12/08/2004 1:00AM

One last chance to qualify for NHC

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LAS VEGAS - As the pages of the calendar flip toward the end of the year, time is running out for handicappers who have been trying to qualify for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

In previously released schedules of qualifying tournaments, an online contest at AQHA.com/racing using this weekend's Champions Pick Four at Los Alamitos, and on-site contests at Turf Paradise this Saturday and Tampa Bay Downs this Sunday were the last three opportunities for hopefuls to make the field and shoot at the record purse of $400,000 when the NHC is held Jan. 21-22 at the Bally's Las Vegas sports book.

But that's no longer the case. Handicappers have one more chance.

Bally's race and sports book director John Avello announced Tuesday that he will be hosting a "Win a Place to the Big Show" qualifier on the Wednesday (Jan. 19) before the NHC.

"Everyone deserves a second chance," Avello said.

Actually, for a lot of people, it will be their fifth or sixth chance, if not more.

"I know a lot of people have gone all over the country to try and get in this prestigious event, so we wanted to give them one more shot," Avello said. "We worked with the NTRA so we could squeeze two more people in at the last minute."

That's right. There will be two spots up for grabs.

The entry fee is $250. The format will be a live-money event with players betting a $750 bankroll by making 15 parimutuel wagers of $50 apiece on races from Gulfstream and Santa Anita (or a substitute track in case of a canceled card). The total of $50 from each race must be made in the following pools: win, place, show, exacta, track quinella, and trifecta. No superfecta or multi-race wagers will be allowed.

Out of the $250 entry fee, $200 will go toward the NHC purse that weekend with $50 being paid back in prize money in Wednesday's contest. Avello said he also planned to seed the pot with $3,000. Players also keep the proceeds from any tickets they cash.

The two NHC qualifiers will also earn free accommodations at Bally's for the rest of the week - just like those who make the field at out-of-state tournaments. If one of the top two finishers cannot attend, the next highest placing qualifier will earn the berth.

"This is obviously a great opportunity for Las Vegas locals to have a final shot at the NHC," Avello said, "but our hope is that people come to town to try and qualify and even if they don't make it they can stay to watch the festivities and play the races along with the contestants."

Avello said players can call to make reservations and his staff will work to get the best rate available during that week. The number to call is (702) 967-4540.

Implosions from a more innocent time

Recent hotel-casino implosions in Las Vegas have been done late at night and with little fanfare since the events of 9-11.

Back in the day, they used to be huge events. For those wanting to see the old spectacles, the National Geographic Channel will have a documentary at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time Sunday with implosions of the Dunes, Sands, Hacienda, Landmark, original Aladdin, and El Rancho (the first of the late-night demolitions).

Football contest updates

Brent Carter, professional poker player turned football handicapper (though he has been betting sports as long as he has been playing poker), went 4-1-2 to eliminate Jimmy Vaccaro, who went 2-4-1, in the first semifinal match of the Stardust Invitational.

Carter's only loss was on his best bet, the Packers-Eagles game under 48 points. He pushed with the Chargers -3 vs. the Broncos and Rams -10 vs. the 49ers. He went 4-0 on his other totals.

Carter moves to the Dec. 17 finals to face the winner of this Friday night's matchup between Cal State-Hayward statistics professor Mike Orkin and professional handicapper "Big" Al McMordie. Each will give seven selections, including a best-bet tiebreaker and two alternate best bets in case of further ties, from 9-10 p.m. in the Stardust sports book. Their selections will be broadcast live in nine Western states on KDWN AM-720 and worldwide on kdwn.com.

* The standings are bunched near the top in the richest handicapping contest in Las Vegas, the $500,000 Ultimate Gambler's Challenge at the Golden Nugget. A contestant using the alias "JRBuck" is atop the leaderboard with a record of 43-22 for a total of 52 points. In the Nugget contest, which had a $5,000 entry fee, contestants make five NFL selections a week with one best bet worth two points. "El Loco IS" is a game back with 51 points, followed by "Poker Boys" at 50, and Daniel J Allen (presumably not an alias) at 49.

* In the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, "Tiger Wilson" held onto his lead with a 3-2 week to stand at 43 1/2 points, a game ahead of "TNT," "Ok wat Nak" and "Vegas Connection" at 42 1/2. Hilton contestants, who put up $1,500 apiece, make five NFL selections a week with no best bet.

* In the Station Casinos' Gambler's Challenge, "4 Aces" saw his lead shrink despite going 3-2 and increasing his point total to 44 1/2. "Sdsoda + LV Moosh" went 4-1 and is now just two games back in second with 42 1/2 points. "Great 8" is another game back in third.

* Picks of all contest leaders, as well as consensus plays of all entrants, will be available at their respective sports books: Stardust (10 p.m. Friday), Las Vegas Hilton (Friday afternoon), Station Casinos (late Saturday morning), Golden Nugget (6 p.m. Saturday). The Hilton, Stations, and Golden Nugget plays can also be found online under the "Hot Links" section at Jim Feist's website, nss.net, though the Hilton selections usually aren't updated until Friday evening while the Stations and Nugget contests sometimes aren't available until late Saturday night.