09/08/2005 11:00PM

If you can't beat the crowds, join 'em

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As we head into another fall of football and baseball competition, I can't help but observe the psyche of horseplayers.

For most of the year, there are more horseplayers than sports players in the race and sports books throughout Las Vegas. From the local haunts to the Strip layouts, horseplayers and horse races take center stage most of the time.

I say most of the time.

But on Sundays in the fall, those same loyal horseplayers are almost run clean out of the race and sports books. This is not by design or intention, but simply by the pure volume of players waiting all year for football. For the next five months, until the Super Bowl, the race books on Sundays become sports books with some races. The races take a back seat on other days as well, with college gridiron action on Saturdays and NFL games on some Thursdays, not to mention the Monday Night fare.

Massive betting lines start forming early in the mornings, and the books are stretched to capacity. Football handicapping contests are as common in the books as a complimentary cocktail. Local giants like Station Casinos and Coast Casinos offer contests with prize funds of over $1 million, with weekly prizes that rival a good pick-six hit. An entry fee of as little as $25 gets a player in action for the entire season going for decent cash every weekend. There are even some contests offered for free, and they yield heavy traffic for host locations.

Football becomes the focal point throughout the autumn in the books. Never mind that it is the fall championship racing season. Never mind that it's Breeders' Cup time, this is football country.

So it's surprising that horseplayers hardly ever get caught up in all the football hoopla. A recent check of horseplayers who were in the books on closing day for Del Mar confirm the estimates that about 10 percent of horseplayers partake in the football contests. Even if that estimate is doubled, that would be only 20 percent of the horse-playing population. It seems that waiting a week for a multitude of three-hour-plus games seems too much to ask for the quick-paced, superfecta-minded horseplayers.

But, if Las Vegas horseplayers are going to subject themselves to the yelling, screaming and crowding of football punters in the books on Sundays, they might reconsider joining that football frenzy rather than futilely trying to beat it.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of Race Day Las Vegas radio show.