10/12/2004 11:00PM

Fine dining complements sports book


Most race and sports books in town are not near fine restaurants. You're much more likely to find them tucked in the back of the casino next to a snack bar, food court, or hot dog stand.

Caesars Palace has gone the other direction with the recent opening of the Mesa Grill in the back of its remodeled book. The Mesa Grill is owned by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who opened the first Mesa Grill in Manhattan in 1991.

During the current restaurant boom, Flay said he has been approached by several Las Vegas casinos as Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, and others have opened their own places.

"The timing wasn't right before," Flay said. "I wanted to be in the perfect place, and also needed it to fit in with my lifestyle, and I didn't have the time before to come out there and oversee operations.

"Caesars is one of those iconic places that everyone knows about and I wanted to be associated with them in Las Vegas, so that's when I decided to make the move."

Flay, who says ambience is as much a part of the dining experience as the food, said he loves the location of the restaurant, because the race and sports book will add an air of excitement. As a bonus, it will give him a chance to keep up with his other investments when he's in town.

Flay said he owns part of six horses, including stallion shares, with partner Barry Weisbord of Thoroughbred Daily News. Their top 2-year-old, Olympia Fields, finished fourth in the Bull Page Stakes at Woodbine last Saturday. Their 3-year-old filly Gilded Gold was nosed out of an overnight stakes at Delaware in August and finished out of the money in the Safely Kept Breeders' Cup at Pimlico two weeks ago.

"One of my goals is to help get more younger people involved in horse racing," Flay said. "I've loved the sport since I was a teenager and my father took me to Belmont. The athletes are incredible animals, and the people involved in it are all competitive because they want to win, but there's also a camaraderie you don't always find in other sports or businesses."

As for the Mesa Grill, which serves Flay's famed Southwestern cuisine, it is open for dinner nightly from 5-11 p.m., lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There is seating for 180 with about 50 of the seats having a good view of the sports book, according to Mesa Grill general manager Corey T. Nyman.

"We always recommend reservations," Nyman said. "If you want a table with a view of the races or sporting events, just mention that when making a reservation and we'll try and accommodate everyone we can."

More changes at Caesars

The renovations in the Caesars sports book help it maintain the reputation as one of the finest rooms in town. There are now eight huge-screen projection televisions that can be seen from all directions. On the race book side, which is now on the left, there are 63 seats with individual televisions and plenty of room to spread out your Daily Racing Form. On the sports side, there are 40 tables - again, each with individual monitors - with two or three comfy chairs at each.

Another change is the promotion of Cyril Burger to race and sports book manager under Chuck Esposito, vice president of race and sports for all the Caesars Entertainment properties. Burger was formerly the manager at the Las Vegas Hilton, which was part of the Caesars family until it was sold this spring to Colony Capital Inc. Burger moved to Caesars and is now replacing Lou D'Amico, who left in August for a similar position at the Plaza.

Sports book notes

The Seattle Storm, as a 4-point favorite, beat the Connecticut Sun 74-60 to win the WNBA title on Tuesday night. Some sports books got middled, or at least sided, on the total as it opened at 133 and was bet up to at least 134 at every book in town and even to 135 at the Stardust and Imperial Palace.

* With the WNBA season over and NBA exhibition games under way, it's time to check in on the future odds. Caesars has the Pistons as the 3-1 favorite to repeat, with the Spurs at 7-2, the Timberwolves and Heat at 4-1, the Kings and Rockets at 7-1, and the Lakers not listed until 8-1.

* By the time this issue hits the street, the Yankees may or may not be favored to win this year's World Series. But they are the 3-1 favorites at the Caesars properties to win the 2005 Fall Classic. The Cardinals are the second choice at 7-2, followed by the Red Sox at 4-1, the Angels at 6-1, the Cubs at 7-1, and the Twins at 8-1. The Washington D.C. team, formerly the Montreal Expos, is listed at 150-1, ahead of the Brewers and Royals at 200-1 and the Diamondbacks at 250-1.

* This week's Nascar Nextel Cup race is on Saturday (4 p.m. Pacific) on NBC. Jeff Gordon, third in the driver standings, is the 5-1 favorite at Caesars, followed by Tony Stewart at 6-1, Jimmie Johnson at 7-1, Ryan Newman at 8-1, and Mark Martin at 9-1. Points leader Kurt Busch is 18-1.

Football contest updates

Brent Carter advanced in the Stardust Invitational last weekend despite a 3-4 record because he won his best bet while his competitor, Dave Malinsky, also went 3-4 but lost his best bet. This week's matchup, held in the Stardust sports book from 9-10 p.m. Friday and heard live on KDWN AM-720 and kdwn.com, is between handicappers Trace Fields and Rob Veno.

* A contestant going by the alias "Brady B" went 4-1 to move into first place through five weeks of the Las Vegas Hilton's SuperContest with a record of 18-5-2, which is worth 19 points as pushes are worth a half-point. Joe Perry and "TNA" are a game back with 18 points.

* "Colts" went 5-0 to take over the lead in the Station Casinos' Gambler's Challenge with a record of 18-6-1.

* In a week during which most of the leaders struggled, "JRBuck" held on to first place in the Golden Nugget's Ultimate Gamblers' Challenge with 22 points by going 3-2 with a best-bet winner, which is worth 2 points in this format.

* Selections of the leaders in all of the above contests will be available in the respective sports books shortly after their submission deadlines. The Hilton sheets are distributed on Friday afternoons, the Stardust selections are available after the show at 10 p.m., the Stations post its picks by noon Saturday, and the Nugget usually has its up by 6 p.m. Saturday.