08/12/2001 11:00PM

Odd couple Libretto-Rentz win MGM contest

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It's not uncommon for handicapping tournament players to have partners, especially when the entry fee is a hefty $2,500, as it was this past weekend at the fourth Annual Surf & Turf at the MGM Grand. But usually partners have similar handicapping styles and arrive at the same picks. But that isn't the case with Mike Libretto and his partner, Matthew Rentz, who split the MGM Grand's first prize of $79,000.

They are the Odd Couple of handicapping tournaments.

Libretto describes himself as an old-time handicapper who relies solely on Daily Racing Form. Rentz is an avid sheets player, who subscribes to the Thoroughgraph philosophy of finding horses whose form is peaking. But despite their different styles, they agreed at the right time last weekend to win the Surf & Turf tournament, in which players made mythical $2 win and place wagers on each race at Saratoga and Del Mar on Saturday and Sunday.

"We're like that old commercial where they say 'Your chocolate is in my peanut butter,' and 'No, your peanut butter is in my chocolate,' Rentz said. "We work very well together."

Libretto's entry (it was uncertain if Rentz was going to make the trip, so they split one entry under Libretto's name because he was definite that he was going to play) was the leader after the first day, with a bankroll of $154 (based on 20 races and $80 in wagers). The score was impressive because many short-priced horses won at the two tracks that day.

"He [Rentz] handicapped Saratoga and I did Del Mar," Libretto said. "We went 7 for 10 at Saratoga, including [Richard] Migliore at 9-1 [aboard Iron Chancellor in the fifth race] and [Pat] Day on With Anticipation in the Sword Dancer. Our winners at Del Mar included Marine," who paid $17.20 to win in the featured La Jolla.

The daily prize was worth $3,950. In second place after the first day was Sid Weiner of Saugus, Mass., a regular in the MGM contests. Weiner had $171.70 and picked up a $1,975 bonus.

Libretto and Rentz had a fine day Sunday, but they said waiting for the results was like waiting for a photo-finish result to be put up on the board. "It was a relief to see the official sign go up," Libretto said.

Libretto's final total was $261.90. Paul Zubernick had Sunday's second-highest score ($146.80) for the second-place prize of $31,600 for his two-day total of $246.10, just ten cents ahead of Weiner at $246. That dime was worth nearly $8,000, as Weiner collected $23,700.

The top three finishers qualify for the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship. Since Libretto is the name of record, he gets the berth. Their goal is to get Rentz to qualify, too.

The hard-luck story of the tournament was two-time finals qualifier Randy Gallo of Jupiter, Fla. Gallo is the owner of the Bettor Racing OTB in Sioux Falls, S.D. He finished fourth in the Surf & Turf. Instead of sending the top four finishers to the championship finals, the MGM held an early-bird contest for the fourth spot. Players picked a horse in each of Sunday's races at Saratoga and Del Mar - they could be different horses than were used in the regular contest - and Gallo finished second in that contest, to Richard Goodall.

But Gallo won $3,950 for having the highest second-day total.

Tournament circuit on to The Orleans

Many of the top players at the MGM Grand contest will move their tack 2 1/2 miles west on Tropicana Avenue for the Championship at The Orleans, which runs Thursday through Saturday.

Formerly called the National Handicapping Challenge, the Championship at The Orleans has drawn 600 entries, according to tournament director Rick Herron. That number will likely approach 700 by the time late entries are added. Last fall's contest drew 936 players. The entry fee is $500, and can be paid up Thursday morning.

Contestants make 12 mythical $100 win bets on each of the three days. First prize will be 33 percent of the entry fees, and cash prizes will be paid to the top 100 finishers. There is also $10,000 up for grabs each day in daily prizes to the top 10 finishers.

The early-bird contest is being held Wednesday. The Orleans is kicking in $20,000 to reward early sign-ups. Players pick one horse in five races at Del Mar. "We want to give as many people as possible a chance to get their picks in if they're arriving Wednesday," Herron said.

First prize is $10,000, second is $5,000, third $2,500, fourth $1,500, and fifth $1,000.

NASCAR's Gordon a Tiger Woods

Jeff Gordon's NASCAR hot streak continued Sunday, as he won the Global Crossing at The Glen in Watkins Glen, N.Y., as the 5-2 favorite. Gordon set a record with his seventh career road course victory, making him sort of the Tiger Woods of auto racing.

Speaking of Woods, he is the 5-2 favorite to win this week's PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in Duluth, Ga. His odds drifted up from his opening odds of 9-4 at The Regent Las Vegas sports book three weeks ago.

British Open champ David Duval has been bet down from 10-1 to 8-1, and Phil Mickelson, now the undisputed best player never to win a major, has been bet down from 15-1 to 10-1.