05/04/2005 12:00AM

Plenty of Derby parties on tap


Churchill Downs is the center of the horse racing universe this weekend with the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby and all of its ancillary pomp and circumstance.

But Las Vegas can lay claim to being the biggest party outside of Louisville, Ky., with all the festivities it has tied to Derby Weekend. In fact, there's almost too much going on, as even the most devout fan can't be two or three places at the same time.

At noon Friday, Richard Eng - turf editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, host of the Raceday Las Vegas Wrap-up Show, and contributor to Daily Racing Form - will be signing copies of his new book, "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies" at the Gambler's Book Shop at 11th Street and Charleston. Anyone buying a copy ($19.99) will receive a coupon for a free T-shirt at the Plaza casino downtown and also a one-day clubhouse pass for the current Hollywood Park meet.

During the day Friday, bettors can advance wager on the Derby at all race books, but it's also Kentucky Oaks Day for the fillies, and two casinos are celebrating Ladies Day. At the Imperial Palace, all "fillies" making $30 in Oaks wagers will receive an officially licensed hat and T-shirt set. Up the Strip at the New Frontier, all customers (male and female) making a $20 wager on the Oaks, which has a post time of 2:45 p.m. in Vegas, will get a Kentucky Oaks commemorative glass.

The two Winchell's Pub & Grills in town - one at 10620 Eastern Ave. in Henderson and the other at 5445 Simmons St. in North Las Vegas - will be rocking for the Oaks as owner Ron Winchell's Summerly is the co-third choice with Runway Model at 6-1 on the Oaks morning line, behind Sis City and In the Gold. Last year, Winchell owned the ninth-place finisher in the Derby, Tapit, who was the Wood Memorial winner.

The festivities pick up intensity on Friday night with three handicapping seminars.

Jason Levin, host of the "Inside Racing" and "Thoroughbred Weekend" radio shows, and author of the 2002 book "From the Desert to the Derby," will be hosting a seminar at the Hard Rock race book at 6 p.m.

On the north end of the Strip, Stratosphere race book host Jay Kessler and handicapper Jerry Jacovitz of Jerry J's Power Page will hold a seminar at 6:30 p.m. Free refreshments will be served starting at 6 p.m.

On the east end of town, the "Track Talk" radio crew of Gordon Jones, Patrick McQuiggan, and John Kelly will host a seminar in the Sam's Town race book at 7 p.m., along with Gulfstream Park TV analyst and Jones's daughter, Joanne Jones.

The Derby talk will be flooding the radio airwaves on Saturday morning. The "Track Talk" group will return to the air at 7:30 a.m. on KLAV AM-1340. The other must-hear radio for racing fans is the "Raceday Las Vegas" show with Ralph Siraco at 8:05 a.m. on KSHP AM-1400.

Levin will also be broadcasting from the Hard Rock, and he will not be the only out-of-town radio personality originating from Las Vegas on Saturday morning. Felix Taverna of KOGO AM-600 in San Diego will host his show from the Caesars Palace race book at 7 a.m. At 9 a.m., Caesars will also host a handicapping seminar with clocker Toby Turrell, workout analyst Bruno DeJulio, and handicapper Larry Zip.

Siraco, after his radio gig, will hold a seminar with Jon Lindo at 9:30 a.m. in the Mardi Gras Ballroom at the Orleans.

The Orleans is the site of the biggest annual Derby party in Las Vegas and the Mardi Gras ballroom is sure to be packed. Tickets can be picked up in the Orleans race book, and include free hot dogs, soda, and beer, plus tickets for T-shirts to be given away at 1 p.m. In the race book, Derby T-shirts or mint julep glasses will be given away with a $20 wager. Similar parties are also being held at the other Coast Casinos properties, in ballrooms at the Gold Coast and Suncoast, and in the race book at the Barbary Coast.

Most of the race books in town also will be giving away souvenirs with wagers of $20 or more on the Derby, including but not limited to the Palms (cap), Las Vegas Hilton (glass), Imperial Palace (glass), New Frontier (glass), Arizona Charlie's East and West (T-shirt), and Jerry's Nugget (T-shirt).

Big parties are also being thrown in separate ballrooms at the Aladdin and at Bally's. The Bally's soiree is a VIP party, but $100 tickets are available to the public for those who want a more upscale all-you-can-eat buffet, including carving stations, and an open bar.

All in all, there's something for anyone wishing to enjoy the sights and sounds of Kentucky Derby 131.