10/31/2007 11:00PM

BC Friday card helps Gutfreund top tourney

EmailThis was the first year the Breeders' Cup was held on two days, last Friday and Saturday, so it was also the first time that the last day of the three-day Pick the Ponies handicapping tournament at the Las Vegas Hilton, which runs Wednesday through Friday, included BC races.

It worked out just fine for Dave Gutfreund, 46, of Chicago, as he became the first big winner of Breeders' Cup Weekend by winning the $38,000 top prize at the Hilton, topping a full field of 200 players who paid a $500 entry fee and made 10 mythical $100 across-the-board bets each day.

After the first two days of the tourney, Gutfreund had two entries that were in 11th and 25th place. He got things rolling (on the lesser entry) by tabbing Margo's Gift, a Washington-bred, on the BC undercard at 26-1. He then hit Maryfield at 8-1 in the first BC race of the weekend, the Filly and Mare Sprint, and V.I.P. Princess at 18-1 in Keeneland's ninth race to put him in a great position.

"It was one of those magical stretches that happens if you play in enough of these tournaments," Gutfreund said.

With so many prices coming in on Friday and with so many competitors to pass, plus no updated standings board to consult, Gutfreund didn't know if he was home free.

"In these circumstances, you don't know how to play your last play of a tournament," he said. "I didn't know if I should just play a favorite or if I needed one more big winner."

He went with Stefani, a 10-1 shot in the seventh at Oak Tree. His instincts were right as she returned $22 to win, $11.80 to place, and $7.60 to show and bring his total score to 17,895 points. Shari Scholz, 44, of West Covina, Calif., ended up with 17,010 points and would have won if Gutfreund had played it safe. Scholz collected $19,000 for second, while Sheldon Finkelstein, 58, of Pahrump, Nev., won $9,000 for finishing third with 15,755 points.

It was the second time Gutfreund had won a Pick the Ponies tourney (the other was in the fall of 1995) and his seventh career tournament victory. He has qualified for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship five of the last six years. In the one year he missed, he worked it as the roving reporter on the ESPN telecast. However, he hasn't qualified yet this year and will be traveling the country to earn a spot. He said he left Vegas early after his Hilton victory to go to Canterbury Park in Minnesota on Breeders' Cup Saturday, and then to another tourney at Churchill Downs on Sunday, failing to qualify at each. He said he'll be at Aqueduct this Saturday and is mapping out his schedule the rest of the year.

* The next NHC qualifying tournament in Las Vegas is Saturday at the Red Rock Resort. There is a $250 entry fee (one per person) and contestants make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place bets, eight of which will be on mandatory races. The top two finishers will earn NHC berths, with all entry fees returned as prize money. As part of the festivities, Steve Davidowitz, author of "The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing," will be hosting a seminar at 8 a.m. in the race book, complete with a continental breakfast. The entry deadline for the tournament is 9 a.m. For those who can't make it or who don't qualify, the next local tourney is Dec. 1 at Green Valley Ranch with the same format. Station race and sports book director Jason McCormick said he would announce that entry fee on Monday.

* The NHCqualify.com one-day online tournaments, with $400 entry fees, have been set for Dec. 22, Dec. 29, and Jan. 5. See the site for details.

Breeders' Cup recap

As elsewhere, Las Vegas handle on the Breeders' Cup dropped from last year. The only officially released figure from Las Vegas Dissemination Co. is that $6,737,928 was wagered on the BC races. That's an increase from last year's $6,157,518, but in 2006 there were only eight races on the Saturday as opposed to 11 races this year on Friday and Saturday. So, it was just a 10 percent increase in handle despite 37.5 percent more races.

"The weather obviously had a major impact," said Vincent Magliulo, vice president of marketing and corporate development for LVDC. "Early races were run in the slop, and even after the weather cleared up, people weren't betting as much."

* Curlin's victory in the Classic made a loser of the future books at Wynn Las Vegas, according to the director of race and sports, John Avello.

"He was a popular bet since he burst on the scene earlier this year," Avello said. "Actually, with all the top horses making the race, every horse in the race would have been a loser for me except for George Washington. It was not good, but it could have been worse."

Other big losers for Avello were Corinthian (who was 12-1 the day before the draw before being pounded down to 6-1, which was still higher than the 7-2 he went off at on Friday) in the Dirt Mile, and Kip Deville (who was bet late at 18-1 and only 8-1 on Saturday) in the Mile. Avello said he also lost on Indian Blessing in the Juvenile Fillies and Midnight Lute in the Sprint.

"I actually only lost five of the 11 future books, but the bigger losses outweighed the wins," he said.

But don't cry for Avello. He said he made out very well on the head-to-head matchups on the BC to offset any losses. He said he really cleaned up on the late races as bettors backed Red Rocks vs. Turf winner English Channel and Lawyer Ron vs. Street Sense in the Classic. The Derby winner finished fourth and Lawyer Ron was seventh.