06/06/2007 11:00PM

How 'bout Rags to Riches at 10-1?


LAS VEGAS – Parimutel betting for Saturday's Belmont Stakes was to begin on Friday, but visitors to the Las Vegas Hilton have been tracking the odds for nearly two weeks. And there was a lot of action to follow.

The odds were first put up by supervisor Matt Metcalfe on May 27. At that time, it was looking as if we were going to have a rubber match between Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and Preakness victor Curlin. Metcalfe made Curlin the 2-1 favorite, with Hard Spun at 3-1, Street Sense at 4-1, Circular Quay and Slew's Tizzy at 12-1, Imawildandcrazyguy at 15-1, and Tiago at 18-1. Rags to Riches was also available at 10-1 even though the filly's connections hadn't announced she would take on the boys.

That's a pretty good opening line two weeks out. C P West was the only horse that was entered Wednesday who didn't make that list, and that's only because trainer Nick Zito said the Belmont was unlikely for the colt after his effort in the Preakness. C P West was added to the list on Tuesday at 20-1. Some other hopefuls have been added along the way, with Digger popping up on the board at 100-1 and Time Squared at 30-1, but neither made it to the entry box.

But the biggest changes in the Belmont odds have come because of the uncertain plans for Street Sense and Rags to Riches.

After opening at 4-1, Street Sense went up to 5-1 as his connections waffled over running, then dropped to 3-1 when it was looking more likely that he would run, and then he was taken off the board when he was declared from the race.

Metcalfe said he raised Rags to Riches as high as 15-1 when it appeared Circular Quay was the more likely Todd Pletcher horse to run, but then lowered her back to 9-1 last Sunday. After Tuesday's official announcement that she was in, her odds were lowered to 5-1.

Before the post-position draw on Wednesday, she stood as the third choice behind Curlin at 4-5 and Hard Spun at 3-1. The morning line from Belmont came out with Curlin at 6-5, Hard Spun at 5-2, and Rags to Riches at 3-1. Curlin at 6-5 might look like value compared to the 4-5 offered at the Hilton, but keep in mind that the Hilton number was driven down during advanced wagering when it looked as if he might not have to face either Street Sense or Rags to Riches.

While the Belmont is shaping up as an interesting betting race, aided by the battles of the sexes, no one is expecting it to break any betting records with no Triple Crown on the line and its small field. The Belmont record handle in Nevada was $2.29 million three years ago when Smarty Jones was going for the Triple Crown.

* There was a Nevada record set last month in Derby wagering as the state's race books handled $6.38 million, up from the $5.62 million wagered last year. Vinny Magliulo of the Las Vegas Dissemination Company, the state's hub, said that in addition to the competitive full field of 20 horses, one reason for the record was that there were a lot of high-rollers in town for the Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya fight that same night.

* Preakness handle was down 10 percent from last year as the books handled only $2.02 million despite Street Sense looking like a Triple Crown threat.

Tournament circuit rolls along

The Hilton hosted the Pick the Ponies Invitational the Wednesday through Friday of Derby Week with a full field of 200 entrants who put up $500 apiece (actually, early-bird entrants only had to pay $400 with the Hilton putting in the remaining $100 on those entries to bring the total purse to $100,000). Greg Texler, 50, of Boulder, Colo., took the top prize of $38,000, edging out the dean of handicapping tournaments, Joe Hinson, 64, of Germantown, Tenn. Contestants made 12 mythical $100 across-the-board wagers each day and, heading into the final day, Stanley Nisetich of Las Vegas was in the lead with 11,550 points, but Texler and Hinson were just off the pace at 10,700 and 10,470. They pulled away from the field, but even though Hinson outscored Texler on the final day, he wasn't able to catch him as Texler won 16,330 to 16,175. The final margin of 155 points comes down to one mutuel payoff of an extra $3.10. Hinson settled for $19,000.

* The South Point Open was held May 24-26 at the casino on the far south end of the Strip (five miles from McCarran International Airport) with a $500 entry fee. Tom Quigley, 47, of Beverly Hills, Calif., and publisher of The Horseplayer Magazine, blew away the field of 253 with a score of 6,106 points to claim the first-place prize of $44,275. Joseph Boyle was a distant second with 4,461 points to claim $18,975, and the partnership of John Linkletter and Sara Horsley was third with 4,366 to earn $12,650.

* The next handicapping tournament on the Nevada circuit is in the Reno area (technically in Sparks) with the Leroy's Thoroughbred Challenge at John Ascuaga's Nugget on June 21-23. The entry fee is $500 and each contestant makes 10 mythical $100 wagers each day. The difference with this tournament is players decide if each wager will be win, place, or show - but the money can't be split among the pools. Full track odds will be paid on the first $20 wagered, with the remaining $80 capped at 20-1 for win, 8-1 for place and 4-1 for show. Leroy's is new to the big horse tournaments, but tournament director Chris Andrews ran the popular World Championship of Race Horse Handicapping event at the Club Cal-Neva from 1983 through 2000. Andrews is hoping for a modest field of 100 players for Leroy's maiden event, with a top prize of $25,000.

* The next major tournament in Las Vegas is the Gold Coast Summer Classic on July 26-28 with a $400 entry fee and a format that calls for 15 mythical $200 win-and-place wagers per day. In addition to the prize money, the top 10 finishers will earn berths to the Horseplayer World Series on Jan. 24-26.

* There are two tournaments in Las Vegas in August - the high-end $2,000 per entry Horse Race Handicapping Challenge at Wynn Las Vegas on Aug. 10-11 and the $500 per entry (again, just $400 if registered early) Pick the Ponies at the Las Vegas Hilton on Aug. 16-18.

o October brings the Fall Classic at the Orleans on Oct. 4-6 and yet another Pick the Ponies at the Hilton on the week before the Breeders' Cup, Oct. 24-26.