05/07/2006 11:00PM

Early bets like a Triple Crown winner

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No sooner had Barbaro crossed the finish line than the debate began about whether he was the one who could become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

The arguments against Barbaro point to the difficulty of winning three races in the span of five weeks on three different tracks at three different distances, especially for a horse who has been more accustomed to longer layoffs. They also point to the strength of this year's class.

The arguments for Barbaro are based on his undefeated record and his 6 1/2-length victory over a well-regarded field in the Derby, the largest margin of victory in 60 years.

"Barbaro is much better than Smarty Jones," Avello said. "This was a strong field, while Smarty Jones beat a weak one. He looks very difficult to beat in the next two legs."

Avello initially estimated Barbaro would be 6-5 in the Preakness and 1-2 in the Belmont if he is still unbeaten by then. He posted the "Will Barbaro win the Triple Crown?" prop about half an hour after the Derby, with the "no" at -320 and the "yes" at +260.

While some bettors snapped up the +260, Avello was scouring for news on the number of possible horses headed to the Preakness. He then lowered the odds a little, to -260 on the "no" and +220 on the "yes," which was where it stood Monday morning.

Last week, Barbaro opened at 18-1 to win the Triple Crown at Wynn and was bet down to 12-1, so those early birds have some nice tickets moving forward.

Avello also put up a Barbaro prop on the Preakness, with the "will win" and "won't win" at -110 each way.

In other props Saturday:

* Barbaro's winning time was 2:01.36. Avello opened the over/under on that prop at 2:01.70 with -110 each way. Bettors pounded the over up to -155, so the house won. Other books went with higher numbers, so the unders cashed there, too.

* The winning mutuel of $14.20 was under the $17.70 posted at Caesars.

* Barbaro's No. 8 saddle cloth made "evens" the winner and "odds" the loser in the props offered at Caesars and other books.

* The margin of victory paid 8-1 on six lengths or more at the Plaza.

Nevada a Derby winner, too

Race books in the state handled a record $5.6 million on the Kentucky Derby, up 16 percent over last year's then-record total of $4.8 million, according to Vinny Magliulo, vice president of marketing and corporate development for the Las Vegas Dissemination Co., which serves as the wagering hub in the state.

Roncevich gets the winning trip

If you saw Barbaro sit behind the pace, blow past the early pacesetters, and then coast to victory, then you already know how Damian Roncevich won the Pick the Ponies handicapping tournament at the Las Vegas Hilton last Thursday through Friday.

Roncevich, a construction contractor from Honolulu, was in third place after the first day, moved into the lead after day two, and didn't let anyone catch him in winning the $38,000 first-place prize. Roncevich scored 16,120 points in the contest, which has each contestant make 10 mythical $100 across-the-board wagers each day. The first $50 is scored at full track odds, with the remaining $50 capped at $42 to win, $18 to place, and $12 to show.

Roncevich's total was more than 10,000 points fewer than the one he posted in 2003, when he set a Pick the Ponies record with 27,105 points the week before the Derby. Pick the Ponies has been run 27 times, with Roncevich joining Patrick Gorgan of Ontario, Calif., as two-time winners.

Roncevich also picked up an additional $1,000 for having the third-highest score on Thursday.

Robert Schintzius, of Williamsville, N.Y., finished second with 14,940 points to win $19,000, plus another $2,500 for having the top score of 9,910 on Friday. John Miekoski of Las Vegas collected $9,000 for finishing third with 14,750 points.

Sports book notes

The big-event weekend continued Saturday night with the Oscar De La Hoya vs. Ricardo Mayorga WBC super welterweight title bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. De La Hoya closed as just a -280 favorite in the betting, but any thoughts that De La Hoya would be rusty after a 20-month layoff were just as unfounded as doubts about Barbaro's five-week layoff. De La Hoya sent Mayorga to the canvas in the first round with a left hook. That sent the crowd of 13,076, which was already in De La Hoya's corner, into a frenzy. Over the next four rounds, De La Hoya consistently landed his jabs while blocking nearly every punch that Mayorga threw.

In the sixth round, Mayorga went down again, and from press row it looked like he didn't want to get up from his knees. He did get up, but must have wish he hadn't. Smelling blood, De La Hoya went in for the kill, unleashing a barrage of 21 punches, most of which landed, before referee Jay Nady jumped in to stop the fight at 1:25 of the sixth round.

* The NBA wrapped up the first round of its playoffs Saturday, when the Suns defeated the Lakers, 121-90, in game 7 of their series. I had the Lakers in the series, and they held a 3-1 lead after four games, but that went up in flames. Most betting trends have seen a regression to the mean, as home teams, who had been dominating early, finished 23-19-3 against the spread in the opening round and favorites held a 21-20-3 edge (one less game because one closing line was pick-em). Over/unders were at 22-22-1. The zigzag theory, in which bettors bet the loser of the previous game against the spread in the next game, lost the last eight games of the first round Wednesday through Saturday to finish 16-18-3.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. won Saturday's Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Speedway as the 10-1 fourth betting choice at Station Casinos.

* Jim Furyk won the PGA's Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday as the 15-1 fifth choice at the Hilton. What a difference a week makes. This week in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas, Furyk is the 9-1 favorite, with Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, both of whom had lower odds than Furyk in the Wachovia, at 10-1 and 12-1.