12/04/2008 12:00AM

NHC qualifying in stretch run


LAS VEGAS - The football season is winding down, with the major college conference championship games this weekend and the NFL having just four weeks remaining. It all leads to crowning the champions in the BCS title game and the Super Bowl.

But this month also is the home stretch for the race to crown the Handicapper of the Year in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship to be held at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on Jan. 23-24.

The last major tournament open to the public being held here this year will be Saturday at the newly opened Aliante Station in North Las Vegas, with two NHC berths up for grabs. The entry fee is $200 and contestants make 10 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers, with five races being mandatory and the other five being player's choice. In addition to the two NHC berths, all entry fees will be returned as prize money.

Next Saturday, Dec. 13, the Red Rock will host a "qualifiers only" tourney in which the top 10 finishers in 10 $40 buy-in preliminary events held at Station Casino race books throughout the year will play for two spots. The Red Rock also is holding the Last Chance Qualifier on Wednesday, Jan. 21, with a $500 entry fee just two days before the finals.

In other NHC news:

* NHCqualify.com is having one-day tournaments the next two Sundays, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14. Both sold out their 125 spots quickly at $400 apiece. The final NHCqualify.com tourney will be Sunday, Dec. 21, with entries going on sale Tuesday. Go to NHCqualify.com for details.

* The TwinSpires.com Biggest Vegas Qualifier Ever tournament, with 15 spots for the NHC and another five berths in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans, had to be canceled Nov. 29 due to technical issues that resulted in many players being unable to put in their contest plays. The tourney, open to those in states that allow account wagering through twinspires.com, has been rescheduled for Saturday, Jan. 3. No NHC Tour points will be awarded, since it's not taking place in 2008 per NHC Tour rules, but they are increasing the number of HWS berths to 10, for a total of 25 trips to Vegas. Registration will start about Dec. 17. See the site for full details.

* The other NHC qualifying tournaments left on the schedule around the country include Dec. 6 at Keeneland (3 spots); Dec. 7 at Turfway Park (3); Dec. 12-14 at Golden Gate Fields (1 each day for a total of 3); Dec. 13 at Beulah Park (6); Dec. 27 at Canterbury Park (2); and Dec. 27-28 at Surfside Race Place (3).

* It was announced Thursday that registration and the $125 membership fee for the 2009 NHC Tour are being accepted at ntra.com/nhctour. The Tour is a year-long competition of the individual NHC qualifying events, as handicappers compete for additional prizes, including $100,000 to the tour member earning the most points. In addition, if the champion goes on to win NHC XI, they receive a $2 million bonus.

Back to the gridiron

Saturday's marquee matchups pit Florida vs. Alabama in the SEC title game and Oklahoma vs. Missouri for the Big 12 title. Despite Alabama being undefeated and ranked No. 1 in all traditional polls, Florida is a 10-point favorite. Las Vegas Sports Consultants has Florida No. 1 in its power ratings. Oklahoma, which has been No. 2 in LVSC's power ratings since the rout of Texas Tech two weeks ago, is a 16 1/2-point favorite over Missouri. If both favorites win, it's expected we'll see Florida and Oklahoma paired up in the BCS title game on Monday, Jan. 5, in Miami. The Wynn Las Vegas has already posted that game at pick-em if it were to take place.

* Last week, I swept my Sunday card with the Rams +8 covering in a 16-12 loss to the Dolphins and the Panthers and Falcons pulling outright upsets of the Packers and Chargers, respectively. Here's hoping for another sweep with three plays this week:

Texans +6 vs. Packers

The advance line on this game a week ago was Packers -6, and after they lost to the Panthers at home and the Texans routed the Jaguars on Monday Night Football I never imagined I would still get this many points with red-hot rookie running back Steve Slaton going against the Packers' 27th-ranked rushing defense, which is allowing 141.8 yards per game. However, the books opened it back up at 6 earlier this week and it's stayed right there. This looks like an early Christmas present.

PLAY: Texans for 1 unit.

Browns +14 vs. Titans

This is scary as I'm about to go against the two teams with the best against-the-spread records in the league. The Titans are 10-1-1 against the spread, but I can't help but think this line is inflated to attract action on the other side. I'll bite, even with Ken Dorsey being forced into the starting role for the Browns. Double-digit underdogs are still 17-4 against the spread vs. the closing line at the Las Vegas Hilton, and even though the Lions and Seahawks let me down on Thanksgiving Day, I have to go with this one on Sunday (note: I'm passing on the Bengals +13 1/2 vs. the Colts and Rams +14 vs. the Cardinals because even I have my limits).

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Eagles +7 vs. Giants

I liked this play even before the continued distraction of the Plaxico Burress situation played out this week. The Eagles, who have had off-field problems of their own, played much better in their Thanksgiving night win over the Cardinals and still have an outside shot at the playoffs, while the Giants don't need this game nearly as bad. The Giants, who are 10-2 against the spread and have covered a league-high seven straight games, beat the Eagles 36-31 in Philadelphia four weeks ago, but Andy Reid has shown an ability for taking his team on the road to avenge a division loss by covering the last seven times in this spot and is 12-2 in his career (10-4 straight up).

PLAY: Eagles for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-0 for a net profit 3 units. Season DRF record: 19-10-2, including 1-2-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 6.8 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1).