05/12/2004 12:00AM

Players scramble for Series berths


Ever since the Coast Casinos announced its Horseplayers World Series, slated for Jan. 27-29, tournament players have been inquiring about how they can qualify for one of the 1,000 berths for the $1 million contest and its first-place prize of $500,000.

Bob Gregorka, director of race book operations for the Coast Casinos, said qualifying tournaments are coming together. Coast Casinos CEO Michael Gaughan has guaranteed 200 of the spots to come from their own casinos, and 50 people qualified in the Championship at the Orleans last month. Six others earned berths in the Derby Coast to Coast Shootout two weeks ago. In addition, local handicappers are vying for berths in free contests held at the Coast Casinos (The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Barbary Coast) every Wednesday through Friday.

The first outside tournament to offer spots in the World Series will

be the Summer Showdown IV on June 19-20 at the Reno Hilton. The top two finishers will earn a berth, plus hotel accommodations and $300 to be used for airfare from the qualifiers' hometown to Las Vegas.

Tournament players will probably recall that the Reno Hilton has sent players to the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship the past two years and also held a qualifier this past February for next year's NHC. Steve Fierro, tournament coordinator for the Hilton, said he doesn't see involvement in both events as a conflict.

"The more the merrier as far as handicapping tournaments are concerned," Fierro said. "The Reno Hilton wanted to provide players with the chance to pull off an NTRA-World Series double."

In the Summer Showdown, players pay a $200 entry fee and make $600 in live parimutuel wagers over the two days of the tournament, keeping all winnings in addition to playing for prize money. Fierro said the field is limited to 250 entries.

As for other tournaments, Gregorka said the Gold Coast Summer Classic ($400 entry) on July 15-17 will send the top 35 finishers to the World Series, and the Fall Classic at the Orleans ($500 entry) on Oct. 14-16 will send the top 50. Also, an undetermined amount will come from the Breeders' Cup Shoot Out on Oct. 27-28.

In addition, Gregorka said that after the weekly contests are done at Hollywood Park, announcements will be forthcoming on a Del Mar promotion from July 21 through Aug. 8. The promotion will award 10 World Series berths, an Oak Tree promotion from Sept. 21-30 for another five spots, and an Aqueduct promotion from Nov. 3 through Dec. 6 for another five spots.

Gregorka said that any of the 200 guaranteed spots that are not filled after all of the events this year will be distributed in a Last Chance Shootout tournament in January on a date to be announced.

When reached Wednesday morning, Gregorka had an incomplete list of outside qualifying tournaments, but said the list included the Meadowlands, Delaware Park, four New York City OTBs, and Fair Meadows in Tulsa, Okla., with many more in negotiations.

Want to bet against Smarty?

Earlier this week, Station Casinos put up a proposition bet on whether Smarty Jones will win the Preakness on Saturday. The "yes" was offered at +145 (bet $1 to win $1.45, or just better than 7-5) with the bettors wanting to take the "no" being required to lay -175 (bet $1.75 to win $1).

Micah Roberts, race and sports book director at Palace Station, said he was surprised that the early betting was coming in on the "yes."

Obviously, those people must have been believing some of the speculation that Smarty Jones will go off around even-money in the Preakness. If you believe he will go off around 2-1, then laying only -175 is pretty good value.

Some would argue that the smart thing to do is to take the free bet, laying $35 on this prop to win $20 that Smarty Jones will not win, then betting $20 to win on Smarty Jones in the parimutuel pool.

Can Nets steal one on the road?

The Nets and Pistons tip off the sports weekend with Game 5 of their series Friday (7 p.m. Eastern on TNT). The home team has dominated in this series. The Pistons won the first two games at home in blowouts, and the Nets returned the favor in their two home games.

Friday's game is back in Detroit, but I'm siding with the road team to at least cover the spread if not pull the outright upset. As of noon Wednesday, the line has been bet from the Pistons -6 to -7 (again, probably because everyone has seen how dominant the home teams have been), so I will take the Nets +7 for 1 unit and hope they carry the momentum from their two home wins onto the road. I'm also counting on New Jersey's playoff experience to come through.

My plays went 2-2 last week, with a loss on the Lakers vs. the Spurs on Wednesday, a loss on the Nets +5 at Detroit last Friday (as you see, I'm getting a better price this time around), a win on the Nets-Pistons over 164, and a win on the Kings +6 at the Timberwolves on Saturday. My NBA playoff record is 7-11 - not very convenient for my bankroll - with one push, resulting in a net loss of 5.1 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

More weekend sports action

The NASCAR Nextel Cup series was idle last week, but returns Saturday with the Chevy American Revolution 400 from the Richmond International Raceway. Jeff Gordon, who has won the last two races on the circuit, is the 6-1 favorite, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 7-1, and the trio of Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, and Matt Kenseth all at 8-1, according to odds from Las Vegas Sports Consultants.

* Boxing fans who enjoyed last Saturday's bout between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez are in for another exciting match this Saturday, when Roy Jones Jr. puts his WBC light heavyweight belt on the line vs. Antonio Tarver at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. This is a rematch of a controversial majority decision won by Jones on Nov. 8. Jones was a bigger favorite last time, but this Saturday he is only a -500 favorite, with Tarver being priced at +375.

* The Arena Football League's regular season is down to its final three weeks. The Las Vegas Gladiators are 6-7 and need to win their last three games to have a chance to make the playoffs, and even then they will need help. Their toughest test is this Sunday vs. the San Jose SaberCats, who are the 2-1 favorites to win the Arena Bowl, according to LVSC. On Sunday, the SaberCats are five-point favorites, with the over/under at 109, the highest in the league this weekend. Kickoff has been moved back from noon to 3 p.m.