09/14/2004 11:00PM

Hopkins-De La Hoya creates buzz

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Football rules the sports books during the fall, but a marquee boxing match can still raise the excitement level a notch.

Bernard Hopkins and Oscar De La Hoya fight Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for the undisputed middleweight championship of the world and the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO belts.

Las Vegas will be full of boxing fans, and the sports books will be even more full than usual, especially at the host hotel and the other casinos in the MGM Mirage family, which are bringing in guests for the weekend.

"Any time you have a big boxing event during the football season, handle is going to increase across the board," said Yolanda Acuna, assistant race and sports book director for MGM Mirage. "There's a lot of excitement in the book and even some boxing fans that don't normally bet football will place some wagers."

A few months ago, the MGM Mirage books opened Hopkins as a -120 favorite based on some consultants feeling De La Hoya should be favored. It has since been bet up to -230, with the popular De La Hoya offered at +190.

"The big money has been on Hopkins, but we've seen a lot of small bets on De La Hoya," Acuna said, before pointing out that "90 percent of the action will come in on Friday and Saturday."

With two world-class fighters, the over/under bet is set at the full 12 rounds, with those betting the over having to lay -155 and those on the under getting +125.

Football contests update

The Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, which last year set a record with 346 entrants at $1,500 apiece, blew away that mark with 411 in this year's contest, making the total purse $616,500 with 40 percent - or $246,600 - going to the champion. If the champion hits 67 percent winners, he would also earn a $10,000 bonus.

Some contestants have a lot of making up to do. Four contestants put in their picks of five NFL sides and went 0-5 the first week. Eleven super contestants went 5-0 in the opening weekend.

Selections of the all the contestants, including the leaders and consensus picks, are available at the Hilton on Friday afternoon.

* The Golden Nugget attracted 95 entries for its $5,000 buy-in Ultimate Football Challenge. The Nugget guarantees $500,000 in prize money, so it will put up the extra $25,000, which should be more than made up for in all the positive public relations the contest has attracted. Seven contestants went 5-0 in the opening weekend, earning six points each because players designate one selection per week as a best bet worth 2 points. Contest selections are available by Saturday night.

* The Gambler's Challenge at Station Casinos attracted 121 entrants at $1,000 apiece. In the opening week, seven contestants went 5-0, including Las Vegas Review-Journal turf editor and Daily Racing Form contributor Richard Eng. Peter Girard went 5-0 in both the SuperContest and the Gambler's Challenge.

* In the Stardust Invitational, one-name wonder Fezzik of lvasports.com defeated defending champion David Stratton, manager of GamingToday, in the first of eight first-round matchups in the single-elimination tournament. Both handicappers went 4-3 on selections, but Fezzik won the tiebreaker as he won with his best bet on Lions +3 vs. the Bears, while Stratton lost with Ravens -3 over the Browns. As a side note, Fezzik also went 4-0-1 in the SuperContest to sit right behind the early pacesetters.

In this Friday night's matchup at 9 p.m. in the Stardust sports book (and broadcast live on KDWN AM-720 and on kdwn.com), Vinnie Magliulo takes on Jimmy Vaccaro. Magliulo is the former head of the Caesars Palace sports book and is opening up the new sports book at the Wynn Las Vegas megaresort next April. Vaccaro, who currently is doing promotions work for the Leroy's network of books, is also an old-school bookmaker who is best known for opening and running the Steve Wynn-owned Mirage in the late 1980's and 1990's. If their track records are worth anything, it should be a win-win situation for anyone using their picks.

Nascar restart

Interest in the Nascar circuit used to wane at this time of year with the points championship already decided and everyone's mind turning to football. But with the new Nextel Cup rules - implemented this year for the first time - each of the top 10 drivers have a chance to win the title over the last 10 races of the year.

"This is great for racing," said Micah Roberts, auto racing oddsmakers for the Station Casinos. "It makes it like the other major sports with a lot of drama leading up to determining the champion."

The top 10 drivers over the first 26 races of the year will battle during the last 10 races in what Nascar calls the "Chase for the Championship." Odds on who will win the championship are: Jeff Gordon (9-5 at Station Casinos), Jimmie Johnson (3-1), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7-2), Tony Stewart (5-1), Matt Kenseth (6-1), Elliott Sadler (8-1), Kurt Busch (9-1), Mark Martin (9-1), Jeremy Mayfield (12-1), and Ryan Newman (15-1).

Gordon has always fared well at the remaining tracks on the circuit, and as the current points leader is a deserving favorite. But the live longshot could be Busch, who made a name for himself in late 2002 in these same races. He wasn't in contention for the season-long title then, but a similar performance would give him the championship this year.

In this Sunday's race - the Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire International Speedway - Busch and Johnson are the co-favorites at 7-1, with Gordon and Newman at 8-1, and Earnhardt, Stewart and Kenseth at 10-1.