04/25/2004 11:00PM

First-timers clean up at Harrah's

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Joe and Cathi Corvi of Costa Mesa, Calif., have to consider Reno, Nev., their home away from home.

In 1999, Joe Corvi won the Flamingo Reno Summer Challenge. Cathi Corvey wasn't able to make the trip that year, but last week she did join her husband, and she ended up winning the Harrah's Reno Horse Handicapping Tournament, collecting the first-place prize of $20,000.

Seventy-six players entered the tourney, buying a total of 89 entries (more than a 50 percent increase over the 57 last year) at $500 per, and made 10 mythical $200 across-the-board bets each day. After Wednesday's action, Corvi had only 3,400 in contest points, and she added only 4,960 on Thursday. But she closed with a flourish on Friday by scoring 18,400, the highest score of the day, to post a final total of 26,760. In addition to the $20,000, she won an additional $890 for having the highest score on Friday.

Christi Mitchell, the tournament's coordinator, said Joe Corvi has played in the tournament every year since 1999. Mitchell said it was the first time Cathi Corvi played an entry.

It was a good week for first-time starters, as Brian Breckenridge of Danville, Calif., finished with a score of 21,000 to earn second-place money of $8,900. His father is another contest regular at Harrah's Reno, but it was Brian's first try.

Robert Bertolucci of San Mateo, Calif., was third with 20,270 points to earn $4,450, while Jeff Munson of Orange, Calif., finished fourth with 19,350 to claim $3,560.

Coast tourney kicks off Derby Week

The tournament circuit returns to Las Vegas this Wednesday and Thursday for the inaugural Coast to Coast Derby Shootout, held concurrently at The Orleans, Gold Coast, and Suncoast. This is a live-money event, with players paying a $300 entry fee and putting up an $840 bankroll. They then go to the windows to make 14 bets of $60 each over the two days, in any combination. Players can make as many different wagers as they want on each ticket, as long as it adds up to $60 (win, place, show, exactas, quinellas, trifectas, or superfectas) and is not linked to another race - so no doubles, pick threes, pick fours, etc.

In addition to all of the entry fees being returned as prize money, Coast Casinos will seed the pot with $15,000. In addition, players get to keep the money from all winning contest tickets, even if they don't finish in the top 20 money-paying spots

This tournament is also part of the Coast Casinos' Horseplayers World Series, and depending on the number of entries, between five and 15 berths will be awarded to the World Series on Jan. 27-29 at The Orleans.

Poker tourneys continue to explode

When it comes to tournaments of any kind, no one is doing it bigger or better than the poker world right now.

The World Poker Tour events on the Travel Channel have fueled the game's growth, and the second season concluded last week at the Bellagio, where the WPT Championship set records with a total purse of $8.342 million and first-place money of $2,728,356.

This episode won't air until June 30, so if you don't want to know the winner, skip ahead to the next item.

For those of you still with me, you can certainly use this information to win bar bets or wagers with family and soon-to-be former friends when the show airs. Martin Deknijff, a native of Stockholm, Sweden, who recently moved to Las Vegas, outlasted a field of 342 players who put up a record $25,300 entry fee or earned their seat in a qualifying tournament. Deknijff's prize money was the most in a televised poker tournament - Chris Moneymaker won $2.5 million last May in the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe.

Hassan Habib of Downey, Calif., finished second and earned $1,372,223; Matt Matros of Bronxville, N.Y., a grad student at Sarah Lawrence College, was third and can pay off his student loans with his winnings of $706,903; Richard Grijalva of Las Vegas was fourth and claimed $457,408; Russell Rosenblum of Bethesda, Md., was fifth and won $332,660; and Steve Brecher of Reno was the first to be eliminated from the final table, but still won $232,862.

Sports book notes

Vitali Klitschko knocked out Corrie Sanders last Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to win the WBC belt vacated by retired champion Lennox Lewis. Klitschko was a -360 favorite and clearly dominated the fight, landing 230 punches to Sanders's 51, before winning by TKO at 2:46 of the eighth round, though Sanders never went to the canvas.

* Another big favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., wasn't given a final chance to catch Jeff Gordon in the Aaron's 499 Nextel Cup race at Talladega International Speedway on Sunday as the last four laps were run under the caution flag. Some NASCAR fans threw soda cans at Gordon's car as he did his victory lap. No such incidents were reported in Nevada sports books, though there certainly were some frustrated bettors who lost on defending race champ Earnhardt Jr. at 5-2 in most books around town. Gordon was offered at a generous 10-1 at Station Casinos.

* The favorite did prevail in the PGA's Houston Open, which had its final round pushed back to Monday because of rain over the weekend. Vijay Singh, the 5-1 favorite at the Palms, won his second Houston Open in three years by carding an 11-under-par 277 to beat Scott Hoch (35-1) by two strokes. John Daly, who moved within one shot of Singh on Monday before fading late, was offered at 40-1.

NBA bankroll continues slide

The NBA playoffs continue to be a chalk-players' paradise as the favorites continue to not only win, but cover as well. Through the weekend's action, my bankroll stands at 4-9-1 for a net loss of 5.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) after going 0-2 on Friday and 1-1-1 on Saturday.

As of this writing, most first-round series are wrapping up, and the only playable game is the Lakers -7 vs. the Rockets on Wednesday. The Lakers lead the series 3-1 and will be looking to close it out so they don't have to go back to Houston for game 6. The Lakers have added incentive because their potential next-round opponent, the Spurs, wrapped up a sweep of the Grizzlies on Sunday night, and the Lakers won't want to be extended too far and give the Spurs even more rest.

Note: The line was at 7 on Monday, but there's a chance that Kobe Bryant's scheduled Wednesday court date in Colorado might make him late, leading to a possible adjustment in the line. I'll be looking to lay the fewest points possible.

Despite that distraction, the Lakers should have a focused effort and close out the series with a blowout.