11/05/2003 12:00AM

Tourneys will be back before you know it

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LAS VEGAS - The 2003 handicapping tournament season is over in Nevada, but it's not too early for serious contestants to start circling dates on their calendar and making travel arrangements for next year's circuit.

The 2004 campaign will be here before we know it, and, in fact, the first event is just over two months away. The Coast to Coast Shootout, which will run concurrently at the Suncoast on the west side of town and the Barbary Coast on the Strip, is set for Jan. 21-22.

If you check your calendar, you'll notice something odd - Jan. 21 and 22 are a Wednesday and a Thursday. The reason for this is simple. Last year, this tournament went head-to-head against the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship at Bally's, which is across the street from the Barbary. While Coast Casino management was able to attract players who were able to come to town and play in both tournaments, a change in dates will allow those players to focus solely on the Coast tournament before playing in the DRF/NTRA on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 23-24.

Other details on the Coast to Coast Shootout are still up in the air, and management is considering making it a live bankroll tournament (players make actual money wagers through the parimutuel system and keeping all winnings in addition to competing for the prize pool). But the biggest news coming is the possibility that the Coast to Coast Shootout and other Coast tournaments in 2004 may become DRF/NTRA qualifiers. These details are also being worked out.

The other Coast tournaments will be the events at the Orleans (March 25-27 and Oct. 14-16) - which are already the largest in the world and will become even bigger if players are trying to qualify for the DRF/NTRA - and the second Gold Coast Summer Classic on June 15-17.

All three of the tournaments hosted by the Reno Hilton (the Winter Challenge on Feb. 7-8, the live-bankroll Summer Showdown on June 19-20, and the September Shootout on Sept. 11-12) are being made into Saturday-Sunday contests after the success of this year's September Shootout.

Those three are all DRF/NTRA qualifiers, as are the Bally's Moolah (April 16-17) and Summer Stakes V (Aug. 6-7) at Bally's Las Vegas.

Other 2004 tournaments include the Harrah's Reno Horse Handicapping Tournament on April 21-23 and the Pick the Ponies tournaments at Las Vegas the weeks of the Kentucky Derby (April 28-30) and Breeders' Cup (Oct. 27-29).

In addition, Station Casinos, which hosted its inaugural Live Bankroll Challenge event last month, is still working on details (format and site) for a few tournaments they are thinking about hosting next year.

Football contest updates

The first round is over in the Stardust Invitational, which sports a field of 16 football handicappers competing in head-to-head matchups in a single-elimination format for a winner-take-all prize of $10,000. Last week, Jimmy Vaccaro went 3-4 to defeat Ron Frazier (2-5), and David Stratton went 3-4 to outlast Bryan Leonard (2-5) in a tiebreaker from the previous week when they both went 4-3.

That was easily the worst week for contestants in the Stardust Invitational, as they all posted losing records. Through the first round (including tiebreakers), the 16 contestants went a combined 92-76 (54.7 percent). The eight first-round survivors are an even more respectable 54-30 (64.3 percent).

The first quarterfinal matchup is this Friday (9 p.m. in the Stardust sports book and broadcast live at KDWN AM-720 and at www.kdwn.com) between David Malinsky (8-6, including his tiebreaker win over "Papa" Joe Chevalier) and Steve Fezzik (4-3).

The rest of the quarterfinals have also been set: Nov. 14, Stratton (7-7 overall) vs. Kevin O'Neill, who became only the second contestant to post a perfect 7-0 record in the nine-year history of the event; Nov. 21, Bob Donahue (4-3) vs. Ted Sevransky (6-1); Nov. 28, Ken White (15-6, including tiebreakers) vs. Jimmy Vaccaro (3-4).

* "Peter and Paul" went 3-2 to hold onto first place with a 33-12 record in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest. A record 346 participants paid a $1,500 entry fee for the contest, in which they make five NFL selections per week. "Bob and Ben" are in second at 31-14. "Moxie" went 5-0 to move into a three-way tie for third at 30-14-1 with "thesportspage.com" and "Three21." Those are the only contestants who are above the threshold needed to collect a $10,000 bonus that goes to the champion if they exceed 67 percent. Regardless, $207,600 goes to the winner.

* "AJ Sports" went 3-2 to stay atop the standings of the Station Casinos Gambler's Challenge with a record of 29-15-1. "Gman" and "Jarhead" are just off the pace at 28-15-2.

* The big sporting event in town this weekend (and not a real big one at that) is the Roy Jones Jr. vs. Antonio Tarver light heavyweight title bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Jones (49-1 with 38 KOs) was unable to line up a bigger fight after his foray into the heavyweight division, and is going after the WBC and IBF light heavyweight belts held by Tarver (21-1 with seven KOs). Jones is a 1-9 favorite.

* On Monday, Nov. 17, the race book will host a "meet and greet" with Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ryan Fogelsonger and trainer Jeff Mullins at 9 a.m. Raceday Las Vegas radio host Ralph Siraco will moderate a Q&A session. As part of the festivities, there will be a $1,000 handicapping contest that day on races 3-7 at Calder. The entry fee is $5 with unlimited entries.

* Due to the wildfires in California, the National Horse Show that had been scheduled for Nov. 19-23 at the Orleans Arena has been canceled. A majority of the entrants were expected to be from California.

"Our primary concern at this time is for the safety of our competitors and their horses," said Alan Balch, president of the National Horse Show Association of America. "Many of our entrants were forced to relocate their horses, seriously disrupting their training schedules. This event is the least of their worries."

The event is not being rescheduled. Tickets will be refunded at the original point-of-purchase.

2004 Nevada horse handicapping contests

DatesContestHostHotelEntry fee
Jan. 21-22Coast to Coast ShootoutSuncoast/Barbary Coast $300
Jan. 23-24DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Champ.Bally'sQualifiers only
Feb. 7-8Winter Challenge IIReno Hilton$200+$600
March 25-27Championship at The OrleansThe Orleans$500
April 16-17Bally's MoolahBally's Las Vegas$5,000
April 21-23Harrah's Reno Horse Handicapping Tourn.Harrah's Reno $500
April 28-30Pick the Ponies XXIVLas Vegas Hilton$500
June 19-20Summer Showdown IVReno Hilton $200
July 15-17Gold Coast Summer Classic Gold Coast$400
Aug. 6-7Summer Stakes VBally's Las Vegas$1,000
Sept. 11-12September Shootout IIReno Hilton $500
Oct. 14-16Fall Classic at The OrleansThe Orleans$500
Oct. 27-29Pick the Ponies XXVLas Vegas Hilton$500