11/15/2001 1:00AM

Lewis, Rahman stage lovefest before fisticuffs


Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman definitely have a love-hate relationship.

Since Rahman landed a vicious right hand that knocked out Lewis on April 21, the two have been trading plaudits as often as barbs.

In one pre-fight interview Wednesday, Lewis said Rahman got lucky with a "lottery punch." Lewis went on to ask a rhetorical question: "Have you ever heard of anyone winning the lottery a second time?" But then he went on to thank Rahman for motivating him. He came just short of saying, "I love you, man."

Rahman continues to take verbal jabs at Lewis, but when a woman at his workout Tuesday yelled out "I love Lennox," Rahman responded by saying, "I love him, too. I love him because of all the money he made me. Lennox bought me a house. Lennox bought me a car. He bought me so many nice things."

But all this pre-fight talk won't matter when they meet Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in a world heavyweight championship bout that is being billed as the "Final Judgement."

The fight will be aired by HBO Pay-Per-View for $49.95 and it will also be shown on closed circuit at Caesars Palace, Circus Circus, the Monte Carlo, the Luxor, San Remo, the Regent and the newly opened Palms. The closed-circuit price is also $50.

Most boxing experts have been saying that this is Lewis's fight to win or lose. They say that if he's focused and in shape (unlike the last fight), that he'll win.

Mandalay Bay race and sports book director Nick Bogdanovich's opening line reflected that, as he made Lewis a -400 favorite (bet $4 to win $1), but the early money has been on Rahman. As of Thursday morning, Lewis was at -300 with Rahman at +250. Rahman won the first fight as a 14-1 underdog and bettors obviously think he's a legitimate champion.

Asked if he expected so much early money on the dog, Bogdanovich said, "It'll probably be early, middle and late money. People like to bet underdogs in these fights, and Lewis has shown he's capable of being knocked out. Besides, the betting public has never really backed Lewis like they did with [Mike] Tyson and [Evander] Holyfield."

Bogdanovich said he would still rank the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad fight in 1999 as the biggest hosted by Mandalay Bay in its short history. That fight went the full 12 rounds, Trinidad earning a controversial decision after De La Hoya won the early rounds and then got defensive down the stretch thinking he was ahead on all of the judges' cards.

The over/under for this fight is set at seven full rounds, with the "will go" at -120 and the "won't go" at -110. Early money has been on the "will go," which opened at even-money.

Bettors have also been betting the "Rahman by KO" prop, which opened at 4-1 and is now down to 3-1. The "Lewis by KO" prop has also been lowered from even-money to 5-6. "Lewis by decision" is 2-1, "Rahman by decision" is 8-1 and "draw" is 25-1.

I'll bet on those last three props. That way, if the fight goes the distance (which I think is very likely because neither boxer will be letting his guard down this time), I'll break even if Lewis wins by decision, and will make a tidy profit if Rahman wins a decision or hit my own lottery if it's a draw.

In the sport of boxing, anything is possible.

Repent new Derby favorite

Repent, the runner-up to Johannesburg in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, has been bet to favoritism in the Kentucky Derby future book at the Coast Resorts. Frank Minervini, horse racing oddsmaker for the Coast properties, lowered Repent to 10-1 after he took a lot of action recently.

"When the Ragozin sheets came out and gave both those two horses a 5, we got a lot of action on Repent," Minervini said. "We took a lot of hits at 30-1, and then we lowered him and got more hits."

Johannesburg is now the 12-1 second choice, followed by Officer (15-1) and Siphonic (18-1).

"We still have a huge hazard [liability] on Officer because we had the future book open back when he was being billed as the next Secretariat," Minnervini said. "He sure looked like it then, but now I'm not so sure he'll get the Derby distance. But it should be a great Hollywood Futurity [Dec. 15] between him and Siphonic, who I think could really develop."

New casino targets horseplayers

The Palms, Las Vegas's newest hotel-casino, which opened Thursday night, is breaking right from the gate in its attempt to attract local horse players.

There are free $1,000 handicapping contests on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Palms. The contest is on the Southern California track, currently Hollywood Park, with contestants picking one horse (plus an alternate) in every race. Points are awarded by taking the mutuel price (rounded up) and adding five points for a win, three points for place, one for show. The winner collects $500, with $250 going to the second-place finisher and $150 for third. Prize money will be split evenly in case of a tie. There is also a $100 early-bird prize for the leader after five races. Winner must be present for that prize.

Perry Swanson, race and sports book manager, said the new resort wanted to do something right away to attract horseplayers.