06/23/2005 12:00AM

Tournament action heats up

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The Triple Crown races are behind us, but summer is not the time for horse players to sing the blues, especially tournament players.

The race and sports books in Nevada love putting on handicapping tournaments in the summer. In the fall, the books are full of football bettors and don't have to do much to bring in the crowds.

The summer tournament calendar begins Saturday and Sunday in Reno, with the Summer Showdown at the Reno Hilton. This is a live-money tournament with contestants paying a $200 entry fee, which goes toward prize money, and then making $600 in parimutuel wagers, $300 each day. Players keep all their winnings, and every dollar cashed is worth 1 contest point. The top earners split the prize pool on top of their earnings. There is a limit of three entries per person.

Players can choose any race from 11 contest tracks and make almost any parimutuel wager, including pick fours and superfectas.

Race and sports book manager Don Bourcier said that as of Thursday morning he already had more than 50 entrants, though with no early-bird incentive there is no way of knowing how many people are holding onto their money until the last minute. Bourcier said entries will be taken until 3 p.m. on Saturday.

"Some people buy two entries and play straight win and place bets on one, and go crazy with the second one with tri's and supers or pick threes and pick fours," he said. "If those aren't working out, they might buy another entry. If they're going to be betting in the afternoon anyway, it makes sense to take a shot in the contest."

In addition to the prize money, the top two finishers will also earn a berth (worth $1,000 apiece) in the Horseplayer World Series, to be held at the Orleans in Las Vegas on Jan. 19-21.

There are several other tournaments this summer, both in Reno and in Las Vegas.

Bourcier said the tourney formerly known as the Brawl in the Fall has been moved up a few weeks and will be held Aug. 27-28 at the Reno Hilton. It has been renamed The Great Gallop. The format will be the same as this weekend's tournament, including another two berths offered for the Horseplayer World Series.

"After football season starts, I need a tournament on the other side of the room like I need a hole in the head," he said. "By moving it up a few weeks, we don't interfere with the football crowd, plus the players get to use Del Mar and Saratoga as opposed to Fairplex and Belmont. It's just better all around."

The next tournament in Las Vegas is the Gold Coast Summer Classic held at the Gold Coast on July 14-16, when 10 berths to the World Series will be on the line. Unlike most of the tournaments put on by Coast Casinos, which have a win-only format, the Summer Classic has a win-and-place format and has a reduced entry fee of $400 compared to the Coast standard of $500. The Summer Classic is expected to draw about 550 entries, which would give it a purse of $250,000, with $88,000 going to the winner. In addition to the main prize pool, there is also a $20,000 tournament on Saturday, July 16, for those out of the running.

Next on the docket is Summer Stakes VI at Bally's Las Vegas on Aug. 5-6, with an entry fee of $1,000. The top two finishers will join Kent Meyer of Sioux City, Iowa, as a team at the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Champion-ship at Bally's on Jan. 27-28. NHC qualifiers also receive round-trip airfare from the home city and free hotel accommodations during the finals. Race and sports book director John Avello said the Summer Stakes will be held in the race book, as opposed to past years, when it was held in a bigger ballroom. He also said entries will be capped at 200 and that he expects it to sell out.

Good news, harness racing fans

Avello is also hosting a harness handicapping tournament on Aug. 20 called The Bang Tail Challenge.

"That's an old term for the horse's tail hitting, or banging, the sulky," Avello said. "I knew there wasn't a harness tournament in Vegas, and we have a good harness clientele, and I wanted to bring this to town. Harness racing was my first love."

The entry fee is $300, which goes toward the prize pool, plus a $360 live bankroll that must be bought at registration in 15 vouchers for $24 apiece. Those can then be used on 15 races at Freehold, Northfield, Yonkers, and Balmoral.

This tournament is also a qualifier of a different sort. The top two finishers will earn a berth in the second annual National Harness Handicap-ping Championship on April 22, 2006, at The Meadowlands. Just like the NTRA tournament, qualifiers will earn airfare and hotel accommodations.

Pick the Ponies in August

Speaking of new tournaments, the Las Vegas Hilton is adding a summer tournament on the same weekend, Aug. 18-20, as the Bally's harness event. The Hilton's Pick the Ponies tournaments are traditionally held the three days before the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup, but now it is having an August edition.

"We wanted to add another tournament, and this made sense, with the popularity of racing at Del Mar and Saratoga," said race and sports director Jay Kornegay.

Mailers were sent to past contestants late this week. As in past Pick the Ponies, the field will be limited to 200 entries and have an entry fee of $500, but those registering by the early-bird deadline, Aug. 8, only have to pay $400, with the Hilton making up the difference. There will be a $100,000 purse, and $38,000 will go to the winner.

Make those travel plans now before summer slips away.