07/26/2007 12:00AM

National Handicapping finals moving to Red Rock Casino


LAS VEGAS - The Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship will have a new home this January.

The NHC, in its ninth year of crowning the Handicapper of the Year, will take place Jan. 25-26 at the Red Rock Casino, located in the booming residential area known as Summerlin, near the Red Rock mountains on the far west side of the valley.

The NHC is a culmination of a series of qualifying tournaments held throughout the year at racetracks, OTBs, casinos, and websites. Contestants who earn their way to the finals receive airfare to Las Vegas and hotel accommodations.

From 2000 through 2002, the NHC was hosted by the MGM Grand, and it has been held at Bally's Las Vegas for the past five years.

Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications and industry relations for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, cited change at Bally's - race book managers John Avello and Chris Eggers are no longer with the company - as one of the reasons for the change.

"We would have had to deal with a new group of management and it was just the right time to make the move," he said.

Chamblin said he was impressed with the enthusiasm for the event shown by Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports operations for Station Casinos, the parent company of Red Rock.

"We visited several properties last January, and Red Rock and Art Manteris stepped up with a lot of interest," he said.

Chamblin said the NTRA signed a two-year deal with Red Rock, with an option to continue after that. He also said this year's purse will be about $900,000, up from $837,000 last year.

Some people might initially express concern that the tournament is not in the middle of the action on the Strip, but Chamblin said that Red Rock is an appropriate place to hold the contest.

"Anybody who's been to Red Rock knows that it's every bit the property as the ones on the Strip, and in many ways better and more modern," he said. "Besides, the qualifiers generally don't venture off-property as they're competing and handicapping most of the time they're here."

Free football seminar

In addition to hosting horse players next January, the Red Rock is getting ready for sports bettors at the free VegasInsider.com Football Handicapping Seminar on Aug. 27-28. Panels over the two days will include VegasInsider handicappers Andy Iskoe, Alf Musketa, and Jorge Gonzalez; Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com; Bruce Marshall of The Gold Sheet; oddsmakers Kenny White of Las Vegas Sports Consultants and Manteris; a media panel including John Kelly of the "Leroy's Sports Hour," Jeff Haney of the Las Vegas Sun, Brian Blessing of "LVSC's Just for Openers" and me. And many more to be announced.

Full details, as they become available, will be at vegasinsider.com/handicapping-seminar/2007.

Sports book notes

In a big sports news week, the biggest story was the NBA referee scandal involving the FBI's investigation into Tim Donaghy and the accusation that he bet on NBA games during the past two seasons, including games in which he worked, and provided information to gamblers.

During his news conference Tuesday, NBA commissioner David Stern said: "As part of our concern with gambling, we have for many years retained a consultant in Las Vegas whose job it is to inform us whether there are any movements or unusual movements in betting on the NBA about which we should be concerned, and we're also in contact with the Nevada Gaming Board who monitors that for their own purposes to determine whether there has been anything that we should be concerned about or particularly aware of."

It turns out that the consultant Stern made passing reference to is Manteris, who confirmed he's been working with the NBA since 1998.

Stern also said he believes none of the alleged bets were placed in Las Vegas, and that appears to be the case as bookmakers here have not reported any unusual betting patterns the past two years in the NBA.

* After Tour de France early leader Alexandre Vinokourov failed a blood test and was disqualified from the race and then subsequent leader Michael Rasmussen was fired by his team for lying, calls were made around town to see if anyone had odds on the Tour. The calls came up empty, with most tossing in (anonymously) the old cliche that they wouldn't book it because "it's more shady than the WWE" or adding a more timely jab such as "it's worse than the NBA."

* Jeff Gordon is the 6-1 favorite to win this Sunday's Nextel Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His Hendricks Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson is the second choice at 7-1, with Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin at 9-1, and Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman at 14-1. Gordon also is the 2-1 favorite to win the season points title. The race will be shown on ESPN at 1:45 p.m. Eastern.

* Also on Sunday, the San Jose SaberCats are favored by 7 points over the Columbus Destroyers in the Arena Football League championship game. The total is 118 points. After taking place in Las Vegas the past two years, this year's game is in New Orleans and will be shown on NBC at 3 p.m. Eastern.