06/06/2013 2:24PM

Dave Tuley: With little Belmont hype, books go light on promos


LAS VEGAS – The good news for horseplayers this Saturday is that the Belmont is shaping up as a good betting race with a 14-horse field. There also is a competitive undercard and good racing from coast to coast.

The bad news, at least for the race book managers, is that the race book will be relatively empty compared with Derby Day and Preakness Day, because when there’s no Triple Crown on the line, the Belmont is just the headliner on another Saturday of racing.

If Orb had followed his Derby win with a Preakness victory, there would have been seminars scheduled and T-shirt giveaways and all sorts of extra promotions as racebooks vied to get horseplayers through their doors. Orb was a short +230 price (pretty much between 2-1 and 5-2) to win the Triple Crown after the Derby, the shortest since Big Brown was +170 in 2007 and bet down to even money. But 2007 was the last time that the books here were really able to go all-out with Belmont promotions. Last year, all the hype was there for I’ll Have Another leading up to Belmont weekend until he was scratched that Friday morning.

Two casinos tried to capitalize on potential Belmont fever this year with handicapping tournaments this weekend. Sam’s Town has the Live Money Thoroughbred Handicapping Tournament on Friday and Saturday, June 7-8, with a $200 entry fee and a $300 live bankroll. Players keep all their pari-mutuel winnings and compete for the prize pool from the entry fees. Sam’s Town was hoping to attract 200 players and have a $10,000 first-place prize, but we’ll see how those numbers shake out after the weekend.

On Sunday, Treasure Island, the host of the 15th annual Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship next Jan. 24-25, is hosting an NHC qualifier tournament. There is a $500 entry fee, and contestants make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place bets, with eight races being mandatory and seven being player’s choice. The contest tracks are Churchill, Calder, Monmouth, Arlington, and Lone Star.

While the TI is hoping for a full field of 100, the good news for contest players trying to earn NHC berths is that there could be fewer handicappers to beat for the three seats available. (The Sam’s Town contest offered a complimentary entry into the Horse Player World Series next March to its champion; second place earns a spot in the Orleans Falls Classic, and third place gets into the Gold Coast Summer Classic).

Speaking of tournaments . . .

Horse racing is far from having a monopoly on tournaments in Vegas this time of year.

◗ The World Series of Poker opened last Wednesday at the Rio and runs through July 15 with 62 bracelet tournaments. The Main Event begins Saturday, July 6, and the field is expected to be about the same as last year, when 6,598 players put up the $10,000 entry fee. They will play down to the final table July 15, and then the November Nine will return to determine the champion Nov. 4-5.

◗ It’s not football season yet, but contest players are already getting ready for this year’s SuperContest at the LVH, Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. Last year, the SuperContest had a record 745 put up the $1,500 fee. The field grew by about 50 percent for the second straight year; there were 345 entries in 2010 and 517 in 2011. With all the increased interest, the LVH added a SuperContest Weekend last year, with seminars, a golf tournament, and drawings for great prizes, including SuperContest entries. The second annual event takes place Aug. 23-24.

The SuperContest has traditionally paid the top 20, but with the spike in entries the last two years, LVH boss Jay Kornegay and his staff expanded it to 30. Last year’s champion, going by the alias “Al Sr.,” won $447,000 with 40 percent of the prize pool. Under the new format, the champ receives 35 percent, and the lower prizes are more evenly distributed to reward more handicappers for a solid season. (To cash, it usually takes 60 percent winners in the format that has SuperContestants make five NFL picks a week against the spread.) The SuperContest has two bonuses that have also seen increases from $10,000 to $15,000: One is for a mini-contest that takes place over the last three weeks of the regular season, and the other goes to those who exceed 67 percent winners.

For years, the LVH (formerly the Hilton) would start accepting entries during the first week in August. In recent years entries opened the last weekend in July. Last year, to promote the SuperContest Weekend, LVH opened entries a few weeks earlier but with no advance notice, but now it is setting it in stone with registration opening July 1.

◗ With the success of the SuperContest, here’s hoping other casinos jump on the bandwagon with more contest offerings this football season, and hopefully announcing them earlier so I can do my annual compilation of all the Vegas football contests before the middle of August.

Race and sports book managers, you’re on the clock. And with no Triple Crown parties and promotions to take care of, you should have plenty of time this weekend to finalize those plans.