09/02/2003 11:00PM

It's 'September Shootout' in Reno

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The handicapping tournament circuit runs though Reno this weekend.

Held Saturday and Sunday in the spacious Reno Hilton race and sports book, the $500 buy-in "September Shootout" will be the first Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship qualifying tournament to use the same exact format as the national championships. Each player makes 15 mythical $2 win and place wagers each day, with eight races (chosen by the tournament organizers) being mandatory for everyone in the contest.

The entry fee is $500, and the field is limited to 200 entries to more closely mirror playing in the national championships. The top four finishers will win a berth in the Jan 16-17 championships, including round-trip airfare to Las Vegas (from the airport nearest their hometowns) and hotel accommodations at Bally's, which will host the finals for the second straight year.

"We're so glad that the NTRA allowed us to use this format," said tournament coordinator Steve Fierro. "We're following the rules to the letter of the NHC, so much so that [NTRA tournament coordinator] Jeff Sotman will be here in case we need a ruling.

"It's a great way for players to qualify while getting used to the format. And for people who are already qualified, what a great way to practice. I really think it gives an advantage to these players when they go up against people who might not be as familiar with the format."

It's also the first contest in recent memory to be run on Saturday and Sunday.

"We wanted to do something different," Fierro said, "and this also lets us get the most high-quality races in the tournament."

Last week, Fierro said he thought he had 194 spots filled, but he said this week that he had 12 cancellations. Even with 185 players, first prize would be $35,000.

Players can still register by calling Fierro at (775) 691-5235. The deadline will be the first mandatory race on Saturday morning.

Seeing stars at the Stardust

The card might be called "Lights Out at the Stardust," but boxing fans will be seeing stars by the end of the night. Headlining the card will be Verno Phillips vs. Michael Lerma in a junior middleweight bout and Lonnie Bradley vs. Nicholas Cervera in the middleweight division, but the biggest draw is Sugar Ray Leonard, who is promoting the fights and will be meeting fans. Gates at the Stardust Pavilion open at 4 p.m. For those who can't make it to the fights, they will be shown live on ESPN2 as part of the "Friday Night Fights" show.

Invitational tourney begins Sept. 12

The traditional Friday night battles in the fall at the Stardust are waged in the Stardust Invitational handicapping tournament. This year's field of 16 has been set with defending champion "Papa" Joe Chevalier, who has been hosting his show from the Mandalay Bay the past three weeks, taking on Dave Malinsky in the first matchup next Friday, Sept. 12, at 9 p.m. The rest of the field, which will be paired up each week in head-to-head matchups with each handicapper giving out seven picks a week with a best bet to be used as a tiebreaker, includes Lem Banker, Jimmy Vaccaro, Dave Cokin, Ken White, Andy Iskoe, Bob Donahue, Ron Frazier, Ted Svransky, Bryan Leonard, Kevin O'Neill, Fezzik, Lee Sterling, David Stratton, and Chuck Esposito.

Odds sweetened for 'happy hour'

Another Friday promotion is being held at Station Casinos this season. It's "Friday Happy Hour" with food and drink specials and increased payoffs on off-the-board parlays from 4 to 8 p.m.

Two-team football parlays (which normally pay 13-5) will be 14-5, three-teamers (normally 6-1) will be 6 1/2-1, four-teamers (normally 10-1) will be 13-1, five-teamers (normally (20-1) will be 25-1, six-teamers (normally 40-1) will be 50-1, seven-teamers (normally 80-1) will be 100-1, and eight-teamers (normally 150-1) will be 200-1. This is the first football season that Station Casinos have offered eight-team parlays.

Figuring out the futures

In Period 2 of the Breeders' Cup Future Wager over the Labor Day weekend, handle was up 38 percent nationally over Period 1 back in July. In Nevada, the increase was more than 230 percent, according to Paul Dressler of the Las Vegas Dissemination Company. After handling only $2,003 in Period 1 (amid complaints of not enough access to the current parimutuel odds), race books did a better job of informing horseplayers and Nevada handled $6,623.

Books divided on Krone vs. P Val

John Velazquez won the Saratoga riding title with a record 61 victories. Velazquez had opened as the 2-1 second choice behind Jerry Bailey in a futures bet offered at the Casino MonteLago in Lake Las Vegas and closed as the 6-5 favorite when betting was shut down two weeks into the meet.

Rob Terch, MonteLago sports book, said he is rooting a little for Julie Krone in the Del Mar jockeys' race. Despite more widespread betting than on the Saratoga race, Patrick Valenzuela was bet down from 2-1 to 11-10. Heading into Wednesday's card, Valenzuela held a 44-36 lead over Krone with seven racing days remaining before the end of the meet next Wednesday, Sept. 10.

At the Palms, they're still pulling for Valenzuela since Krone opened at 1,000-1 and was bet all the way down to 2-1 by the time they closed the future book last week. Valenzuela closed at -250 (odds of 2-5).