10/17/2007 11:00PM

New tournaments offer qualifying spots in NHC

EmailNo sooner had last week's column gone to press, stating "the chances for those trying to qualify for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship on Jan. 25-26 at the Red Rock Casino are coming down to the wire," when announcements starting flowing in on more late-year NHC-sponsored tournaments.

The Red Rock, located in the affluent western suburbs of Las Vegas, will be hosting a qualifier with two NHC berths up for grabs on Nov. 3. Its sister property at Green Valley Ranch - both are owned by Station Casinos - will have another on Dec. 1 for two more spots. Finally, the Red Rock will host the aptly named Last Chance Tournament with five spots available on Jan. 23, two days before the finals. In cyberspace, twinspires.com also announced it will hold an online tourney on Dec. 15 for 15 spots (plus another five seats in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans) with details still unannounced. A list of all remaining NHC qualifying tourneys can be found at http://drf.com/nhc/2007/nhc.html.

The Nov. 3 event at Red Rock will have a $250 entry fee with one entry per person. Contestants will make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place bets with payoffs capped at $42 to win and $22 to place for scoring purposes. Eight of the 15 races will be mandatory as determined by the Red Rock staff, with the remaining seven being the player's choice from any of the seven contest tracks (expected to be Aqueduct, Laurel, Calder, Churchill, Hawthorne, Bay Meadows, and Oak Tree at Santa Anita).

If that format sounds familiar to NHC aficianados, it's intentional.

"We have it set up exactly like the NHC because this is our first attempt at a tournament like this and we wanted to do it exactly the same," said Jason McCormick, race and sports book director for the Station Casinos properties under vice president Art Manteris. "It's best for the players at this tournament to get used to the NHC format, and for us to make sure we get it right for the finals."

This is the NHC IX with the first three being held at the MGM Grand and the last five at Bally's, where McCormick used to work under John Avello.

McCormick said he expects most of the entrants at the Nov. 3 contest to be Vegas locals, but added that within a few days of the limited announcement of the tournament, he received about 100 inquiries from out-of-towners.

"We know this is late notice and a lot of people won't be able to make plans," he said "but we wanted to give people another chance to qualify. At $250, that's cheap to get into a tournament that could reach $1 million."

McCormick said he thinks the Dec.o1 event at Green Valley Ranch on the south end of the valley in Henderson, with the exact same format, will draw a bigger crowd. He said he's going to wait until the Nov.o3 event to announce the entry fee for the GVR contest.

Both of those tourneys will have 100 percent of entry fees returned to players as prize money in addition to the NHC berths (While tourneys outside Vegas typically award airfare and hotel accommodations to qualifiers, the Stations contest will not include airfare, McCormick said.)

He also added that the Jan. 23 Last Chance Tournament will have a higher entry fee, probably in the $500 range.

"The main goal there is for people to get in the big tournament, so it will just have nominal prizes to the top finishers as most of the entry fee goes directly to the NHC purse," McCormick said.

Speaking of the NHC purse, Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications and industry relations for the NTRA, said the NHC is getting closer to its goal of a $1 million purse. He also said there was recently a round-table discussion with industry leaders and tournament players in which changes were suggested for this year's NHC as well as those moving forward, and there could be further announcements after holding more meetings at the Breeders' Cup.

Vegas race books get BC contracts

There have been rumblings in the Nevada horse racing community during the past month that the state didn't have an agreement with the Breeders' Cup to be part of the betting pools. It was true, and the two sides were far enough apart that race book directors were making contingency plans to book those races themselves. However, Patty Jones, director of the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, which negotiates contracts on behalf of the race books, said a deal was finalized Oct. 12.

"We have a lot of horseplayers who come in from all over to enjoy the Breeders' Cup in our race books and the parties hosted by hotels, so we knew it was a top priority to get the deal done," Jones said.

She said the negotiations were just for the Oct. 26-27 dates of the Breeders' Cup, including the non-BC races held those two days at Monmouth Park. Money was the main issue, as always, and the two sides haggled over the percentage that the race books would pay on their handle. Jones declined to reveal details of the agreement except to say it's a one-year contract.

There was a lot of money at stake. Breeders' Cup handle in the state has averaged about $5 million the past three years, and with the increase from eight to 11 Breeders' Cup races over two separate days (and more races on the undercards), that figure could come close to doubling.

Without an agreement with the Breeders' Cup, race books probably would have booked the straight pools at track odds, but would have put house limits on exactas and trifectas and would definitely not have been offering the popular multi-race bets such as the $3 million guaranteed pick six.

Fortunately, that's not the case.

Who's No. 1? How about LSU?

After seeing all the upsets in major college football, fans might be surprised to find out that the oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants have LSU, which lost to Kentucky last week, as its No. 1 rated team in the Oddsmakers' Top 30 Poll.

The ratings used for the poll don't take W-L records into account that much, but instead rate each team on their overall talent and how they would compare in relation to the point spread if meeting on a neutral field. LSU still has the nation's top power rating at 112.0; No. 2 Oklahoma, which also has one loss, is at 111.6; No. 3 Ohio St., which is No. 1 in all the major polls, is at 111.4; and USC is still given a lot of respect at 111.4. So, as you can see, the top four teams are all within 1 point so would basically be pick-em if they were to meet in the BCS title game. South Florida, No. 2 in the BCS, is No. 11 in the LVSC poll at 104.3 and would be about a 7- to 8-point underdog to any of the top four teams.

The full poll can be seen at ViewFromVegas.com.