09/10/2002 11:00PM

At last, the 'Bad Blood' bettors have waited for

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LAS VEGAS - Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas don't like each other.

The two junior middleweight boxers will settle their differences in the ring Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Event Center. The bout is being billed as "Bad Blood" and the name seems to fit.

Both are Latino men from Los Angeles with numerous fans, many of whom will be descending on Las Vegas this weekend. De La Hoya is the Golden Boy, while Vargas maintains he is from the streets and "more Mexican" than his rival. The closest either fighter has ever come to explaining their mutual animosity is Vargas's claim that De La Hoya snubbed him after winning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics. De La Hoya always declines to go into specifics, but he has used the word "hate" more than once.

The two fighters shoved each other and got in a shouting match at a January press conference announcing that they would finally fight each other. The war of words continued in the media, and seemed to escalate after their originally scheduled May 4 bout was postponed after De La Hoya injured his left hand in training and had to have surgery. (Vargas, predictably, questioned De La Hoya's toughness.)

They will finally settle matters Saturday night in the most highly anticipated fight in Las Vegas this year.

De La Hoya is 34-2 with 27 knockouts while Vargas is 22-1 with all wins by knockout. Both lost to Felix Trinidad at Mandalay Bay. Bookmakers have made De La Hoya the favorite, but more early money has actually come in on Vargas.

"We opened De La Hoya at -250/+210 and we had some takers on Vargas, so we're now at -230/+190," said Hugh Citron, a Mandalay Bay race and sports book supervisor. "We've also taken some sizable bets on De La Hoya, so we haven't gone any lower."

Depending on who you ask, some say the odds will continue to drop while others say the popular De La Hoya will get bet up, so the betting could be as contentious as the action in the ring.

Most bettors think the fight will go the distance. The over/under prop opened at 10 1/2 rounds with bettors laying -110 either way. Bettors have been backing the "will go 10 1/2 rounds." As of noon Wednesday it was at -130 while the "won't go" was at +110.

Mandalay Bay, and most other sports books that take boxing wagers, will also have knockout/decision/draw props and round-by-round knockout props.

Handicapping battles

There won't be any fisticuffs but there's sure to be plenty of trash talking every Friday night this fall at the Stardust sports book as 16 handicappers compete in the annual Stardust Invitational.

The first battle is this Friday between defending champion Bert Osborne, the sports book director at the Coast Casinos, and Sporting News Radio's "Papa" Joe Chevalier, who can certainly talk a good game. Chevalier won the tournament in 1999.

Each handicapper makes seven football selections - college or pro, sides or totals - on the weekend's card with one game designated as a best bet. The winner moves on and the loser goes home.

The field includes eight public handicappers (Greg Daraban, Andy Iskoe, Mike Lee, Wayne Root, Scott Spreitzer, Ted Svransky, Jimmy Vaccaro, and Ken White), three industry professionals (Osborne, Olympic director of marketing Carol Lucan, and Las Vegas Sports Consultant oddsmaker Cesar Robaina), three media members (Chevalier, Buzz Daly, and Lance Zierlein), and two celebrities (Rudy Ruettiger, the real-life "Rudy," and former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian).

* A record 281 handicappers put up $1,500 each to enter this year's Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, the most prestigious football contest of its kind. Each handicapper picks five games a week against the spread. This year, the Hilton will return all entry fees as prize money, so the purse is $421,500 ($168,600 to the champion), plus an additional $10,000 mini-contest in the final three weeks of the season, and a $10,000 bonus if the champion exceeds 67 percent on his selections. In week 1, a dozen handicappers went 5-0 with another 31 going 4-1. Ten got off to 0-5 starts.

* A competing high-end contest at Station Casinos, called the Gambler's Challenge, drew a field of 129 who put up $1,000 each. The format is similar to the SuperContest, with a few college games and NFL totals thrown in. Three entrants went 5-0, with another 15 at 4-1, while three went 0-3.

* Station Casinos is also conducting a media contest for charity. The casino company is donating a total of $25,000 throughout the season, $1,000 to the charity of each week's winner, plus season-ending prizes for the 57 contestants and their benefactors.

Racing contests

The early-bird deadline for the Championship at The Orleans, to be held Oct. 10-12, is next Wednesday. Those paying their $500 entry fee will be eligible for a free $20,000 bonus contest on Sunday, Oct. 13, the day following the main tournament.

* The Coast Casinos has released its schedule for 2003: Suncoast Invitational on Jan. 15-18, Championship at The Orleans on April 2-5, an inaugural contest at the Gold Coast on Aug. 20-23, and another Championship at The Orleans on Oct. 8-11.

* The Reno Hilton has set the dates for its 2003 tourneys: Winter Challenge on Feb. 5-7, Summer Showdown on June 20-21, and the Brawl in the Fall on Sept. 4-7.

* Binion's Shoe Q, which is held each Friday at the downtown hotel, was left off the list of local contests that are on hiatus during the Fairplex meet.

Spotlight on Sin City

The Travel Channel airs several Vegas-related shows this weekend with "World's Greatest Casinos" and "Best Places to Strike It Rich" on Friday night and "Top Ten Las Vegas Casinos," "Gambling Hotspots," and "Vegas: Beating the Odds" on Saturday night. (Atlantic City also gets some air time with "Atlantic City: Beauty, Boardwalk" on Saturday night.)

In addition, next Tuesday is the debut of MTV's newest season of "The Real World," which is credited as being the first reality show. This year's cast of twentysomethings was housed in a suite at the Palms.