10/11/2001 11:00PM

Vegas does its best to return to normalcy


One month removed from the terrorist attacks on America, Las Vegas is bouncing back from the effects of the most heinous actions on our homeland.

Occupancies and room rates are slowly returning to pre-attack levels and all but the weekday crowds have approached their normal volume.

President Bush reminded America again on Thursday night as our military continued its mission over Afghanistan, that it is time to resume the American way of life while a current FBI warning also reminds us to be cautious in those endeavors.

In many ways, race books were the least impacted areas of most casino operations in Las Vegas. Mostly due to the resumption of racing schedules at race tracks throughout the country, the race books were in business almost immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

As Thoroughbred racing sits ready to host its year-end championships at Belmont Park on Oct. 27, Las Vegas has continued to accompany the sport's peak interest with several special events.

While the appearance of Laffit Pincay Jr. was postponed one week at Bally's Las Vegas, the event did bring some normalcy when it was finally presented on Sept. 21. Pincay, the world's winningest jockey, led racing fans - by example - back to the business of America while remembering our nation's heroes. He donated a portion of proceeds from his memorabilia and autograph sales to the New York Heroes fund.

This week two more special racing events will dot the Las Vegas race book schedule, as the town prepares for the World Thoroughbred Championships at the end of the month.

On Monday, The Orleans hotel-casino race book will host the appearances of jockeys David Flores and Mike Smith. Beginning at 9 a.m. in the spacious race book at the Arville and Tropicana location, Flores and Smith will answer questions and sign autographs for the local racing fans. Of course, those tourists who decide to stay over for some Monday hooky are also welcome at the free session.

Local Las Vegas racing fans have watched and wagered on the pair over their careers through simulcasting and are always enamored with meeting their favorite riders. Flores will be more familiar with left coast racing fans while Smith, who just relocated to the Southern California jockey colony, will be remembered by eastern racing fans after his long career in New York.

To celebrate their appearance, The Orleans race book will also offer a free handicapping contest on Monday's Calder racing program for a prize of $1,000. The contest will consist of the last five races at the Florida track.

Book-ending the weekday activities will be a Breeders' Cup seminar at the race book at Bally's Las Vegas on Friday. The Daily Racing Form-sponsored event will feature a panel that includes DRF's Dave Tuley and Lauren Stich, and Las Vegas Review-Journal handicapper Richard Eng. I will round out the foursome at the podium with race and sports book director John Avello serving as host.

The seminar will follow the Breeders' Cup pre-entries to be released on Wednesday. Each guest will cover the eight races of this year's championship series of races, and copies of Daily Racing Form's Breeders' Cup Advance past performance edition will be available. It will again feature the lifetime past performances of all pre-entered horses. Free copies will be given to those attending the seminar, which begins at 10:30 a.m.

While our country continues to go about business - now more cautiously than ever before - we prepare for racing's biggest day. In the heartland, in the cities, and in the desert gaming capital.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.