07/12/2001 11:00PM

Tournament time is here

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Nevada's summer handicapping contest circuit really kicks into gear this weekend with the Flamingo Reno Challenge VII.

The Flamingo event, which is now being handled by Steve Fierro after being built into the state's second-largest tournament by Ed Weigand, runs Thursday through Saturday in the casino showroom.

It will be followed in quick succession by three major Las Vegas contests in the next month: the Bally's Summer Stakes II, Aug. 3-4; the MGM Grand 4th Annual Surf & Turf, Aug. 11-12; and The Championship at the Orleans (the new name of the National Handicapping Challenge, the world's biggest tournament), Aug. 16-18.

Contestants at the Flamingo Reno ante up $600 ($500 if they entered before June 15) and make 10 mythical across-the-board bets of $100 on all three days of the tournament. Six tracks will be designated as contest tracks. Full track odds will be paid up to 25-1 and then a cap of 25-1 to win, 15-1 to place, and 10-1 to show will be in effect.

All entry fees are returned as prize money, and the champion takes home $72,000, based on

400 entries, with cash prizes given to the top 40 finishers. In addition, the Flamingo kicks in $6,000 per day in daily prizes ($3,000 to the winner, $2,000 to second, $1,000 to third) and a $500 "Last Chance to Win" drawing at the awards breakfast on Sunday.

If you're in the Reno area or willing to drive or fly there on short notice, entries will be accepted until 9 a.m. Thursday.

Speaking of tournaments . . .

The Hollywood Park handicapping contest, which was run at the Coast Resorts properties (Orleans, Suncoast, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast) each Wednesday and Thursday during the meet, concluded Thursday. Duane Kelly is the unofficial overall winner of the grand prize: $5,000 plus a free entry into the Championship at the Orleans.

The unofficial second- and third-place finishers are Anthony Sansone and Blake Fawcett. Second place is worth $2,000 and third is worth $1,000. In addition, second through fifth place also receive a free entry into the Championship at the Orleans.

Official results won't be released until Wednesday, after the results are double-checked and any contestant objections are resolved.

Baseball gets into contest game

Local baseball bettors might remember a baseball contest that was held at the Wild Wild West last year. Well, it has moved to Boulder Station on the east side of town.

Entrants select 10 baseball games (money lines only, no run lines or totals) during the week, with no more than five allowed on any day. Each selection is a mythical

$10 wager and payoffs are based on the money line at the time of the wager. (Bets are made through the Autotote system, so you're locked in at the price you bet.)

It's a winner-take-all contest with the person accumulating the highest bankroll winning $500. The prize money will be split equally in the event of a tie.

Keeping well-informed pays off

Sports future bettors (especially those of the tourist variety) often bet on their hometown team even if it's a hopeless longshot.

But horseplayers are a different breed. They tend to research their selections a lot more before putting money down on a Breeders' Cup future wager (or a Derby future, for that matter).

This past week four horses who have been retired or seriously injured were listed on the BC futures lists at the Park Place properties.

The four horses were Behrens (30-1 in the Classic), Big Jag (50-1 in the Sprint), Hawksley Hill (25-1 in the Mile), and Flame Thrower (25-1 in the Sprint).

When told about this, Bally's race and sports book director John Avello removed the quartet from the lists and said that only six tickets had been bet on Flame Thrower (and all before he got hurt on Belmont Day) and not a single ticket on any of the other three.

Horseplayers obviously do their homework.

Since the bets on Flame Thrower were made before his injury, bettors aren't entitled to refunds (that's the inherent risk in future wagers). But Avello said there is recourse if anyone feels they have bet on a horse that shouldn't have been on the board.

"You can always get your money back on my futures if you can show a horse you bet on in the future book was declared out at the time you made your bet," Avello said. "I've done that before.

"Someone just has to bring in a clipping from the Daily Racing Form or other racing publication and we'll look into it.

"We'd much rather know about it and fix it right away instead of having someone feel they haven't been given a fair shake."