10/11/2004 12:00AM

Early move not necessarily right move

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When I write each week about the early line moves for the upcoming weekend's games, the main purpose is so that bettors can see which direction the lines are moving and can decide if they should bet early (before the line moves further) or wait until the weekend if they like the other side.

But the accompanying box is also a pretty good barometer of how the professional bettors fared. The results weren't too good this past weekend. The early bettors went 8-13 against the Stardust's opening college number and 1-4 against the NFL point spreads.

Now, this isn't to say that professional bettors necessarily lost, because some play the market against other sports books here in town or offshore. But it does show that winning at this game is not a given, even when getting the best possible numbers.

After faring pretty well early this season in the colleges, the line moves have dropped to 37-36 overall (51 percent). The NFL line moves are doing even worse at 3-7 (30 percent) as the professional bettors won only with the Lions +7 1/2 vs. the Falcons, and lost with the Dolphins +13 1/2 vs. the Patriots, Raiders +10 vs. the Colts, Saints -3 vs. the Buccaneers, and Texans +4 1/2 vs. the Vikings.

The news was a little better in the totals wagering. There were three totals that moved last week: The over on the Browns-Steelers game came in and so did the under on the Giants-Cowboys. The Buccaneers-Saints game landed on the opening total of 37, so that results in a push for the early bettors. The 2-0 mark raised the NFL totals record to 7-5 (58 percent).

As for this week, there continued to be more-than-average action at the Stardust on Sunday night as 22 college games moved off their opening numbers, including the ESPN prime-time games on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

The biggest move came in a Mid-American Conference game, as Northern Illinois was bet from a 23-point favorite over Central Michigan down to 20 1/2. It's not uncommon to see a high point spread like that move several points. The Stardust tends to adjust the line by a point at a time when it's not around a key number, or even as much as 1 1/2 points with big spreads. The same thing happened with Oklahoma getting bet from -17 1/2 to -19 over Kansas State.

It's rarer to see a line like UL-Lafayette -6 vs. Idaho get bet two full points to -4, or Western Michigan -6 vs. Eastern Michigan get bet 1 1/2 points to 4 1/2. Of course, those schools are from smaller conference and the Stardust is more aggressive in adjusting those lines as opposed to the major conferences.

In the NFL, four sides and four totals were bet off their opening numbers, highlighted by the Chiefs going from pick-em to -1 and then to -1 1/2 over the Jaguars and the Bengals-Browns total getting bet up from 37 1/2 to 39 1/2.

Sports book notes

Just because only the top 10 drivers are eligible for Nascar's Nextel Cup championship doesn't mean that there aren't other talented drivers and teams capable of winning races. Joe Nemechek proved that Sunday as he won the Banquet 400 at the Kansas Speedway at odds of between 20-1 and 30-1 at Las Vegas sports books. Kurt Busch finished fifth and extended his points lead to 29 points over Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 79 over Jeff Gordon.

* Australian Andre Stolz was such a longshot to win the PGA's Michelin Championship at Las Vegas that he wasn't listed as an individual betting choice at the Las Vegas Hilton. Instead, he was included in the field, which actually was the 5-2 favorite in the wide-open event. None of the top 10 betting choices finished in the top 10, with Jim Furyk (10-1) and Duffy Waldorf (30-1) finishing in a group tied for 11th.

* Speaking of underdogs who turn out to be favorites . . . when the American League Championship Series was set between the Yankees and Red Sox, a lot of sports bettors were thinking of playing the Red Sox as a live dog. Oddsmakers threw them a curve when the Red Sox opened as a -170 favorite (risk $1.70 for every $1 you want to profit) despite the Yankees having home-field advantage and all the history between the two teams, which is 99 percent in favor of New York, too. The reason for the upside-down line is that Boston pitchers Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez will be favored in the first two games in New York and Boston will be favored in more games overall.

As of Monday afternoon, the Cardinals were still awaiting the winners of the Astros-Braves series in the National League.

Hot time for horse contests

The Fall Classic at the Orleans will take place Thursday through Saturday. As of noon Monday, 711 people had paid entries of $500 apiece, and organizers are shooting for the record of 936 from the October 2000 Orleans contest. Contestants make 12 mythical $100 win bets each day, and in addition to competing for the estimated $500,000 purse, the top 50 finishers will qualify for the $1 Million Horseplayers World Series Jan. 27-29 at the Orleans. The deadline for entries is Thursday at 1 p.m., just in time to get in a first day's allotment of 12 selections.

* While contestants are in town, they can also sign up for the Coast 2 Coast Breeders' Cup Shootout, to be held Oct. 27-28, the Wednesday and Thursday before the Breeders' Cup. There is a $300 entry fee, and players also have to place $840 in live wagers (14 plays of $60) through the parimutuel windows. Contestants keep their winnings, and the top finishers split up the prize pool. World Series berths will go to the top 15 finishers.

* As of noon Monday, the Las Vegas Hilton still had eight spots remaining in the Pick the Ponies tournament, set for Oct. 27-29. The entry fee is $500 with the field limited to 200 for a total purse of $100,000.