04/28/2004 12:00AM

Want to turn two minutes into a day?


It's amazing how this town fills up for major sporting events. A hotel room cannot be found during Super Bowl week or during the opening round of March Madness.

But what's really impressive is that this weekend the hotel-casinos will be just as packed because of an event that could be over in the length of a bathroom break. The "most exciting two minutes in sports" (or 2:02 if you put any stock in the over/under time of the race posted at the Caesars Entertainment sports books) takes place Saturday with the 130th running of the Kentucky Derby, and the casinos and race books are pulling out all the stops to attract the business racing fans in town, as well as the casual observers who will tear themselves away from their other activities to watch this piece of Americana.

Even before heading out to the race books, bettors who want help with making their selections, or to hear the latest Derby news, will be able to listen to local sports shows that generally talk just the ball-and-stick sports (yours truly will be a guest on the "Stardust Line" at 8:30 a.m. Friday).

But for the really hardcore fans, the most comprehensive racing coverage can be heard on "Track Talk" on KLAV AM-1230 (and klav.com) and the "Raceday Las Vegas" show on KSHP AM-1400 (and kshp.com). John Kelly, Patrick McQuiggan, and Bruce Finkelstein host "Track Talk" on Friday's show from 7:30 to 8 a.m., with Gordon Jones subbing for Finkelstein on Saturday morning's program. "Raceday Las Vegas," hosted by Ralph Siraco, airs from 9:05 to 10 a.m. Friday and from 8:05 to 9 a.m. Saturday. Siraco has correspondents checking in from Churchill Downs, as well as handicappers such as Lauren Stich, Don Alvey, Bruno De Julio, and Jerry Jacovitz.

Friday's activities continue with a pair of seminars, one at Sam's Town on Boulder Highway and the other at the Stratosphere on the north end of the Strip.

The "Track Talk" crew - minus Jones - will be joined by Hall of Famer and two-time Derby-winning jockey Eddie Delahoussaye at 6 p.m. in the Sam's Town race book.

The Stratosphere seminar starts at 6:30 p.m. with Jacovitz and race book host Jay Kessler. Jacovitz will break down the Derby contenders and pretenders, and Kessler will take an in-depth look at historical betting trends, discuss how his daily selections (Jay's Playz, which are distributed in the race book) have shown a 15-percent flat-bet profit over the past year, and provide tips on becoming a winning horseplayer.

Armed with this knowledge, bettors on Saturday will have as many options to watch the race as there are race books. Everywhere you turn, there will be souvenirs given away. The industry standard is that a $20 bet on the Derby will get you either a T-shirt or a mint julep glass, depending on the race book. Places offering T-shirts include all Station Casinos, Coast Casinos, Strato-sphere and Arizona Charlie's books, Rio, Fremont, Golden Nugget, Venetian, and Terrible's. Books offering mint julep glasses include Coast Casinos, Aladdin, Flamingo, Plaza, Imperial Palace, Fiesta Rancho, Fiesta Henderson, Harrah's, and Rio.

Harrah's and Rio will also have drawings for T-shirts throughout the day. The Fiesta Rancho will be holding "losing ticket" drawings throughout the day, capping off with drawing's after Churchill's 10th and 12th races in which complete sets of Derby mint julep glasses from 1975-2004 will be awarded.

If you're looking for a different kind of souvenir, the Palms will be giving away a commemorative Funny Cide bobblehead horse to patrons making a $20 wager on the Derby (limit one per person). The Hard Rock is giving away pins to the first 500 guests to make a pari-mutuel bet of $25 or more in its revamped race and sports book. The Fiesta Henderson, formerly only a sports book, is also using the Derby to launch horse wagering.

I personally know dozens of people who go from race book to race book to get as many souvenirs as they can. They will bet $20 to win a horse at one book, then go to another and bet a $10 two-horse exacta box, and so on, spreading their money around and getting the most trinkets for their gambling bucks.

As for actually viewing the race, you can find a big-screen TV to watch just about anywhere, but the best/cheapest viewing option is to go to one of the Coast Casinos (The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast), where they open up their ballrooms for mass viewings of the race. Tickets can be obtained in the respective racebooks (Turf Club members at those establishments should have already received theirs). The tickets come with coupons for pastries or hot dogs, beer or soda, and a souvenir.

For those who prefer a step up from "stadium food," Bally's has a $75 public party with an open bar and a full buffet with carving stations. The Flamingo has a similar setup for $50.

A new option this year is at the Aladdin, where they are opening Sinbad's Lounge for Derby Day. There is no admission price for the viewing of the race, but anyone wagering $100 during the day is given access to a special VIP area with free beer and food.

There's a little something for everyone as we celebrate Derby Day 2004 - Vegas style.