10/24/2013 3:01PM

Dave Tuley: Pick the Ponies kicks off Breeders' Cup Week in Las Vegas


LAS VEGAS – The Breeders’ Cup is next Friday and Saturday, but the festivities start earlier than that here.

The annual kickoff to Breeders’ Cup Week every year is the Pick the Ponies horse handicapping tournament at the LVH – Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (formerly the Hilton) – on the Wednesday through Friday of the week, just like the spring rendition which is held the three days prior to the Kentucky Derby.

Pick the Ponies costs $500 to enter, but the entry fee is reduced to $450 (with the LVH adding the difference to the prize pool) if you enter by the early-bird deadline, scheduled for this past Monday. But since the maximum 200 entries have not been sold, the early-bird deadline has been extended to this upcoming Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 4 p.m. Pacific.

For contestants, there is a cocktail reception that evening. The tourney starts the next day, and players make 10 $100 across-the-board wagers each day with full-track odds paid on the first $50 and then capped at $32 to win, $16 to place, and $10 to show on the other $50. If the LVH gets the full field of 200, the prize pool will be $100,000, with the champion taking home $38,000 plus a possible share of the $5,000 in daily prize money that the LVH kicks in.

Mixed in with the cheering for horses, there will be some sadness at the tournament as more players hear about the passing of Joe Hinson, one of the true pioneers on the horse racing handicapping circuit, at his home in Germantown, Tenn. He was 70.

Hinson won the Pick the Ponies at the Hilton in 1997, and won more than a dozen tournaments over the years, mostly crediting a computer program he created that helped him find races with vulnerable favorites for his longshot plays. Yes, he wrote a computer program back when most of his competitors were trying to figure out how to log on.

He never cashed at the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, and he missed his best chance in 2004 as he skipped the finals to be with his ailing wife Valerie (who passed away the following week), but he was a champion beyond compare. I covered many of the tournaments that he won, as well as dozens more where he was looming in contention. It wasn’t uncommon for a longshot to come in at a tournament and I would look at Joe’s table to see if him or anyone in his family had it, and then look around the room to see others doing the same thing. He was respected that much.

Rest in peace, Joe.

The other big Breeders’ Cup Week tradition in Vegas is the slate of handicapping seminars.

The first local seminar is next Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Palace Station with Ralph Siraco of the “Race Day Las Vegas” radio show and Richard Saber of the “GamingToday” newspaper.

There are actually four different seminar locations next Friday, starting with Siraco being joined by Richard Eng of the Las Vegas Review-Journal at Sam’s Town during that day’s BC card. At 6 p.m., after the races are complete, Siraco heads up Boulder Highway to the Boulder Station race book for a 6 p.m. seminar with Gordon Jones and Tony Vegas. Also at 6 p.m., Eng will be with Jerry Jacovitz of jerryjpowerpage.com at the Sunset Station in Henderson, and John Kelly, Patrick McQuiggan and Toby Turrell will be at the South Point.

On Breeders’ Cup Saturday, up at the Grand Sierra in Reno, Chris Andrews and Robert Kowalski, race operations manager, will be holding a seminar at 11 a.m.

Back to football

Last week, I went 0-2 with the Jaguars and Bears, but we’re going to get back on the horse here.

Cowboys +3.5 vs. Lions

Both teams are 4-3, but the Cowboys are an NFL-best 6-1 against the spread. Their only straight-up losses are to AFC West teams (Chiefs, Chargers, and Broncos) and they covered against the Chiefs and Broncos, so you could say they’re stepping down in class here. I don’t often recommend overs, but these teams both have defenses that give up a lot of yards. With the Cowboys possibly being without or limiting running back DeMarco Murray (knee), I think they’ll open up the pass offense even more.

PLAY: Cowboys for 1 unit and over 51 points for 1 unit.

Giants +6 vs. Eagles

I wouldn’t get too excited about the Giants getting their first win, but they’re obviously saying the right things about wanting to make their annual run and possibly get back in the division race. This line looks too high to me for an inconsistent Philly team with major problems on defense. The Eagles also get Michael Vick back, but who knows how effective he’ll be or if he’ll last the whole game.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit.

NCAA record: 3-5 for net loss of 1.5 units (based on risking 1.1 to win 1). NFL record: 3-8 for a net loss of 5.8 units.