07/18/2002 11:00PM

Pro handicappers compete, and many handicappers follow


Las Vegas is a 24/7 town. It's the country's adult vacationland. Race players have come to enjoy the day-and-night simulcasting across three time zones that fills the race books.

But when in the dog days of summer, even the most loyal of race book players may look to pack his bags for a jaunt to a nearby racetrack

For Las Vegas players, this time of the year means a weekend trip to Del Mar.

The track's slogan - "where the turf meets the surf" - is in itself alluring for local punters to leave the 100-plus degrees and head to the track.

The Las Vegas race books offer promotions linked to Del Mar, for horseplayers staying at home to play the horses in air-conditioned surroundings.

One of the most popular local Del Mar promotions is the Toast of the Coast contest, presented by the Coast Casinos properties. Back after a one-year hiatus, the promotion is a contest among eight public handicappers who cover the Del Mar meeting. Patrons at each of the four Coast Casinos race books can see their daily selections, and perhaps use the public handicappers' picks for their own plays.

This year, the Toast of the Coast field includes the Racing Form's Dave Tuley and Brad Free; John Lindo and Bruno De Julio of Today's Racing Digest; Southern California syndicated handicapper Bob Ike; Todd Schrupp of TVG; Form columnist Richard Eng of the Las Vegas-Review Journal; and this writer, representing the Las Vegas Sun.

The spoils for the Toast of the Coast winner is $5,000, although under Racing Form policy, staff members Tuley and Free will give any winnings to charity.

"We received a lot of requests for the picks last year," said Randi Muniz, race book manager at the Orleans. A running tabulation of the handicappers' picks and their daily selections will be available each racing day by 12:30 p.m. at the Orleans and its sister properties, the Suncoast, Gold Coast, and Barbary Coast.

There are some changes since the last Toast of the Coast competition.

Each player will still get a $100 daily bankroll. But, unlike in past contests, the players will have a choice of five equal $20 win bets per day or a minimum play of three selections totaling their daily bank. This gives the handicappers an opportunity to bet more heavily on their best bets each day. A handicapper can bet up to $60 on a single daily pick. Under the old format, sheet followers had no way of telling which plays the handicappers considered best bets of the day.

Referred to as the "sheets" by the players, the daily selections and scores were a popular item the last time the contest was run. "They started asking for the sheets as soon as the book opened each day," Muniz said.

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