09/26/2003 12:00AM

October a horse bettor's fantasy month


Race players, start your engines. Um, your bankroll. The Octoberfest of horse race handicapping is upon us.

The equivalent of horseplayers' fantasy camp starts its 16-day run on Oct. 9 and finishes up the day before the World Thoroughbred Championships at Santa Anita Oct. 25.

It comprises three handicapping tournaments, and the cost to enter all three is $1,750. That gives a tournament player a crack at a combined prize fund of almost $600,000. Three tournaments. Three different locales. Three different formats.

It all starts on Thursday, Oct. 9, at the Orleans. The Fall Classic (formerly the National Handicapping Challenge) is in its seventh year. It runs for three days for a pot of $400,000 (based on 700 entries). The $500 entry fees plus an additional $50,000 makes up the prize fund. There is $10,000 in daily prizes with approximately $112,000 for the overall winner.

This is the simplest of the contests. Contestants make a dozen mythical $100 win wagers each day on any of the tournament tracks. Full track odds are paid on the first $20, with a cap of 20-1 on the remaining $80.

An early bird contest concludes the Orleans tournament on Sunday, Oct. 12, for those who signed up by the early deadline.

After three dark days, horseplayers' fantasy camp continues with the three-day Live Bankroll Challenge at the Palace Station on Thursday, Oct. 16. There is an entry fee of $250, and players make bets with a real $500 bankroll. In addition to winnings from the live bankroll, there is a $90,000 prize fund (based on 300 entries) and $15,000 in daily prizes.

But it's the real bankroll play that makes this tournament fun. On the first day, entrants must make 10 $50 contest plays - win, place, or show - on any tournament track. On the final two days, players divide their starting bankroll into 10 equal amounts, and that is what they must wager on each bet. For example, if a player starts day 2 with a $1,500 bankroll, he must make 10 $150 bets.

For those who bomb out early, there is a $300 re-buy period to get back in action. With no caps on the payoffs and a live bankroll format, this tournament is as real as it gets. It concludes on Saturday, Oct. 18.

Players may need to rest on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday are days to hit the cleaners, call the family, and reload at the ATM. Then, it's check-in time at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook.

The Pick the Ponies Invitational XXIII tournament is a local Breeders' Cup warm-up. The three-day contest starts on Wednesday, Oct. 22, and runs through Breeders' Cup eve, Friday, Oct. 24. The $500 entry fees will make up the prize fund. Based on 200 entries, the pot will be $100,000. In addition, the Hilton provides $15,000 in daily bonus prizes for those who enter the tournament by Oct. 6.

Each contestant must play from a mythical $3,000 daily bankroll. He must make 10 $100 win-place-show bets per day with full track odds on the first $50 wagered, then capped at 20-1 for win, 8-1 for place, and 4-1 for show. Based on a sellout, the winner will get $38,000 with prize awards paid down to 30th place.

After Pick the Ponies is over Friday, call it an early night and get ready for the Breeders' Cup, which starts the next morning at 10 in Las Vegas.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.