05/15/2008 12:00AM

Triple Crown likely, bettors say

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With his impressive Kentucky Derby victory two weeks ago from the No. 20 post and off only four lifetime starts, Big Brown stamped himself as head and withers above the rest of this 3-year-old class.

As is often the case, the question about whether he could end the 30-year Triple Crown drought and join the immortals was being asked by TV pundits and horseplayers here in the sports books and elsewhere else.

After the Derby, the Wynn Las Vegas put up an adjusted Triple Crown prop on Big Brown and made it +170 (win $1.70 for every $1 wagered) that he would pull off the feat and -200 (risk $2 for every $1 you want to profit) that he would come up short. The money quickly came in on the "yes" and dropped it from +170 to +165 right away and steadily down to +120 in the next 24 hours. A few days later it dipped to even money on the "yes," and has stayed in that neighborhood ever since. As of Thursday morning, it was pretty close to pick-em with the "no" still barely favored at -115 and the "yes" at -105. For the record, Big Brown was available at 20-1 to win the Triple Crown in early April and 10-1 heading into the Churchill starting gate.

Obviously, those who are betting against Big Brown are counting on the two races within five weeks of the Derby taking their toll on Big Brown and/or his problem feet, with a host of fresh shooters gunning for him in both races.

If you're looking to bet against Big Brown in just the Preakness, the price on the "field" against him is +240. The offshore book, bodoglife.com, had it as high as +275 on Thursday morning.

Prop bets such as the time of the race, margin of victory, and whether the winner of the Preakness will be odd or even were not available in Las Vegas as of early Thursday.

Fiesta contest has horsepower

For those interested in the "other" kind of racing, the Fiesta casinos (Fiesta Henderson and the Fiesta Rancho) are having another Last Man Standing contest on the Sprint Cup Series races after already having a winner from a similar contest earlier this season.

Starting with the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, contestants pick a driver in a head-to-head matchup each week from a contest card. If the driver beats the other driver, they advance. If not, they're eliminated.

There is a $25 entry fee, and if you buy three you get a fourth entry free. All entry fees are being returned as prize money, and Station Casinos is guaranteeing a $10,000 minimum winner-take-all prize.

Sign-ups began last Monday and will continue until the start of the race on May 25.

NFL wagering picking up

The Las Vegas Hilton is at it again with the widest variety of NFL wagers available even before spring has sprung. The over/under season win totals went up just after 2 p.m. last Sunday with the Patriots posted at over/under 12 wins after going 16-0 last year. The Venetian was the first book to post this bet two months ago, offering the Patriots at 12 1/2. The Grand Sierra Resort in Reno has pushed the envelope by making the number 13 1/2.

All NFL team total win numbers are in the same ballpark at all three books - and you know they quickly would adjust if they were too far off, or the bettors would pound the off numbers into line. The Hilton has the Colts at 11, the Cowboys and Chargers at 10 1/2, and the Jaguars at 10. On the low end, the Falcons are at 4 1/ 2, with the Chiefs and Dolphins at 5 1/2, and the Ravens, Raiders, and 49ers at 6.

In the traditional Super Bowl futures, the Patriots are a lukewarm favorite at 4-1 (lower at other books) with the Chargers and Cowboys both at 6-1 and the Colts at 7-1.

In odds to win each division, six have odds-on favorites (Patriots 1-10 in the AFC East, Steelers 10-11 in the AFC North, Colts 1-2 in the AFC South, Chargers 1-4 in the AFC West, Cowboys 5-9 in the NFC East, and Seahawks 5-6 in the NFC West). The Saints are at even-money in the NFC South and the Packers and Vikings are 8-5 co-favorites in the NFC North.

As for individual games, in addition to the Week 1 lines that have been up for the past month, the Hilton also has its "games of the year." There are five lines posted from each week of the season.

Highlights include the Colts -5 1/2 vs. the Jaguars on Sept. 21; the Patriots -3 at the Chargers on Oct. 12; the Patriots -2 1/2 at the Colts on Nov. 2; the Cowboys -2 1/2 at the defending champion Giants on Nov. 2; and the Chargers -1 vs. the Colts on Nov. 23.

Sad news from Sam's Town

Tony Paonessa, the longtime director of race and sports at Sam's Town and a 25-year employee of Boyd Gaming, died on May 5 after a long battle with cancer. He was 53.

Paonessa mostly handled the sports side, but he and race book manager Norm Kelley made Sam's Town one of the most horseplayer-friendly books in Las Vegas during the 90s and into this century by sponsoring radio shows and seminars and having in-house handicappers for the players.

Donations can be made to the Gist Cancer Research Fund in New York City.