05/29/2006 11:00PM

Indy 500 entertained even novices

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I sometimes see people watching a sport they don't usually watch, and often they are surprised by how much they are entertained.

We see that at this time of year with the NHL and also with the WNBA and the college softball that keeps popping up on the tube, and we'll see it for the next month and a half with soccer during the World Cup.

It also happened Sunday with the Indianapolis 500. Most of us don't follow the Indy Racing League, but those who watched the Indy 500 were treated to high drama and a thrilling finish. It has been 37 years since Mario Andretti won the Indy 500, but his name is still synonymous with speed. Take, for example, "Hey, buddy, who do you think you are, Mario Andretti?"

On Sunday, Mario's son Michael and grandson Marco were battling for the victory and ABC kept its cameras on Mario. Marco looked like he was on his way to victory, especially when Tony Kanaan was unable to pass him early in the final lap, but then Kanaan came on again and passed him just before the wire to win by .0635 seconds, the second-closest finish ever at the Brickyard.

Kanaan, of Brazil, was the 8-1 fifth choice at Station Casinos here in Vegas, but bettors had several other things to follow during the race, including head-to-head matchups. An interesting proposition wager at Stations had the Brazilian drivers, including race favorite Helio Castroneves and Vitor Meira, at +170 vs. the world, so that final pass gave Brazilian bettors the money.

Another Stations prop had Castroneves as a -200 favorite over Nextel Cup driver Jimmie Johnson, who was the favorite in the Coca-Cola 600 later in the day, as to who would have the better finish in their respective race. When Castroneves crashed on the 109th lap to finish 25th, that made it easy for Johnson bettors to cash on their +170 wagers. Johnson was in contention the whole way but he ended up finishing second to Kasey Kahne, the 8-1 fourth choice at Stations and as high as 20-1 at the Golden Nugget downtown.

Kahne's No. 9 Dodge won a prop that had Ford and Dodge at +145 as the winning manufacturer vs. Chevrolet, which was -175. Five Chevys were in the top 10 but none kept up with Kahne.

Other Station props had whether the winning car would be odd or even (odd cashed at -155) and the winning number over/under 23 1/2 (the under cashed at +110).

Gonzalez, Hughes win fights

On Saturday night, Jhonny Gonzalez won a split decision over Fernando Montiel to win the WBO bantamweight title at the Home Depot Center, in Carson, Calif., in a pick-em fight (-115 on both sides at the Stardust).

The fight was devoid of much action. That wasn't the case just down the road at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with the Ultimate Fighting Championship card, where there was much more action for the younger crowd.

In the featured bout, welterweight champion Matt Hughes recorded a first-round stoppage of UFC legend Royce Gracie. Hughes was a solid -300 favorite. In fact, the chalk won the four top bouts on the card.

UFC 61 is set for July 8 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Nobody bet on the winner - again

The golf season has had several first-time winners and low payoffs at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book for tournament winners who were not included in the list of individuals one could bet on but were lumped instead into "field" bets.

Still, at least some bettors cashed in those cases. But for the second time in the past seven weeks, no one bought a winning ticket on a tournament winner at the Hilton. Back on May 13-16, Aaron Baddeley went off at 125-1 with no bets on him prior to his victory in the Verizon Heritage, and last weekend the victorious Jeff Maggert at 100-1 didn't have a single backer to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn.

Sunriver early Belmont favorite

The Imperial Palace has stepped up with futures for next Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

Sunriver, who is coming off a victory in the Peter Pan Stakes, opened as the 3-1 favorite and has been bet down to 5-2. Kentucky Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat is next at 4-1, with Steppenwolfer at 7-1, Jazil at 8-1, Hemmingway's Key at 12-1, and Bob and John and Deputy Glitters at 15-1.

"We did futures for the Preakness, and with Barbaro and Bernardini out of the Belmont, we felt it would be a wide-open race," said Mike Fay, IP specialty games manager, which includes race, sports, and poker.

Even though the Imperial Palace is now owned by Harrah's, the race and sports book is still operating independently. Among other attractive offerings there is an 8-cent baseball line - as opposed to some Strip properties that have a 20-cent line - and NFL opening-week numbers with bets being offered at -108 as opposed to the standard -110.