04/09/2009 12:00AM

As Derby heats up, so does contest calendar


LAS VEGAS - This Saturday marks the end of the major Kentucky Derby prep races with the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. The Lexington Stakes at Keeneland next weekend is the last chance for 3-year-olds to get enough graded earnings to make the Derby field.

I Want Revenge vaulted to the top of the future books with his scintillating come-from-behind victory in the Wood Memorial last Saturday. But all the horse racing talk here in Vegas isn't only about how to make money on the Derby trail, but also how to learn to make money on a day-to-day basis or in big handicapping tournaments.

Here's some news and notes with that in mind:

April 13

The Orleans race and sports book will host a seminar at 9 a.m. Monday with jockey Alex Solis and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Free coffee and donuts will be provided and a Q&A session will by hosted by Ralph Siraco of the "Raceday Las Vegas" radio show. Siraco is sure to ask Solis about The Pamplemousse and the injury that removed the colt from Derby consideration. Solis rode The Pamplemousse, owned in part by the jockey's son Alex Solis II.

April 17-18

The South Point, owned by former Coast Casinos owner Michael Gaughan, is hosting its Finale Handicapping Contest next Friday and Saturday. The South Point has held qualifying tournaments for next week's contest throughout the past year, and those qualifiers will be joined by anyone else who wants to put up the $500 entry fee and go for an estimated prize pool of $100,000 (based on 200 entrants).

There is a limit of two entries per person with no partners allowed. Contestants will make 10 mythical $20 across-the-board wagers each day, with three races each day being mandatory as chosen by South Point management. The first $2 of each bet will be awarded at full track payouts, with the remainder capped at 20-1 for win, 10-1 for place, and 5-1 for show.

The top 30 finishers will cash, with the winner receiving 35 percent of the pool ($35,000 if South Point meets its goal of 200 players).

For more information, call toll free (866) 780-7223 or e-mail horseplayers@southpointcasino.com.

April 17-18 (and beyond)

The Red Rock Resort is hosting the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship for the third straight year on Jan. 29-30, 2010, and Station Casinos has announced its schedule of local tournaments. The winners of these tournaments earn coveted NHC berths, and Stations has reduced the entry fees for the qualifying events from $200 to $100.

The first of these will be at the Santa Fe Station on April 18, with the top two finishers winning NHC seats. In addition, the Stations are holding mini $25 qualifiers for players to earn their way into those qualifying events. The Santa Fe will host one of those mini-qualifiers on April 17, with the top two finishers earning spots in that Saturday's tourney to try for the NHC seats.

Believe me, I know it's confusing, but to recap: You can enter for $25 on April 17 to try to get in cheaply for the April 18 NHC qualifier, or you can just buy into the April 18 contest for $100.

The other $100 buy-in events that have NHC seats on the line are May 23 at Aliante Station; June 13 at Sunset Station; and June 20 at Green Valley Ranch. The other $25 mini-qualifers (which earn berths into the $100 events) are May 1 at the Fiesta Henderson; May 8 at the Fiesta Rancho; May 15 at the Texas Station; May 22 at the Aliante Station; June 12 at the Sunset Station; and June 19 at the Green Valley Ranch.

On top of all that, the Red Rock will host a $500 buy-in contest on July 4-5, with three NHC berths up for grabs.

All of the entry fees will be returned as prize money in all of those contests.

April 20 (but act quicker)

The Pick the Ponies Invitational is held three times a year at the Las Vegas Hilton. There is a $500 entry fee, but if you sign up by the early-bird deadline, it costs just $400, with the Hilton kicking the extra $100 into the prize pool. The tourneys are held the Wednesday through Friday of Derby Week (April 29 through May 1 this year) and Breeders' Cup Week, as well as a newer contest in August leading up to the Pacific Classic. The field is capped at 200 entries so the Hilton can hold the contest in its SuperBook, and while the August tourney has yet to sell out, the Derby and BC events usually sell out well before the early-bird deadline, which is April 20 for the upcoming contest. As of Thursday, there were fewer than 20 spots available at the $400 price.