08/19/2001 11:00PM

San Diego man wins on 7-2 shot


LAS VEGAS - Handicapping tournaments are usually won by hitting longshots. Most serious contestants won't even consider playing a horse unless it's at least 10-1, while others demand an even higher minimum price.

That's pretty much how Tim Downs of San Diego approached the $381,500 Championship at the Orleans last week. Partnered with his father, Bob Downs of Huntington Beach, Calif., Downs said, "I eliminated all six- and seven-horse fields and mostly looked at races with 10 to 12 horses, especially turf races. You get a lot of big prices in turf races, and maidens are always good."

But despite all that effort looking for longshots in the three-day event, it was a 7-2 horse in the final contest race that gave Downs the championship.

Players in the Championship at the Orleans made 12 mythical $100 win bets on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Full track odds were paid on the first $20, and the remaining $80 is capped at $42 (20-1). In the next-to-last race of the contest, the Del Mar Oaks, Downs had the 21-1 winner Golden Apples, who paid $44. That boosted his bankroll to $9,110. The contest allows multiple horses to be used in the same race, and Downs had two plays left.

"I heard a rumor that someone was at $9,500, so I figured I needed to get at least that to win the contest," Downs said. "So I played the longest shot on the board and Dixie Law in the last race at Del Mar."

The longshot didn't fire, but Dixie Law rallied five wide and paid $9.40, giving Downs $470 more in contest points to end up with $9,580.

As it turned out, the rumor mill was not completely accurate. The partnership of Peter Cavretta and Frank Zavala had a final bankroll of $9,340 to finish second, but it was still that 7-2 winner that made the difference. Downs collected $109,395 for first place, and the Cavretta-Zavala team got $53,040 for second.

Even though Downs took credit for doing what it takes to win, he acknowledged that luck certainly played a part.

"It's so hard to win this thing," Downs said. "It's 10 percent skill and 90 percent luck. You have to make all the right choices at all the right times."

Downs and his father lucked out on the first day. They had two entries in the tournament, and when the dust settled, all their winners ($3,350 worth) were on one ticket while the other entry had zero points.

So they concentrated on that ticket on day two. Their good entry was getting blanked on the second day until their 12th play of the day. Kimona won the final race at Del Mar, paying $31.40, which was worth $1,570 points and kept the Downses in contention. Illustrating the luck factor, they had Savoy's Prince, the $79.20 winner of Arlington's ninth race (worth $2,472 in contest points) on their other ticket.

But it all came together on Saturday, as the Downses racked up $4,600 to win the title.

Downs said he goes to Del Mar every day, and describes himself as a professional horseplayer ("I don't do anything else," he said with a laugh). He is definitely "old school" when it comes to handicapping.

"You see guys with computers, but they're not handicapping," Downs said. "The computer is giving them someone else's opinion of how to look at a race, unless they wrote the program themselves. I do all my handicapping with the Daily Racing Form. I like to think I won this for the little guy."

The Championship at the Orleans attracted 663 entries and paid out to the top 100 finishers. Fred Peterman was a distant third with $8,212 points and won $26,520; James Lindemen was fourth with $8,068 points and collected $13,260; and Sol Feingold, who won this tournament in October 1999, was fifth with $7,892 and also won $13,260. Sixth through 10th place were awarded $6,630; 11th through 20th received $3,315; 21st through 60th won $828.75; and 61st through 100th got $414.40.

The Orleans also added $20,000 to the overall prize pool with an early-bird contest on Wednesday and $10,000 in daily prize money Thursday through Saturday.

Toms bails out bookmakers

David Toms won the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club at 60-1. His victory, sinking the winning putt on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson by one stroke, was a relief to Nevada bookmakers. They faced a liability with Mickelson, who had been bet down from 15-1 to 7-1 or lower at most sports books.

"Toms has performed well in other majors in the past, so he wasn't a total surprise," said Jeff Sherman, considered by many to be the premier golf oddsmaker in Las Vegas. "But I was surprised by the fact he did not have any factors going into the tournament to warrant his backing. He was not in the best form coming in, and with a new course, nothing really pointed to him as a pick."

Mickelson retains the title as the best player not to have won a major, but Sherman, who resigned his post at the Regent Las Vegas after the start of the PGA Championship and is consulting for some books while pursuing other opportunities, said Mickelson will continue to have his chances. When asked to make odds on Mickelson winning one of the four majors in 2002, Sherman said he would make it 2-1. Tiger Woods would be 2-3.

Sherman has made Woods the 3-1 favorite to win the 2002 Masters, with Mickelson the second choice at 8-1 and British Open champ David Duval at 10-1. David Toms is well down the list at 50-1.

Byrd upsets Tua

Chris Byrd further confused the heavyweight boxing division with an upset of David Tua Saturday night at the Cox Pavilion here in an IBF heavyweight elimination bout.

Tua had opened as a -700 favorite (bet $7 to win $1) with Byrd at +500 (bet $1 to win $5), but early money on Byrd lowered the odds to -400/+300.

Byrd rewarded his backers with a unanimous decision and now is in line for a title fight against the winner of the Lennox Lewis-Hasim Rahman rematch, which is set for Nov. 17 at the Mandalay Bay Resort-Casino in Las Vegas.

Rahman knocked out Lewis in April in South Africa. Mike Tyson wants to face the winner of the rematch, but a judge ordered that the Byrd-Tua winner be given a title fight by April 20, 2002.