08/01/2006 11:00PM

Harness tourney won't be overrun

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Harness handicappers get a chance to test their skill against other like-minded individuals in the Bang Tail Challenge on Saturday in the Bally's race and sports book.

It's the only harness tournament in town this year, and the top two finishers will earn a berth in the 2007 National Harness Handicapping Championship at the Meadowlands on April 27 along with a $500 travel allowance.

The Bang Tail has a $300 entry fee and a live-money format of $360 that entails buying 15 betting vouchers of $24 apiece. Players then play 15 races from the Meadowlands (which has an 8:30 a.m. Pacific first post) and Northfield (4 p.m.) and their scores are the real-money payouts that those wagers earn, which means there are no caps.

The tournament attracted only 15 entries last year, making it a great opportunity to earn a championship berth. Tournament coordinator Michael Wayne said he doesn't expect the field to be that small this year, but he also doesn't see it exceeding 40 or 50.

"Last year, we held it at the end of August, and the first thing most people said was, 'Why don't you have it when Meadowlands is running,' " Wayne said. "So we're having it on Hambletonian Day, the biggest harness racing day of the year, and we expect a good number of last-minute entries."

Wayne said people can enter until there are 15 bettable races remaining in the contest, which would fall near the end of the Meadowlands card, depending how many races are scheduled at Northfield.

More contest opportunities

But the Bang Tail is just one of a bunch of tournaments in Las Vegas.

* Bally's also has a $20 buy-in contest each Monday in August on the Saratoga and Del Mar cards as part of its Beat Al Horse Handicapping Shootout.

* The Coast Casinos (Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast, South Coast, and Sam's Town) continue $5 buy-in Thursday contest on the first five races at Del Mar though the end of the month.

* Wynn Las Vegas hosts its first tournament with the $2,000 buy-in Horse Race Handicapping Challenge on Aug. 11-12, which also exclusively uses races at Saratoga and Del Mar.

* On Aug. 13, the Rampart in Summerlin and the Cannery in North Las Vegas, which are sister properties, are starting a free $5,000 contest to be held on the second Sunday of every month.

* The Las Vegas Hilton will host a Pick the Ponies tournament on Aug. 17-19. Unlike the Hilton tourneys the week before the Derby and Breeders' Cup, which always sell out, this one didn't have a full field of 200 last year. But it still pays to enter early, as the fee is $400 instead of $500 if you sign up by 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 7.

* A month of handicapping contests and tournaments begins at Bally's and it also ends there with the $1,000 buy-in Summer Stakes on Aug. 25-26. In addition to playing for the prize money, the top two finishers will earn automatic berths in the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship, to be held at Bally's on Jan. 26-27. This will be the last local qualifier until the two last-chance tourneys at Bally's the week before the championship.

Little change in baseball odds

The trading deadline passed in major league baseball, and despite a bunch of trade rumors last weekend, there weren't many moves. The Yankees acquired Bobby Abreu from the Phillies and the Dodgers got Greg Maddux from the Cubs. And those moves did very little to change the future book odds here.

As we head into the final two months of the regular season, Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the Mets as the 5-2 favorites to win the World Series, the Tigers at 5-1, the Yankees and Red Sox at 11-2, the Cardinals at 7-1, and the defending champion White Sox at 8-1. The teams out West battling for playoff spots are considered outsiders, with the AL West's Angels and A's both at 20-1 and the NL West-leading Padres at 25-1 and the Diamondbacks at 50-1.

Chase back on for Nextel Cup

After taking a rare weekend off, the good ole boys of Nascar return to the track this Saturday for the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis International Motor Speedway, with just six races remaining to see who the 10 drivers are who qualify for the official Chase for the Cup, which is contested over the final 10 races of the year.

Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are sure to be among the top 10, but then there are at least 12 drivers out to grab one of the last eight spots. Station Casinos has Johnson as the 3-1 favorite to win the season points title, with Kenseth at 7-2, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne at 6-1.

For this weekend, Station Casinos has Tony Stewart, a native Hoosier who won the race last year, as the 8-1 favorite, with Jeff Gordon (another former Indiana resident) and Kahne at 9-1, Johnson at 10-1, and Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, and Brian Vickers at 12-1.