06/23/2003 12:00AM

Latecomer captures tourney


Most of the horseplayers who took part in last weekend's Summer Showdown III tournament at the Reno Hilton were trying to qualify for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

Steve Daggett of Walnut Creek, Calif., missed the June 7 early-bird deadline to be eligible for the four NHC berths, but he made the 200-mile drive from the Bay Area and entered anyway.

The tournament drew 139 entries at $200 apiece, and contestants had to put $300 in live bets through the windows on each of the two days. After Friday's opening day, Daggett had turned his $300 into $336 and was in a distant 23rd place, nearly $2,000 behind the leader, Dave Snyder of Mission Viejo, Calif.

Daggett more than made up that deficit on Saturday, collecting $4,440 from his $300 in plays for a two-day total of $4,776, well ahead of Reno Hilton regular Larry Hodin, who built his bankroll to $4,000. In addition to the real-money earnings, Daggett claimed $11,120 for finishing first, and Hodin won $4,994.

Nevertheless, it will be Hodin going on to the NHC at Bally's Las Vegas in January along with the next three finishers, but tournament director Steve Fierro said Daggett wasn't crying over spilled milk.

"When he called earlier in the week, I explain that he wouldn't be eligible for the early-bird bonus, and he was fine with that," Fierro said. "He wasn't too bummed afterward. He knew what he was getting into. He was happy with his winnings - and why wouldn't he be since he turned $800 into nearly $16,000? - though he did say, 'This is the last time I'll skip the early bird.'"

While Daggett stays home, Dane Moore will be representing northern California at the NHC, as he finished third with a final bankroll of $2,925.80 (plus $2,780 from the prize pool). Snyder held on for fourth place with $2,852 (plus $1,947).

Summer Showdown I champion Richard Witt, a sports handicapper for the New York Post and a former advertising rep for DRF, finished fifth with $2,580 in earnings (plus $1,391). Normally, that would be the extent of his bounty, but with Daggett missing the deadline, the final NHC berth falls to Witt, who, along with the other qualifiers, gets round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations.

"I'm calling him Mr. Lucky," Fierro said.

Summer tournaments heating up

The next big tournament on the horizon is the inaugural Gold Coast Summer Classic on July 10-12. It's run by the same Coast Casinos crew that handles tourneys at The Orleans and Suncoast, but now they're expanding to the upgraded property on Flamingo Road, just west of the Strip.

The Gold Coast tourney will differ from past Coast offerings by having win and place wagering instead of win only. The entry fee will be $400, and contestants will make 15 mythical $200 win and place bets each of the three days. Also, instead of having daily prizes, the Gold Coast will offer side pools for $200 each day.

For those wanting to try out the new format, the Gold Coast will be holding a free preview contest this Wednesday, with players making seven selections at six contest tracks. There is a $1,000 winner-take-all prize.

Bally's will host Summer Stakes III on Aug. 1-2, with a $1,000 entry fee and three NHC berths on the line (the fourth berth went to Andrew Osborne, the winner of the Bally's Moolah tourney this spring). Previously, this tournament had win-place-show wagering the first day and exotic wagering the second day, but this year it's been changed to 15 mythical $2 win, place, and show wagers on each day.

The tournament circuit returns to the Reno Hilton on Sept. 6-7. Formerly called the Brawl in the Fall, the September Shootout will be the first DRF/NTRA qualifier (four more berths are up for grabs) to completely borrow the NHC format of using 15 plays, with eight races being mandatory. The entry fee is $500 before Aug. 10 and $600 afterward, and is limited to the first 200 entries (again, to mimic the NHC field). It's also the first Saturday-Sunday tourney in memory.

"We wanted to try it out on a Saturday and Sunday, plus that's the last weekend of the Del Mar meet and we figured some people might want to stick around for the Monday races," Fierro said. "We're also excited because this gives those who qualify the advantage of having already played the format, plus people who have already qualified can enter the tournament and practice."

Other Las Vegas tournaments later in the year include the Championship at The Orleans on Oct. 9-11 and Pick the Ponies XXIII at the Las Vegas Hilton on Oct. 22-24, the week of the Breeders' Cup.

Sports book notes

Mirroring the way the fans at the Staples Center got behind underdog Vitali Klitschko in his heavyweight title fight against Lennox Lewis last Saturday night, most of the bets came in on Klitschko (odds of 7-2) at Las Vegas sports books. Klitschko, whose face was bloodied in the third round, led on all three judges' scorecards until ring physicians stopped the fight after the sixth. The stoppage was not greeted warmly by bettors up and down the Strip in the crowded sports books, where the fight was shown for free on HBO instead of on pay-per-view. Bettors did fare better with the under of 9 rounds, but bookmakers were happy to trade that for a Klitschko loss.

* Bettors who thought they saw value on Wimbledon defending men's champion Lleyton Hewitt as a lukewarm 3-1 favorite didn't get much bang for their bucks. On Monday, in the first match of the entire tournament, Hewitt became only the second defending Wimbledon champ and No. 1 seed to lose in the opening round.

* Bettors also came up short in the Arena Bowl, as the Tampa Bay Storm was bet from a 3-point favorite down to 2 1/2. The Storm won 43-29. I was also on the losing side of that pick, though my recommendation on the under (109 1/2) was an easy winner.

* The NBA Draft is Thursday, but don't expect any change in the teams' odds. Everyone knows where the top players are going, and that's already been factored in - and besides, the Cavaliers are getting LeBron James, and they're still 100-1 to win next year's title, according to odds by Las Vegas Sports Consultants. Also, the non-lottery players aren't good enough to greatly impact a team's chances.