07/13/2003 11:00PM

Gold Coast proves right 'place' to be


LAS VEGAS - Everyone knows that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, and location.

Paul Yaffee, a 49-year-old real estate broker from Skokie, Ill., knows his business. He also knows how to win horse handicapping tournaments, having won $40,500 in the Pick the Ponies Invitational at the Las Vegas Hilton in May 2002.

When Yaffee was planning out his travel schedule this year, he saw that he had to decide between two locations on the second weekend in July. The Bradley Teletheater in Windsor Locks, Conn., was hosting a Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship qualifier, while the Gold Coast hotel-casino in Las Vegas was holding its inaugural Summer Classic.

Yaffee said he has played in most of the Coast Casino tournaments since the turn of the century, but only picked up a few minor awards - about $1,200 one time, $700 on another occasion - not enough to cover entry fees, airfare, and hotel accommodations.

"I was one of the guys who had been asking them [Coast Casino staff] to add place wagering," Yaffee said, "because I just think it's fairer. I was really planning on going to the Bradley Teletheater because the Coast format with only win betting hadn't worked well for me. Then I heard the Gold Coast was going to go with win and place, and I knew that was the place to be."

So, instead of heading to the East Coast, he headed west. Yaffee was in the right place at the right time, striking gold with a winner's check for $92,960, more than doubling his biggest previous contest score.

And afterward, he was even happier with the win-place format. While most major tournament winners point to a huge longshot or two as their keys to victory, Yaffee was a model of consistency throughout the three-day event.

"I didn't have a $20 winner the entire tournament," Yaffee said. "In fact, I had more place horses than winners, and won more money on the place bets. Under the regular Coast rules, I wouldn't have been close to the lead. Thank God for the place format."

Each contestant puts up $400 per entry and makes 15 mythical $200 win and place bets each day. Though Friday's action, Yaffee was in 11th place in the field of 506. On Saturday's final day, nine of his 15 plays finished first or second.

His biggest score of the day was in the Carry Back Stakes at Calder. On his winning ticket, he had the winner Valid Video (paying $19.60 to win and $10.60 to place), plus the second-place finisher Cajun Beat ($20.60 to place).

"That was the only race in which I did that," Yaffee said of using two horses in the same race. "I just couldn't separate them, and Valid Video was around 9-1 and the other was 25-1."

The strategy worked and he knew he had a shot at winning the tournament. He nearly blew away the competition when, looking over the ninth race at Louisiana Downs, he considered using longshot Nicoleslilbaby.

"I knew I was among the leaders, and I just didn't think it was worth the risk at that point to play a 50-1 shot," Yaffee said. "Instead, I put it on my second [contest] entry."

Nicoleslilbaby won the race and paid $111.40 to win and $35.40 to place, moving a number of players up in the contest standings. Yaffee's second entry ended up finishing 56th, just out of the money in the tournament, which paid through 50th place.

Yaffee's winning total was $36,386, doubling the $18,000 in total contest wagers for the three days. Jerry Barash finished second with $33,096 in contest earnings, which was surpassed by his real second-place check for $34,860. Joe Lascola finished third at $30,030 and collected $16,268 in winnings.

Contest dates to circle

The next Nevada tournament is the Summer Stakes III at Bally's Aug. 1-2 with an entry fee of $1,000 and three berths in the National Handicapping Championship up for grabs. The September Shootout at the Reno Hilton has four NHC berths on the line Sept. 6-7. The twice-a-year Pick the Ponies Invitational at the Las Vegas Hilton is Oct. 22-24.

The Fall Classic at The Orleans is set for Oct. 9-11.

The Coast Casinos also announced its tentative contest calendar for 2004. The Orleans will host tournaments March 24-28 and Oct. 13-17, while the Gold Coast will reprise this past weekend's tourney July 14-18.

Woods a major favorite in Open

Tiger Woods is the 9-4 favorite at the Palms to win the British Open at Royal St. George's Golf Club, which tees off early Thursday morning.

In Las Vegas, all bets need to be made before the sports books close Wednesday night, and that will be pretty early with such a light schedule on the last day of baseball's All-Star break.

Ernie Els is the second choice at 8-1, followed by Mike Weir at 14-1, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk both at 16-1, Padraig Harrington and David Toms at 20-1, and Davis Love III and Darren Clarke at 25-1. Phil Mickelson, the "best player to never win a major," is in a large group at 30-1, as is Kenny Perry, who won his third Tour event in four starts last weekend at the Greater Milwaukee Open.

Els won the Scottish Open by five strokes last weekend and is only a +160 underdog to Woods (-180) in a head-to-head matchup offered at the Palms. Woods is often a much higher favorite in one-on-one props such as this. As with most majors, proposition wagering should prove popular. Jeff Sherman, the oddsmaker at the Palms, has 12 head-to-head matchups, though he is waiting until Tuesday to post other props "due to the importance of the variability of the wind conditions" in the British Open.