09/18/2008 12:00AM

Championship to begin and end in Las Vegas


LAS VEGAS - For the past decade, the horse handicapping tournament circuit has worked its way toward Las Vegas, the site of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship each of the last nine Januarys.

Now it will start here, too.

NHC X will take place Jan. 23-24, 2009, for the second straight year at the Red Rock Resort. As in years past, entry into the finals is only earned by players finishing high enough in qualifying tournaments held coast to coast, with some in Canada as well as online.

Usually, the first NHC qualifier of the year is held at Autotote Sports Haven in Connecticut, but the NTRA announced that the Red Rock Shootout will take place on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009, the day after NHC X concludes.

"With so many of the nation's best and most avid tournament players here in January for the 10th annual NHC, it makes perfect sense to keep the momentum going right on through the weekend with the Red Rock Shootout," said Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports book operations for Station Casinos. "We're extremely proud to say that the NHC calendar now officially begins and ends right here at Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa."

The Red Rock Shootout, which will award NHC XI berths to the top two finishers, will have a $100 entry fee with a limit of one per person. Contestants will make eight mythical $2 win-and-place wagers, with four races being mandatory and four being player's choice from the contest tracks to be determined.

All entry fees will be returned as prize money, with 50 percent going to the winner, 20 percent for second, 15 percent for third, 10 percent for fourth, and 5 percent for fifth. The contest also will count for points for the NHC Tour, which will be in its second year.

Wynn offers Kentucky Derby futures

The Wynn Las Vegas continues to be the most aggressive race book in Las Vegas in offering Breeders' Cup futures as John Avello, director of race and sports book operations, has been adding BC races every week or two leading up to the Oct. 24-25 two-day extravaganza at Santa Anita. Most other books are only offering futures on the Classic (and some don't even have that).

But word came this past week that Avello also had added 2009 Kentucky Derby futures shortly after putting up the Juvenile.

Avello made Charitable Man the 40-1 favorite to win the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby, with a quintet of hopefuls at 75-1: Imperial Council, Midshipman, Regal Ransom, Valiancy, and Ventana. Hello Broadway, at 85-1, was the only other one on the initial list of 144 soon-to-be 3-year-olds at less than 100-1.

Charitable Man and Midshipman are the current Juvenile co-favorites at 5-1, followed by Coronet of a Baron (7-1), Azul Leon and Capt. Candyman Can (both at 10-1), and Street Hero and Vineyard Haven


In the Classic, Big Brown is the 5-2 favorite at Wynn, followed by Go Between (4-1), Casino Drive (5-1), Colonel John (5-1), Henrythenavigator (8-1), and Well Armed (10-1). Curlin, who runs Saturday in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont with a chance to break Cigar's North American money-earning record, is still on the BC Classic board at 10-1, which appears to be the odds of him even running in the race as his connections continue to insist they won't enter him.

NFL bettors start season strong

Bettors have gotten the best of the bookies so far in the NFL season. The game-by-game results have been pretty much even, but the books have lost the bigger decisions when the wise guys and public have ended up on the same side. Anectdotal evidence of this can be found in the results of the first two weeks of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, the city's most prestigious season-long football contest. Last week, the top four consensus plays of the 350 entrants all not only covered but won outright (Bills over Jaguars, Patriots over Jets, Broncos over Chargers, and 49ers over Seahawks). And the handicappers have been winning a higher-than-normal rate of games. Each contestant makes five against-the-spread picks per week, and after two weeks there are 160 who are 6-4 or better with only 93 at 4-6 or worse (the remaining 97 are at 5-5). Most Hilton entrants use aliases, and King of Crunk is the leader at 10-1 with seven others at 9-1.

Biffle victory shakes up Chase

The Chase for the Cup, the last 10 races of Nascar's Sprint Cup Series that determines the season champion, started last week. Greg Biffle won the race in New Hampshire as a 12-1 shot, and the result had an immediate effect on the odds to win the Cup. Drivers earn points through the first 26 races of the year, but then the top 12 earn a spot in the Chase for the Cup and they receive a graduated scale of points that bunches them closer together. So while the top earners have an edge, they still have to perform in the clutch or the regular season doesn't mean anything. In that way, it's just like most of sports (just ask the New England Patriots). Kyle Busch entered last week's race as the 9-5 favorite to win the Cup at Station Casinos, with Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards at 5-2, while Biffle was way at the bottom of the list at 35-1. After last weekend's race, Busch and Jimmie Johnson are co-favorites at 2-1, with Edwards still at 5-2, but Biffle has been lowered to 8-1. In this Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, Busch and Edwards are the 9-2 co-favorites at Stations, with Johnson at 5-1. Biffle's odds are the same as his odds to win the title: 8-1.