04/30/2003 12:00AM

New race book touted on Derby Day

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The Kentucky Derby is a showcase event, so what better time to showcase a new race book?

That's what they're doing this Saturday at the Santa Fe Station in the northwest part of Las Vegas, north on Route 95 to the Rancho exit. The Santa Fe was an independent casino until it was bought by Station Casinos two years ago as an expansion into the booming residential areas of nearby Centennial Hills and Tule Springs.

Since then, the hotel-casino has been undergoing a $3.5 million renovation that now includes the race and sports book - with an emphasis on race. The slot-club booth that had been next to the race book has been moved, allowing room for a 108-seat race book with individual monitors at each seat. A 10-foot projection screen will be used to show the current race, while a bank of 50- and 60-inch plasma screens will display tracks from across the country.

The sports side of the book will feature keno-style chairs and easy access to the sports bar for those wanting to watch their games, but the race side is where the focus will be.

"We really wanted to create a horseplayers' paradise," said Steve Przybocki, director of casino operations. "It's going to be state of the art."

You just can't open the doors these days and expect people to beat a path to the betting windows, so the Santa Fe is hosting a grand-opening event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For a $20 bet on the Derby, visitors get a free buffet in the Taos Steakhouse and a free handicapping seminar by Jerry Jacovitz of "Jerry's J Power Page." In addition, the Back Page girls from the GamingToday newspaper will be posing for pictures.

"We wanted to make it a casual and fun time, in line with other changes at the property," said the Santa Fe's race and sports book manager, Larry Weiss, who moved to the Santa Fe from the Rampart in January. "We're excited about all of the changes and are hoping a lot of people come out to check out the changes and decide to be regular customers."

No shortage of promotions

The Santa Fe is far from the only place laying out the red carpet for horseplayers on Derby Day. In fact, there's no place (with the possible exception of Louisville) with more Derby parties than Las Vegas. It's often referred to as Churchill Downs West.

Many hotels, especially those on the Strip, have moved more toward hosting parties for their VIP guests, but there are still plenty of options for the rest of us.

The Barbary Coast gets the weekend started with a live broadcast of the "Race Day Las Vegas" radio show from 9-10 a.m. Friday with host Ralph Siraco, author Steve Davidowitz, Daily Racing Form pedigree handicapper Lauren Stich, Coast Casinos oddsmaker Frank Minervini and two-time Derby-winning jockey Eddie Delahoussaye. Afterward, a free $2,000 handicapping contest will be held on races 5 through 9 on the Oaks Day card at Churchill Downs (entries will also be accepted at the Suncoast).

At noon Friday, the Gold Coast will be giving out official Derby hats with every $20 bet while supplies last.

Bettors who are contemplating spending either Friday or Saturday at the Rio might consider going there both days. Losing tickets from Friday's races can be placed in a drum for drawings on Saturday for $100 betting vouchers on the Derby as well as other prizes. Drawings will be every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The East side of town has its seminars on Friday night, leading off at 6 p.m. at Sam's Town with the "Track Talk" radio gang of Gordon Jones, his daughter Joanne (who just completed her first season as Gulfstream's on-air hostess) and handicappers Patrick McQuiggan and Bruce Finkelstein.

Farther south, Las Vegas Review-Journal turf editor and Racing Form contributor Richard Eng will join Jacovitz for a seminar from 7-9 p.m. inside the Club Madrid lounge.

It's possible to catch the end of the Sam's Town seminar and make the 10-mile drive to Sunset Station to catch the end of its program.

Saturday is when the real action takes place. Just about every other property will have promotions involving either free T-shirts or mint julep glasses (typically it takes a $20 minimum bet, limited to one per person as long as supplies last).

The biggest and best public parties in town remain in the ballrooms at the Coast Casinos (The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, as well as a smaller party in the Barbary Coast race book). Siraco and Delahoussaye will make a return appearance at the Orleans at 9 a.m. Party tickets have to be picked up in the respective race books where you play.

Other interesting events include the Imperial Palace's $20 buy-in handicapping contest on races 5 through 10 at Churchill, with a jackpot that should pay in excess of $13,000 to the winner, and the Arizona Charlie's West promotion, which will have $1,000 in drawings, including $500 after the Derby. Tickets are earned for each $20 Derby wager, which also gets you a free sub sandwich.

For those looking for more upscale food, Bally's will be having a gourmet spread with carving stations and an open bar in its ballroom. Admission is $50.

Campas may be worth a flier

Big-name boxing matches in Las Vegas are usually scheduled for weekends when nothing else major is happening, so that the city (and especially the host property) can generate huge crowds of gamblers out of thin air.

But Derby weekend is an exception because of how it falls on the calendar. Monday is Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexico's Independence Day, and Vegas loves marketing to the Hispanic population with big-name bouts.

Oscar De La Hoya is a huge -3,500 favorite (risk $35 for every $1 you want to win) over Yori Boy Campas on Saturday night at Mandalay Bay. De La Hoya, who is putting his WBC and WBA junior middleweight titles on the line, repeatedly says he's not overconfident, but it might be hard for him to maintain his focus with his next fight (a much more lucrative one from a pay-per-view standpoint) already set for Sept. 13 vs. Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand. It might be worth a small bet on Campas at 25-1 just in case he catches De La Hoya off guard.

Adding to the card's appeal is the Erik Morales-Bobby Velardez bout for Morales's WBC featherweight title. Morales is a -1300 favorite with the buy-back on Velardez at +800.