05/01/2006 12:00AM

Giacomo gets his own casino chip

Dave Tuley
The Palms is issuing special chips in denominations ranging from $2.50 to $100 bearing the likeness of the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, Giacomo.

LAS VEGAS - The Palms is issuing special chips in denominations ranging from $2.50 to $100 bearing the likeness of the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, Giacomo.

Giacomo will be honored Thursday as the Palms issues commemorative casino chips bearing the likeness of last year's Kentucky Derby winner.

Giacomo will be on five different denominations of chips: $100, $25, $10, $5 and $2.50. This is the fifth year the Palms has issued special chips with horses on them. Other horses who have been honored by a casino chip at the Palms are Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones.

"We did it the first time in 2002 because that was the first Derby party at the hotel after opening in 2001, and it seemed fitting to honor Secretariat, who many consider to be the best racehorse of all time," said Gene Trimble, the Palms' poker room manager and the man in charge of the property's commemorative casino chip program. "Then we decided to make it a tradition. Seattle Slew passed away, and since he was the last living Triple Crown winner at the time, we did him the next year, and then the next two years we decided to honor Funny Cide and Smarty Jones since they were wildly popular with the public."

In previous cases, Trimble has had to fly around the country to obtain vintage photos, or to get rights for the photos from the horses' owners, but this time it was much easier.

"I knew we wanted to get Giacomo, and before I had even looked into contacting anyone, somebody told me his jockey, Mike Smith, was coming to the Palms to talk with the Maloof family about wearing the Palms logo on his pants," Trimble said. "I showed him the artwork from the past years and he agreed to pass it on to Jerry Moss [Giacomo's owner and the "M" in A&M Records]. Before I knew it, I got an e-mail from the secretary of the owners saying they'd be honored to have him on the chips, and that was pretty much it."

Trimble said the only tie-up was when the Gaming Control Board required a release from the jockey since his image appears on some of the chips, and Trimble sent Smith a release at Gulfstream Park to complete all the paperwork.

If Trimble thought those negotiations were easy, it was even easier for two more sets of chips that the Palms is releasing Thursday. All he had to do was go to the office of casino owner George Maloof and pick out the artwork.

"We do a lot of casino chips on events here at the Palms, from acts like Kiss, Pink, and Kid Rock to Playboy promotions," Trimble said, "so I knew George would want to commemorate our new projects."

Friday will be the groundbreaking for the Palms Place 50-story condo tower on the west end of the Palms' land on West Flamingo Avenue. Saturday will be the grand opening of the Fantasy Tower, which includes suites such as the Hardwood Suite (with a basketball court in the room), Kingpin Suite (with a bowling alley), and Playpen Suites (complete with stripper poles). The tower is topped by a Playboy Club, which is scheduled to open in September.

"I'm sure I'll be picking out the photos for that grand opening, too," Trimble said.

It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride

Maloof, who runs the casino for his family's widespread empire, has three brothers: Joe and Gavin, who run the day-to-day operations of the Sacramento Kings, and Phil, who handles other business ventures in the entertainment industry. None of them is married.

Under the name Maloof Brothers, they jointly own a 5-year-old Thoroughbred named, appropriately enough, King Palm.

While the Palms is second to none when it comes to attracting young, hip celebrities to its property, its horse has been second all the time lately. Last Saturday, King Palm ran in Hollywood Park's fourth race, a maiden special weight, and finished second as the 3-5 favorite. It was the sixth - count 'em, sixth - straight race in which King Palm has finished second, with five of those times being the favorite and four of them at odds-on.

Sports book notes

Jimmie Johnson, the 8-1 fourth choice at Station Casinos, won the Aaron's 499 Nextel Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday afternoon. The race was originally scheduled for Sunday but was rained out.

* Chris Couch won his first PGA event Sunday in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at the English Turn Golf and Country Club, but even if you had predicted that, you wouldn't have made much money. Even the Las Vegas Hilton, which has the most extensive betting list each week on PGA events, didn't have odds available on Couch, so he was part of the field at 3-1. This weekend's event is the Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. The field is 4-1, while Phil Mickelson has the lowest odds of individual golfers at 4-1 with Vijay Singh at 10-1, and Ernie Els and Retief Goosen at 12-1.

Hilton starts Derby festivities

The majority of horse racing fans coming to Vegas for Saturday's Kentucky Derby will be arriving on Friday, with some coming early on Thursday. Then, there are those who can't wait even that long.

The Las Vegas Hilton hosts its Pick the Ponies handicapping tournament Wednesday through Friday and Patrick Gorgan of Ontario, Calif., will be back to defend his title.

The 200-player field has been sold out for weeks, as all entrants put up the $400 entry fee prior to the early-bird deadline. The entry fee is officially listed as $500, with the Hilton ponying up the remaining $100 per player to make the purse $100,000 with $38,000 going to the champion.

Contestants make 10 mythical $100 across-the-board bets each day with full track payouts on the first $50 of each bet and the remaining $50 capped at $42 to win, $18 to place, and $10 to show.