08/15/2007 11:00PM

Handicapping tourneys trying to work together


LAS VEGAS - The Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship and the Horseplayer World Series have coexisted while being held a week apart the past three years.

In 2005, the NHC was held a week before the world series. The world series was held a week before the NHC the past two years, when the NHC was held during the coveted last week of January, the off week between the NFL championship games and the Super Bowl when more hotel rooms are available.

Earlier this year, it was announced the world series was going to be held at the Orleans from Thursday, Jan. 24 through Saturday, Jan. 26. Last month, the NTRA announced the NHC would be held at the Red Rock Resort on Friday, Jan. 25 and Saturday, Jan. 26, setting up a scheduling conflict for those trying to qualify for both, as well as a public relations nightmare.

People are wondering why they would pick the same dates.

Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications and industry relations for the NTRA, said the NHC had been planned for that weekend all along. He said the NTRA hadn't released where it was going to be held until it signed the contract with Red Rock.

"When we heard that the Coast had moved to that weekend, we looked into moving our dates, but we couldn't for many reasons," Chamblin said. "Red Rock wanted it this week, for the same reason of hotel rooms being available, but we've also been telling qualifying sites since last January that we were going to do it that weekend, so a lot of them have already bought plane tickets for their qualifiers, and those qualifiers have also made their plans to come to Vegas that week."

Some people have leveled accusations that the NHC intentionally tried to hurt the competition.

"Anyone who thinks we did this on purpose is just plain wrong," said Steven Crist, publisher of Daily Racing Form and the man credited with coming up with the idea of the NHC along with James Quinn. "In our minds, the more tournaments the merrier. It's a bad situation and we regret it happened, but we're trying to fix it and we'll try to meet with everyone earlier next year to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Chamblin said the NTRA will try to make the best of the situation.

"We're going to be meeting with the folks and Red Rock and the Coast Resorts and see if we can work out a shuttle back and forth for players in both contests," Chamblin said. "Or we'll drive them ourselves. We want to take care of our qualifiers who also want to play in the world series."

Chamblin said details are being finalized on a "last chance" qualifying tournament on Jan. 23, the Wednesday before the NHC.

"This could work out great overall for a lot of people," Chamblin said. "Horseplayers can come out for the last-chance qualifier and play at the Red Rock, and if they don't make it, they can stay and buy into the Orleans event. This could end up benefiting both properties."

More horse tournament news

Two weeks ago, John Buckley of Novato, Calif., won the Gold Coast Summer Classic for the second straight year. That was considered an amazing feat, which it was, but it was rivaled pretty quickly when Robert Scannell, 43, of Chula Vista, Calif., pulled off the same feat in the Wynn Las Vegas Horse Racing Handicapping Challenge on Aug. 11-12.

The Wynn attracted 85 entries at $2,000 apiece, so Buckley earned his accomplishment versus much bigger fields (490 last year and 500 this year), but Scannell has the added bragging rights of winning his second career tourney in two tries.

"I've never played any other tournaments because they just seem like a lot of people taking wild stabs at longshots, and there's just so many people to beat," Scannell said. "Of course, a lot of people have been saying I should play more, and even offering to stake me."

Contestants played 15 races a day at Saratoga and Del Mar, with $2 win-and-place wagers in each race and one play a day at $4 apiece. Contest points were capped at $52 to win and $26 to place. On Friday, Scannell, playing next to his father, Dick - "He's every bit the handicapper as me," Scannell said - hit seven winners in his 15 plays and amassed 144.10 points to earn $17,000 for the top daily score.

"I definitely played some shorter prices on Saturday and was just trying to hang on," he said. "I figured if I got to 200, it would be hard to beat me."

He got to 215.60, well ahead of tournament veteran Mike Labriola of Richmond, Calif., who finished second with a score of 177.50. Scannell won the top prize of $59,500, while Labriola won $25,500.

* The Pick the Ponies at the Las Vegas Hilton concludes this Saturday, and the only other major tournaments scheduled this year are the Fall Classic at the Orleans on Oct. 4-6 and another Pick the Ponies at the Hilton on Oct. 24-26. However, Red Rock might add an NHC qualifier later in the year.

Vegas-based football contests

As horse contests move to the side, football contests in Vegas kick off. The chart on the facing page shows the rules for all of the contests in town. The first section lists the contests that must be entered before the start of the season, and the second section shows the ones that visitors can enter at any time. Some highlights:

* The Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, with a $1,500 entry fee and an anticipated field of 500 and a first prize of about $300,000, is still king of the hill, but it's being challenged this year by a $2,500 buy-in contest at the South Point (with entries also being taken at the El Cortez downtown).

* The Glory of the Gridiron at all Harrah's/Caesars networked books in Vegas, has cut its entry fee from $2,000 last year to $1,000 this year.

* The Leroy's College Challenge has a monopoly on college point-spread contests with its $250 entry fee and a guaranteed prize pool of $100,000.

* Leroy's also boasts the only free contest with its Pick 'Em and Win Pro Football Contest. The $5,000 weekly prize also is available during the preseason.

* Fantasy football continues to grow in popularity, and there are two contests available using head-to-head matchups. One, at the Rampart and Cannery includes a playoff format that will continue into the NFL postseason. The other will be at the Hard Rock, pending final Gaming Control Board approval.