 favorites to win the Stanley Cup, according to odds by Las Vegas Sports Consultants. The Avalanche and Stars are both at 4-1, followed by the Senators at 9-2 (the lowest odds of any team in the Eastern Conference) and the Canucks at 8-1.

When the season began, the Stars and Senators were both 15-1 outsiders while the Canucks were dismissed at 22-1. The Flyers and Blues were the 8-1 co-third choices behind the Red Wings and Avalanche and they are now at 12-1 and 20-1, respectively.

Bankroll sweeps Final Four

Kansas (-4 1/2) and Syracuse (+3) came through for my bankroll last Saturday in the NCAA national semifinals. Kansas never trailed in a 94-61 rout of Marquette and Syracuse pulled the outright upset, 95-84, of Texas. That improved my NCAA tournament bankroll bets to 15-7 for a net profit of 7.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) heading into Monday night's championship game, in which I took Kansas -4 1/2 over Syracuse.