05/21/2006 11:00PM

Even in Vegas, hush fell over crowd


LAS VEGAS - I was at the Wynn Las Vegas race and sports book when Barbaro broke down in the Preakness. There - as well as all over town, race book workers said - the sight of Barbaro and his broken leg took the excitement and joy out of the day.

As the nine-horse field loaded into the starting gate, the standing-room-only crowd was anxious to see if Barbaro was indeed the superhorse he was proclaimed to be. When a horse broke through the gate prematurely, there was a collective groan at the Wynn. When people realized that it was Barbaro, the murmuring increased as people were heard to say "How could that happen?" and "That's a bad omen."

There was an uneasy feeling as he was led to the starting gate, and I noticed right away that the screaming when the race started wasn't as loud as usual. Even so, Tom Durkin's call couldn't be heard above the din except for bits and pieces. When a horse was shown being pulled up, the yelling stopped. Even the people who didn't know for sure that Barbaro had been pulled up still knew something was wrong, since he wasn't in his usual stalking position.

Most people seemed more curious about the status of Barbaro than the running of the race. The stretch run was more subdued than any major stakes I can recall, except for a few people cheering for their money.

After Bernardini crossed the finish line, the TV coverage quickly switched to Barbaro. When he was shown slowly lifting his badly injured right hind leg, a woman in front of me turned around in tears and ran out of the book sobbing, "Don't make me watch this." Another woman said, "Oh, there's the ambulance. That's a good sign." I didn't have the heart to tell her it was far from good.

When the race was declared official, winning bettors lined up to cash their tickets, but there wasn't the usual congratulatory high-fiving and laughing taking place.

The race book at the Wynn, as well as those around town, cleared out before NBC even went off the air. The crowd had seen enough, and the images will stay with them for a long time.

For the record

The Wynn had a "Will Barbaro win the Preakness?" proposition wager. The "yes," which opened at -110 right after the Derby, was up to -135 on Saturday. A -125 money line is the equivalent of 4-5 odds, so with the feed from Pimlico showing 3-5, bettors snapped up the short price and bet it to -145 and -155 before it settled at -150 at post time. Bettors who took the "no" obviously cashed.

* The "no" also cashed in the "Will Barbaro win the Triple Crown?" prop. The "no" was -200 with the "yes" at +170.

* The race was run in 1:54.65, just under the 1:55 over/under posted at the Wynn.

Other horse racing notes

Ronald Zahn won the inaugural Turf Club Invitational at the South Coast last Thursday and Friday. The handicapping tournament drew 409 entries at $400 apiece as contestants made a dozen mythical $100 across-the-board plays each day. Zahn's two-day total of 16,600 points - based on the first $20 paying full track odds and the remaining $80 capped at $42 to win, $22 to place, and $12 to show - earned him the top prize of $75,256. Henry Lehnerer was second with 14,645 points to earn $16,360, and Dick Mueller was third with 14,070 to earn $16,360. In all, the top 40 finishers cashed, with the top 10 earning automatic berths into the Jan. 18-20 Horseplayer World Series at The Orleans.

* The Coast Casinos race books - which also include the Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, and Suncoast - will resume their weekly contest this Wednesday and Thursday on the first five races at Hollywood Park. The Wednesday contests have a $5 entry fee and offer prizes of $1,000 for first, $700 for second, and $300 for third. The Thursday contests cost $10 and offer $1,200 for first, $900 for second, and $400 for third. In addition, all entry fees get added to a progressive jackpot for those who go 5 for 5. If no one pulls off the feat, it carries over to the following week. These contests will run through July 13, the week before the July 20-22 Gold Coast Summer Classic handicapping tournament.

* The special Preakness Day twin quinella at Leroy's network of race and sports books had a $5,427 jackpot after not being hit on Derby Day. Saturday's winning combination was Bernardini and Sweetnorthernsaint in the Preakness and Timely Bid and Speed Hunter, the first and fourth choices, in Pimlico's 13th race, but no one hit it. The prize pool will carry over to Belmont Day, when $6,501 will be up for grabs.

Always hold all tickets

Marco Antonio Barrera and Rocky Juarez fought for the WBC junior lightweight title at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday night. But when the fight concluded, it was ruled a draw, and HBO went off the air. Sports books in Las Vegas declared it official and refunded wagers on both sides.

Later, it was determined that one of the scorecards was added incorrectly, and Barrera was awarded the victory. A copy of the scorecard at fightnews.com shows the final round scribbled out to score it 10-10 instead of 10-9 for Juarez on the scorecard that originally had it as a 114-114 tie.

Note: If you bet Juarez and assumed you had a loser, find that ticket, because you're due a refund.