01/26/2008 12:35AM

NHC Day 1


LAS VEGAS -- So maybe it's not such a bad thing the National Handicapping Tournmaent is out in the middle of the desert at the Red Rock this year. According to the Associated Press, "A midmorning fire on the roof of the Monte Carlo hotel-casino forced guests and gamblers to flee and sent flaming embers raining down on the Las Vegas strip."

Apparently no one was seriously injured, and there was minimal damage, confined to the facade of the building. The hotel, however, remains evacuated, with guests relocated to rooms at other MGM-Mirage properties.

Had the tournament been at the Monte Carlo, that would have made for 277 pretty cranky horseplayers, who would have been forced to flee the racebook right about the time the first mandatory race, the 4th from Aqueduct, was going off.

The players at the Red Rock who wasted time handicapping Friday's races from Oaklawn and Santa Anita were pretty cranky already after news came in earlier in the morning that both tracks cancelled their Friday cards, due to ice storms(OP) and water(SA). So Day One tournament action was confined to Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate, Gulfstream and Tampa, and there were no Southern Californians or Arkansans among the top five on the leaderboard, which was topped by David Neuberger of Forest Hills, NY, who qualified by finishing third in the Aqueduct tournament Nov. 4. Neuberger's return on his 15 $2 win and place bets was $150.50, $1.60 more than five-time NHC qualifier Richard Goodall.

Last year's champ, Stanley Bavlish, was one of nine players who finished the day tied for 269th place with a total of, well, $0. I mention this not to knock Bavlish, an excellent handicapper and genuinely good guy who wore our equivalent of the Miss America tiara with grace and honor this past year, but to show what a hit-or-miss proposition any tournament can be. Anyway, unless the reigning Handicapper of the Year posts the highest one-day total in NHC history on Day Two, someone else will be wearing that tiara and getting the winner's check for $500,000 by Saturday night.

--Played a little poker at the Red Rock and while it was perfectly pleasant, it wasn't very rewarding. The resort advertises itself as "The Locals' New Favorite," which is nice for the ambience but also translates as "No Crazy Drunken Tourists Going All-In With 7-4."

A pity. The game is so much easier when the competition is inebriated, inept, or both.