10/12/2003 11:00PM

This live-money tournament has a twist

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Horseplayers are opinionated by nature and are more than happy to put their money where their mouths are.

Palace Station, site of this weekend's Live Bankroll Challenge horse handicapping tournament, is hoping for exactly those kinds of players. The tournament runs Thursday through Saturday, with players putting up a $250 entry fee and then starting with a live $500 bankroll. Every contestant will have to make 10 $50 bets (win, place, or show) on the opening day.

For the second day, on Friday, players will also have to make 10 plays at 10 percent of their bankroll. For instance, if they build their bankroll to $1,000 after the first day, they would then make 10 $100 plays on Friday. If they only have $400, they make 10 $40 plays.

An added twist is that players can buy back into the tournament for $300 after the first day.

"We didn't want someone to travel 3,000 miles and be out the first day," tournament host Michael Lavine said. "This gives them another chance, even though they'll be chasing the field."

Players can re-buy once for every original entry they have that drops below $200, but the totals will not be combined - each are scored as a separate entry.

Players keep all their winnings, plus are competing for the prize pool made up of the entry fees (with 50 percent going to the champion) plus another $5,000 a day in prizes for the top scores.

There wasn't an early-bird sign-up period, so Lavine said entries have been slow (after all, horseplayers don't part with their cash if they don't have to). However, he said he has talked to more than 100 people who have expressed interest. Lavine said he thinks the field will approach 200, down from an earlier goal of 300.

"It'll be a mad rush to sign up on Thursday," Lavine said. "I would suggest that people come in on Wednesday if they want to beat the crowd."

Lavine said he and his staff would be in the Palace Station race book by 9 a.m. Wednesday.

On Thursday, tournament staff will be in the book by 7 a.m. to sign up contestants. There is no entry deadline Thursday, as long as you can make your 10 plays.

Call (702) 897-0440 or (800) 321-8555 for more information.

Orleans winner: 'I got lucky'

It's always been my belief that while some tournament veterans have a better-than-average chance of winning these things, anyone can win a given event. We've all had good days at the track when everything falls into place, and if you happen to have those kinds of days in a tournament, it can be much more lucrative.

That was the case this past weekend, when a Las Vegas man won the top prize of $110,400 in the three-day Fall Classic at The Orleans, which drew a field of 690 entries.

"I got lucky," said the winner, who requested that he be identified as a local player known as Richie T.

Richie T. had a good first day last Thursday, with 2,330 points, and then scored 5,012 on Friday (good for the third-highest score of the day and a $1,000 bonus). He was second heading into the final day, when he accumulated 4,900 points to finish with an Orleans-record 12,242 points.

He didn't stay around until the end because he had dinner plans, asking a friend to call him when the results were posted. Instead, he was surprised by a reporter who called to congratulate him.

"No way," he said. "Is this a goof?"

But there was no joke about it. As it was, he had the last laugh as he described his handicapping method.

"I used to really study the races and bet on what I thought was going to happen, but now I just bet on what I want to happen," he said. "This time it all fell into place."

In the previous nine tournaments under the same format, no one had eclipsed the record of 11,080 points set in the inaugural tournament in March 1998. With so many long-priced horses coming in last weekend, it wasn't surprising that two players surpassed that mark. Cliff Hartnitt finished second with 11,177 points and collected second-prize money of $55,200, plus an additional $3,500 for having Saturday's high score of 6,961. John Papa was third with 10,520 points and won $27,600. In all, prizes were paid down to 80th place, and a total of $395,000 was awarded.

Las Vegas sports book notes

Stuart Appleby defeated Scott McCarron in a playoff to win the Las Vegas Invitational, held over five days last week at three local golf courses. Appleby was a co-fourth choice at 20-1 and among the top contenders. McCarron was 40-1.

Sergio Garcia, the third choice at 18-1, didn't make the cut. He was mentioned in local gossip columns as being out late partying each night of the tournament.

* Defending Winston Cup champ Tony Stewart had won only one race this year, but that didn't keep him from being among the favorites to win Saturday night's UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Stewart rewarded his backers with a victory at odds of 10-1, passing pole-sitter and 5-1 favorite Ryan Newman with seven laps to go.

With five races to go in the Winston Cup season, Matt Kenseth holds a commanding 267-point lead over Kevin Harvick. Betting value on Kenseth disappeared long ago, when he won the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 here back in March.

* Sports book operators, while still sweating a possible World Series win by the Cubs, were happy with the amount of handle on the league championship series. Tons of tickets continue to be punched on the Cubs, but wise guys have been more than willing to take the perceived value on the Marlins. The Yankees-Red Sox series has also been drawing heated two-way action - though there are no reports of brawls breaking out in the sports books like they did at Fenway Park on Saturday.

Early line moves

As a busy sports weekend came to a close Sunday night (cut a little short by the rainout in the Yankees-Red Sox series), the Stardust put up its opening lines for next week's college and pro football games.

With only 12 college lines moving off the opening numbers (see the accompanying chart), there wasn't as much movement as usual, down from an average of 16.

The biggest move came in the first game on the board, the Clemson-North Carolina St. ESPN game on Thursday night. N.C. St. opened at -7 1/2, but the early bettors bet it past the key number of 7 and all the way down to -6. Thursday's other game, Air Force-Colorado St., also saw action as Colorado St. was bet from -6 to -6 1/2.

Early bettors also backed No. 1-ranked Oklahoma from a -24 favorite over Missouri (an upset winner over Nebraska on Saturday) to -25. Other marquee games saw home dogs Notre Dame being bet from +10 to +9 1/2 vs. Southern Cal and Virginia taking money from +8 1/2 to +7 1/2 vs. Florida St.

In the NFL, the Giants opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite over the Eagles and were bet up to -3 (+100), meaning bettors who wanted to back the Eagles +3 would have to lay -120 instead of the standard -110. The total also moved on that game, from 38 1/2 down to 37 1/2.

The only other NFL line to move - only seven were offered because of teams playing Sunday and Monday night, plus other games with key injuries - was the Lions being backed as a home dog from +3 1/2 vs. the Cowboys down to +3.