08/14/2006 12:00AM

Only nine compete in Bang Tail


Two horse handicapping tournaments took place here within the last two weeks. Bally's hosted the Bang Tail Challenge harness tourney on Aug. 5, and it was a tremendous opportunity for anyone trying to qualify for the National Harness Handicapping Championship, because there were only nine entries in the live-money event. The entry fee was $300 and players made $360 in parimutuel wagers on races from the Meadowlands and Northville.

John Mataya turned his bankroll into $466.40 - which he got to keep - and collected the top prize of $1,350. Martin Garey was second with earnings of $395.50 and picked up an additional $810. But more importantly, both earned automatic berths into the harness championship on April 27 at the Meadowlands, along with $500 in travel money.

* The $2,000 entry fee for the Wynn Las Vegas Horse Race Handicapping Challenge on Aug. 11-12 was nearly as much as the total purse for the Bang Tail, but there were 52 entries to help race and sports book director John Avello make his guaranteed $100,000 purse. Players made 15 mythical win-and-place wagers each day on the races at Saratoga and Del Mar. The base play was $2, with one $4 "double play" allowed each day. Rebecca Martinez of Coronado, Calif., came from off the pace by posting the second-highest total ($109.20) on the final day to win the tournament with a score of $164.50. Her total earnings were $41,600, which included $36,400 for the victory and another $5,200 for her second-highest point total on Saturday. Gary Pitts of Mountain Home, Ariz., was a little more than $2 behind in second place at $162.10 and earned $15,600. Mark Haidar of Northville, Mich., was third with a final score of $153 to collect $7,800. He was actually the second-biggest winner of the tournament, as he collected an additional $10,400 for being the first-day leader.

Ex-Hollywood agent wins $12 million

All these horse racing contests are great, but it's humbling to compare them (all of them combined) to the World Series of Poker, which wrapped up its $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold'em World Championship at the Rio last Friday at 3:40 a.m.

There were a record 8,773 entrants for a whopping record purse of $82.5 million (after Harrah's took out 6 percent). Jamie Gold, a former Hollywood agent who formed a friendship with two-time champ Johnny Chan, who became his unofficial coach, took home the record first prize of $12 million. Despite the huge field, Gold was the chip leader for 70 percent of the tournament and used his stack to his advantage to bully players. The final four days were pretty much seen as a coronation.

Entering the final table, Gold, of Malibu, Calif., had more than $26 million in chips with Allen Cunningham, of Las Vegas, a distant second at $17.7 million. After busting out most of the players himself, Gold faced off with Paul Wasicka, of Westminster, Colo., at 3:20 a.m. with a 7-1 chip advantage and it took just 20 minutes before he got Wasicka to go all-in and beat him with a pair of queens to Wasicka's 10's.

Wasicka earned $6.1 million for second place. The top 12 finishers all earned more than $1 million.

Maskaev upsets Rahman

A lot was made about Hasim Rahman being the last American heavyweight title-holder leading up to his fight last Saturday night vs. Oleg Maskaev at the Thomas and Mack Center here in Vegas. It was billed as "America's Last Line of Defense" with Russians holding the belts from the three other recognized sanctioning bodies and Maskaev being a native of Kazakhstan. Boxing is all about the hype, so even though Michael Buffer announced that Maskaev was a U.S. citizen and now lives on Staten Island, N.Y., the crowd booed the Russian-American lustily. Rahman, who took most of the late money and closed at -260 at the Wynn, seemed in control most of the fight, with his left jab keeping Maskaev at bay, but the Russian stood in there and had moved ahead on the judges' scorecards by the time the 12th round rolled around.

Maskaev knocked Rahman to the canvas with a vicious right early in the final round, then kept after him. Rahman stumbled and went down again, though referee Jay Nady ruled it wasn't a knockdown. But then Maskaev pummeled Rahman against the ropes, and Nady jumped in to stop the fight with 47 seconds remaining. Maskaev was available at +220 at the Wynn as well as 7-2 by KO and 18-1 for a 12th-round knockout. HBO will replay the bout Saturday night.

* The NFL exhibition season is off and running. Underdogs are faring better than they did during last year's regular season, going 9-6-1 against the spread entering Monday night's Raiders-Vikings game. But where sharp bettors have really been making their money early is on the totals, as the under is 11-5 in the early going, since as the cliche says, the defenses are ahead of the offenses.

* Tiger Woods won his 50th professional tournament two weeks ago as the 5-2 betting favorite in the Buick Open. This week, the Hilton has him as the solid 2-1 favorite in the PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago. Phil Mickelson is the second choice at 10-1, with Ernie Els at 14-1, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk both at 15-1, and Retief Goosen at 20-1.

* King Palm, who is owned by the Maloof Brothers, owners of the NBA's Sacramento Kings and the Palms hotel here in Vegas, is entered to run in the second race at Del Mar on Wednesday. King Palm has finished second in eight straight races. The race is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Pacific.

* The tournaments don't slow down, as this Thursday through Saturday is the $500 buy-in Pick the Ponies at the Las Vegas Hilton. As of noon Monday, there were 147 entries and with last-minute sign-ups the final field should approach last year's total of 164. The format calls for each player to make 10 mythical $200 across-the-board bets each day.

* Also on Thursday, for a lower entry fee, the Coast Casinos (Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast, South Coast, Sam's Town) continues its weekly $10 buy-in contest on the first five races at Del Mar. No one collected the bonus for going 5 for 5 last week, so the progressive jackpot carryover is set at $6,110, with all entry fees to be added to the pot.