06/21/2004 12:00AM

He hits only one winner, but it's a whopper


In most handicapping tournaments the champion usually has quality and quantity, meaning the contestant usually has some nice-priced horses and a lot of them. That's what it usually takes to separate yourself from the pack.

But in the Summer Showdown tournament last Saturday and Sunday at the Reno Hilton - a live-money tournament in which 96 players paid a $200 entry fee and then put $300 through the windows each day - a lot of players had more winning tickets than Hesham Rajab. In fact, he had only one winner, but it was a quality one.

Rajab, of Los Angeles, went 0 for Saturday and then used $200 of his Sunday action on a cold pick three in the first three races at Hollywood Park with Excusable (the 1-2 favorite) in the first, Poppy Seed (9-2 second choice) in the second and Chandtrue (3-2 second choice) in the third. The 2-4-3 pick three paid $39.50 for $1 and a whopping $7,900 for his $200 bet.

The strategy may seem unorthodox, but Rajab obviously knows what he's doing as he also won the Winter Challenge at the Reno Hilton back in February. That victory earned him a berth in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship next January in Las Vegas, and this past weekend's win earned him a berth in the Horseplayers World Series in January at The Orleans in Las Vegas.

"He's the first to qualify for both at the same place in separate events," said Steve Fierro, tournament director at the Reno Hilton.

In addition to his cashed ticket at the windows, he also collected $7,680 in prize money (40 percent of the $19,200 purse) for total earnings of $15,580.

Rajab's one winning ticket also prevented Jim Dempster of Carson City, Nev., from sweeping the top two spots. His two entries were running one-two after Saturday's action, and he finished second and third overall. His contest scores were $4,571.60 and $4,092, and he picked up purse money of $3,456 for second and $2,496 for third for total earnings of $14,615.

Because the Reno Hilton had two World Series berths up for grabs, Dempster, just like Rajab, earns a berth in the Horseplayers World Series, as well as hotel accommodations and $300 toward his airfare.

The Hilton's next tournament, which will also be a World Series qualifier, is set for Sept. 11-12 with the same format.

Locals vie for World Series berths

The Coast Casinos (The Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast) here in Las Vegas continue with their free $2,500 pick five contests on Wednesdays through Fridays.

There is a daily prize of $1,500, plus $1,000 that goes toward a progressive jackpot for whenever someone goes 5 for 5. The bonus was hit last week, but the progressive is at $2,000 for Wednesday's first five races at Hollywood Park.

The Coasts have set up mini-contests during the Hollywood meet with the person compiling the top score in each bloc of contests earning a free entry in the Horseplayers World Series. The third and final leg begins Wednesday and runs through Friday, July 9. In addition, the person earning the most points for the entire run of the pick five contests (since April 21) also earns a berth.

* The Free Matchup Challenge at Station Casinos ended last Friday. Micah Roberts, race and sports book director at the Palace Station, said that a new contest would debut next month during the Del Mar meet, but details were still being worked out. The daily $5,000 twin quinella promotion continues at Stations on Wednesdays through Sundays.

Goosen looks golden in U.S. Open

A lot was made of the top betting favorites - Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh - in the U.S. Open, but it was Retief Goosen from the next tier of players who took home the top prize at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club last weekend in Southampton, N.Y.

Goosen was available around 20-1 to 30-1 in the sports books in Las Vegas. He was challenged, especially by Mickelson, but prevailed with a two-stroke victory as those two were the only to finish under par for the tournament on a course that yielded the highest final-round scores in the last 32 years. No one broke par on Sunday.

"To win a second U.S. Open in those types of conditions was really impressive," said Jeff Sherman, the golf oddsmaker who started at the Las Vegas Hilton last Friday with the change in ownership. "In majors, Goosen is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with."

After the Open concluded, Sherman updated and posted his odds for the next major, the British Open on July 15-18 at the Royal Troon Golf Club in Ayrshire, Scotland. Woods, in the continuing trend of seeing his odds rise after failing to win a major for the eighth straight time, is a lukewarm favorite at 6-1, with Els at 13-2, Mickelson at 8-1, Singh at 10-1, and Goosen at 16-1.

For the U.S. Open, Sherman had Goosen at higher odds than Sergio Garcia, Davis Love III, and Padraig Harrington, but elevated his stock after the impressive victory.

"The British Open odds reflect how he has raised his game, as well as the perception of the public," Sherman said.

Sherman appears to be a great fit with the new sports book staff at the Hilton with the Las Vegas Country Club right across the street from the SuperBook's entrance. Golfers have been known to make a bet or two.