05/02/2007 11:00PM

Race books offer incentives on Derby Day


LAS VEGAS - On Kentucky Derby Day here, the most often asked question is, "Who do you like?" but it's followed closely by, "Where are you watching it?"

There's really no best answer. After all, if you're just interested in seeing the Derby, you can stand in any race book for the two-plus minutes and have a view. However, if you want to sit, watch, and wager on the entire undercard, you better show up awfully early in a race book or go to one of the casinos that are opening ballrooms to accommodate much bigger crowds. Those include the Coast Casinos (Orleans, Gold Coast, and Suncoast) as well as their former sister property, now called the South Point, the Planet Hollywood on the Strip, and the Golden Nugget downtown.

If you're in town early enough, you can make the 7 a.m. seminar at the Orleans with Ralph Siraco and Jon Lindo. If you're looking for ways to build your Derby Day bankroll, the Orleans also kicks that off with cash drawings between 7 and 8 a.m.

The Palms is holding drawings after each of the first 10 races from Churchill Downs on Saturday. Tickets are earned by the amount of money wagered on the Derby ($2 to $15 earns one drawing ticket, $16 to $30 earns two, and so on up to eight tickets) with prizes ranging from Derby T-shirts, polo shirts, sweatshirts, and Triple Crown pin sets to gaming chips worth from $100 to $750 after the 10th race, which is the Derby. See the Palms race book for full details.

If you're just interested in the Derby souvenirs, most race books in town have either T-shirts or mint julep glasses and you're only limited by the amount of time you want to spend running around town. Of course, keep in mind that most race books require a $20 minimum wager to get the free swag.

As would be expected, the Derby can be bet at any race book in town, but the number of outlets have increased this year as the Leroy's chain of books, which are located in many of the smaller casinos in town, will be hand-booking the Derby in their books that don't normally take horse racing wagers. They will pay full track odds on the first $20 to win, place, and show, with exotic wagers subject to house limits, so just be careful if playing longshots.

Another casino hand-booking the Derby is Planet Hollywood, which will have its own win odds alongside the nationwide parimutuel pool. Race and sports book director Brad Bryant said he was planning to start with the morning line from Churchill, with perhaps a little tweaking such as offering Curlin at higher odds because he doesn't like his chances, but then will only adjust the odds as he takes non-parimutuel bets, potentially offering a lot of value for those who want to shop and compare.

Those who are willing to do the legwork also will be able to shop around town for different offerings in head-to-head matchups and proposition wagers. Some books will post matchups with just one horse versus another horse in the field, while others will offer top horses such as Curlin, Street Sense, and Nobiz Like Shobiz versus several horses.

Another special wager available on Derby Day is the twin Q at Station Casinos. On normal race days, Stations offers a jackpot of $5,000 to those who can pick the winning quinella combinations in two designated races. In recent years, the casino company has upped the prize pool to $10,000 on Triple Crown days and the Breeders' Cup. But this Derby, the pool will be a cool $20,000. The Derby will be one race with the other yet to be determined.

As for my selection

I'm going with Great Hunter, even though he breaks from the outside in post 20. That post doesn't look that bad considering Stormello, from the 17 hole, should be the only other horse in the auxiliary gate who won't be dropping back. That should give Great Hunter's jockey Corey Nakatani plenty of time to move into position the first time down the stretch.

Great Hunter is a closer but also has shown tactical speed. His win in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita stamped him as a solid contender, but his fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass at Keeneland has a lot of people looking elsewhere for the winner. But that race wasn't as bad as it looks on paper. The Blue Grass had a very slow pace that would usually impede a closer's chances, but Great Hunter was still in position to make a big move, only to be cut off by pacesetting Teuflesberg not once but twice before Nakatani wrapped him up to save him for another day.

At anything close to his morning-line odds of 15-1, he should be the betting value in the race. Among the top contenders, I like Nobiz Like Shobiz the best, and even though I don't know my specific betting strategy yet, I'll be using both of them in exotics with Hard Spun, Scat Daddy, and Any Given Saturday, as well as 50-1 longshot Sedgefield on some tickets. With a 20-horse field and the resulting higher-than-normal payouts, you can play more combinations without cutting too much into profits (assuming you win, of course).

Knockout of a fight

For a lot of people, the Derby isn't the main event this Saturday as the biggest boxing match in years takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena between Oscar De La Hoya and undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is widely considered as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

The fight is a sell-out at 16,700 with a record live gate of $19 million, topping the $16.8 million at the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis heavyweight title fight at the Thomas & Mack Center in 1999.

Wagering here in Las Vegas is also expected to set a record, at least for a non-heavyweight title fight. Money has been coming in on De La Hoya, as Mayweather opened as a -220 favorite at the MGM Mirage books and was down to -180 pretty much all over town as of Wednesday with De La Hoya offered at +160. The will go/won't go 12 rounds prop is priced with the will go at -260 and the won't go at +220. I'm not so sure it'll go the distance. De La Hoya, when he was in his prime, lost twice to Shane Mosley, and Mayweather is quicker than Mosley, so I give the nod to the favorite. But I think Mayweather can knock out De La Hoya, just like Bernard Hopkins did. With a fight of this magnitude, if it's clear that De La Hoya is losing on the scorecards, he could get desperate and leave himself open for the knockout punch. The MGM has a Mayweather knockout at 5-1.