11/04/2010 10:15AM

Breeders' Cup becomes big deal in Vegas


LAS VEGAS – Breeders’ Cup Weekend is feeling like Kentucky Derby Days of old.

Say what? Let me explain.

Back as far as anyone I could find could remember, the Kentucky Derby was the biggest draw here in Vegas for horseplayers every year on the First Saturday in May. Especially before widespread simulcasting came about, Vegas was known as Churchill Downs West as fans and bettors came here to celebrate the Run for the Roses and get in on the action.

Even after the Breeders’ Cup launched in 1984, it took a while to take hold. Sure, race books would invite their top players here for the day (from 1984 to 2006, it was Breeders’ Cup Day, not Weekend with all seven and then eight races held on the Saturday), but you didn’t have casual fans coming out for the event like you did for the Derby. It was mostly an event for regular horse racing fans to see the best in the sport get crowned at the end of a championship year.

The Derby was, and still is, the iconic event – the most exciting two minutes in sports, so even people who didn’t pick up a Daily Racing Form the whole rest of the year would find themselves heading here for the festivities. Even though true racing fans could argue that the undercards on Oaks Day (the Friday before) and Derby Day were very strong, the clear focus on the weekend was the Derby itself.

As we’ve seen the Breeders’ Cup grown in size (an expansion took it to 11 races spread out over two days in 2007 and 14 races in 2008) and popularity, it has in some ways eclipsed Derby Weekend as an overall event for horseplayers to attend.

But that brings us to this year. Yes, there are still 14 championship races being held this weekend and the true-blue fans enjoy each and every race, but with Zenyatta being the undisputed main attraction as she goes for her record-setting 20th straight career victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday, it totally feels like a Derby Weekend with the main focus on two minutes to racing immortality.

A little bit ironic, don’t you think?

Just like with other major sporting events, the race and sports books here have been bracing for the crowds and coming up with special bets and promotions to get you in their door to witness history (and wager your money there instead of with the competition). The big free parties open to the public are at the Orleans and South Point as they open ballrooms away from the crowded race books to accommodate more visitors. If you’re staying at another hotel, inquire about private parties that they have for guests.

The Station Casinos (located throughout the valley, with the Palace Station being the closest one to the Strip for tourists) is offering a $20,000 Twin Quinella wager on two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. The regular jackpot is $5,000 daily.

Most race books will offer head-to-head matchups on the Breeders’ Cup races, or at least the bigger ones. Wynn Las Vegas posted its matchups this past Monday and is looking to capitalize on the interest of those wanting to bet on Zenyatta (or against her) as they offered Zenyatta –125 vs. Blame –105 and Zenyatta –150 vs. Lookin At Lucky +120.

The Lucky’s race books have a prop on whether or not Zenyatta will win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, using her 8-5 morning-line odds (the equivalent of +160 as stated as a money line) that she will win it with a price of –190 if you think she won’t.

Most books will have the traditional giveaways of Breeders’ Cup T-shirts, hats, or mint julep glasses with a wager of $20 to $25 being the standard. Other promotions are usually kept lower-key for regular guests (that are staying all day to play as opposed to those who hop from property to property getting swag) such as the Treasure Island having drawings between races for racing memorabilia such as saddlecloths, steins, etc.

Jerry’s Nugget in North Las Vegas has a $10 handicapping contest on Saturday’s card with $500 in prizes.

So, grab a seat, grab a DRF, and party like it’s 1989.

Back to the betting board

I went 1-2 with my NFL picks last week. I’m still 15-10 (60 percent) on the year, but not feeling as good as I did when I was 11-6 after Week 5 before going 4-5 the past three weeks. I’ll just stick with my top two plays this week.

Buccaneers +8 1/2 vs. Falcons

A lot of people say the 5-2 Buccaneers are doing it with mirrors. They’ve allowed more points than they’ve scored, they rank below 20th in the league in both offense and defense, they don’t have a rusher or receiver (or punt or kick returner) ranked in the top 10 at their position. But all they do is win. They remind me a little of a team in another sport that also wears orange: the San Francisco Giants, who were told over and over that they were overmatched against the Phillies and Rangers. This is a key game in the NFC South, and I think it comes down to a field goal in hard-fought game.

PLAY: Buccaneers for 1 unit

Dolphins +5 1/2 vs. Ravens

The Dolphins are another team (from Florida, must be something in the water) exceeding expectations. I like the Ravens, I really do, but the Dolphins are 4-0 straight up, not just against the spread, on the road this year, with wins at Buffalo, Minnesota, Green Bay, and Cincinnati. The Ravens, as strong as they are on both sides of the ball, struggled to get by the Bills two weeks ago before their bye, so the Dolphins have to feel they can do even better.

PLAY: Dolphins for 1 unit

Last week: 1-2 for a loss of 1.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 15-10 for a net profit of 4 units.