09/26/2001 11:00PM

Handicapping contest season returns

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With the opening of the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita meet this week, many local horse handicapping contests returned and some new ones were started.

The Coast Resorts properties will now have free $1,000 contests on Wednesdays through Fridays. The Suncoast, which holds its contest on Thursdays, was one of the few local race books to continue its contest during the Fairplex meet.

Starting next week, the Gold Coast will host a free contest on Wednesday and the Orleans will have its on Fridays. In all three contests, players pick the winners of the last five races at Oak Tree, with the people accumulating the highest combined win mutuels splitting the $1,000.

The Orleans is also putting on a free contest on Monday, Oct. 15, when jockeys Mike Smith and David Flores will give a seminar at 9 a.m. in the race book. The first five races at Belmont will be used in the contest that day.

But the Coast properties do not have a monopoly on new contests (or re-circulated old ones), as Texas Station has started a $10 buy-in contest on Wednesdays through Fridays. Players earn bonus points in addition to the mutuel prices of their horse to win, place, and show. There is a limit of three entries per person, and all money is paid back to the players, with 60 percent for first place, 30 percent for second, and 10 percent for third. A

$100 bonus is paid to the leader after the fifth race (winner must be present) and a progressive that starts at $200 is awarded to anyone whose score exceeds 135.

The progressive grows by $50 each day it's not hit, and the required point total decreases by one. (For instance, no one hit the bonus on Wednesday, so Thursday's jackpot was $250 for anyone scoring 134 points.)

Another Station contest that is attracting increased foot traffic is the Triple Q at Santa Fe Station. The free contest, which starts with a $500 prize pool and adds $100 every week it's not hit, will have a jackpot of $1,600 when it's held again Wednesday. Race and sports book manager Micah Roberts and his staff choose three races (usually with full fields) and players get to choose a three-horse box in each race. You would think it

wouldn't be too difficult to hit the quinella in three races, but no one has hit it for 11 weeks. No one was even alive after the first race Wednesday, the sixth race at Oak Tree. Of course, the race was won by Dini Dee at 62-1, with 104-1 longshot Quick Save finishing second.

One contest will be ending next week. The Stratosphere is terminating its East Meets West contest, but there's $2,381 in a progressive jackpot that needs to be awarded. Next Thursday, the bonus will be paid out to the people hitting the most quinellas. The contest involves picking Q's in eight races (last three at Belmont and last five at Oak Tree), and it required someone to hit five quinellas to collect the progressive.

Finally, Trinidad vs. Hopkins

Saturday night is the makeup date for the middleweight unification bout between Felix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 15 at Madison Square Garden but was postponed after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

Trinidad, who holds the WBA belt, is a -400 favorite (bet $4 to win $1) over Hopkins (+300), who holds the IBF and WBC titles. The line hasn't fluctuated much even though Hopkins reportedly wagered $100,000 on himself. If Trinidad prevails, he is expected to move up to light heavyweight to take on Roy Jones

Jr. Hopkins is hoping to earn a big payday vs. Oscar De La Hoya.

Season-long contest updates

Defending champion Dave Cokin beat Chip Chirimbes in the opening round of the Stardust Invitational last weekend Cokin had a subpar mark of 3-4 (including losing his best bet on Tulsa), but Chirimbes went 1-6.

The Stardust Invitational is a single-elimination tournament in which two handicappers face off at 9 p.m. each Friday night in the Stardust sports book. They each give seven selections before a standing-room-only crowd and a live radio audience (KDWN AM-720). This Friday night's match was scheduled to be Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Pete Korner versus Houston sports

radio host Lance Zierlein.

Other Stardust Invitational participants are blackjack expert turned sports bettor Stanford Wong, who was last year's runner-up; NFL Hall of Famer Tom Mack; former Navy and Raider runningback Napoleon McCallum, who was an Outlaws broadcaster with the XFL; author Mike Orkin; author Patrick Forsyth; Coast Resorts sports book director Bert Osborne; Bubba Youngblood, a sidekick of national radio host "Papa" Joe Chevalier, whom he helped win this contest two years ago; handicappers Tim Trushel, Tim Jeffery, and Bob Donahue; and sports gaming writers Stephen Nover and yours truly, Dave Tuley.

*Donahue went 6-0, including hitting his best bet on Michigan State, to take over the lead in the Sunset Station "All-Star" Handicapping Invitational. The field includes 12 sports service handicappers who get one point for each winning selection and two points for a best bet win. Donahue is 10-2 against the spread and leads with 22 points, followed by Glenn McGrew and Brent Crow with 19 each. This Friday night's radio show, broadcast live from the sports book from 6-7 p.m. on KDWN, was to feature Trushel.

*A contestant going under the alias TBM is 10-0 after two weeks of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest. Entrants in the $1,500 buy-in event pick five NFL games against the spread each week. Select West and RGS Consulting are in second place with records of 9-1. Leaders picks (and consensus plays) are posted in the Hilton SuperBook on Friday afternoons.