10/06/2011 2:00PM

Qualifiers for Horseplayer World Series, DRF/NTRA NHC on one weekend


LAS VEGAS – Horseplayers love choices.

More tracks to bet on, more races to play, more horses in each race, more exotic wagers within each race, more multi-race wagers to play. Obviously there are some exceptions, people who want to play just one track or circuit or only certain wagers, and they certainly can choose to eschew the rest of the available options, but having all those choices allows everyone to make their own decision on how to play.

Handicapping tournament players here in Vegas have their choice of two marquee events next weekend as the Fall Classic at the Orleans is being held Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 13-15, with 25 berths in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans on Feb. 23-25 up for grabs, plus the Wager to Win II at Treasure Island holding a one-day tourney on Saturday, Oct. 15, with the top three finishers earning seats in the Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship on Jan. 27-28, being held for the first time at the TI.

DRF SPORTS: Latest betting lines, StatFox matchups, and handicapping news for every game

(Note: I would be remiss if I failed to mention that there are four other online NHC qualifiers that are also taking place next weekend, with many of the Vegas contestants also juggling entries there: HorseTourneys.com on Friday, Oct. 14; DerbyWars.com on Friday, Oct. 14; NHCQualify.com on Saturday, Oct. 15; and another HorseTourneys.com event on Sunday, Oct. 16. Talk about choices! See ntra.com/nhctour for full details.)

But back to Vegas.

The Fall Classic has a $500 entry fee (limit 10 per person) with players making 12 mythical $100 win bets each day. For scoring purposes, full track odds are paid for the first $20 of each wager, with the remainder capped at 20-1. Based on an estimated 500 entries, the first prize would be $87,500 with the top 50 finishing in the money as all entries are returned as prize money.

Wager to Win II has a $400 entry fee (limit 2 per person) with players making 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with nine races being mandatory and the other six being players’ choice. The full 100 percent of entry fees are also returned as prize money. To be eligible for the NHC berths, a contestant must have paid the NHC Tour’s $45 annual membership fee prior to playing in the tournament to have a shot at the estimated $2 million purse in January.

The Fall Classic dates were announced early this year, so it surprised some people when Treasure Island announced in August at its inaugural Wager to Win tourney that it was holding the next one on the same weekend of the Orleans’ annual event.

But a precedent had been set. Back in 2002, the NHC had settled into its preferred routine of scheduling its finals on the bye week between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl and had announced its dates for January 2003 when Bally’s Las Vegas was set to host the fourth annual NHC. Then, the Coast Casinos also slated its Coast-to-Coast Super Tournament on the same weekend that was held concurrently at the Suncoast on the west side of town with a satellite location on the Strip at the Barbary Coast, right across the street from Bally’s. It was a sight to see as horseplayers made the short walk along Flamingo Road between the books to play both tournaments at the same time.

We will see something similar next weekend, though it’s more than walking distance between the two casinos (more like a 15-minute drive including parking). Many tournament veterans have already mapped out their strategies to play both tourneys no matter what, while others will opt to play the first two days at the Orleans and then switch to Treasure Island if they’re out of contention.

For that reason, I think the two tourneys will probably help each other get more entries instead of cannibalizing each other.

It’s a win-win for the players when it comes to having choices.

Back to the betting board

Okay, now this is getting embarrassing. I went 0-2 with my posted plays here last week to fall to a pitiful 1-7 after four weeks. But don’t take pity on me as I’m not doing that poorly overall. Last week in the Hilton SuperContest (where you pick 5 NFL games against the spread each week), I went 3-2 to get back to .500 on the season with the two losses being on the Steelers and the Broncos that I picked here. I thought those were my two best bets, but it’s the equivalent of when you go to the track really thinking you have one or two sure winners, but they run up the track and you hit with some of your lesser plays to end up with a winning day.

Going into last weekend, I only liked four plays on the 16-game card (and won with my fifth choice of the Redskins, which I didn’t even bet), but it’s surprising to me that I really like this week’s card even though there are only 13 games available. I will stick to my, ahem, “best bets” here but will add that I also like the Chiefs, Cardinals, Titans, Jets, and Falcons as live underdogs.

Bengals +2.5 vs. Jaguars

Cincinnati was the team that drew the most wise-guy money against it in season-win total wagering here in Vegas over the summer. Everyone was down on the Bengals, but they have played surprisingly well at 2-2 (certainly better than the 1-3 Jaguars), including an upset of the Bills last Sunday, and have the No. 1 rated defense in the NFL (yes, I was surprised to learn that, too). I’m actually wondering why they’re not favored here since the Jags don’t have much of a home-field advantage, but I will gladly take the bonus points.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Buccaneers +3 vs. 49ers

One of my wins last week was on the Colts against these same Bucs, but that was because I didn’t think the Bucs were the type of team to cover a double-digit spread. But this is a great spot for them, despite the short week off since Monday Night Football. They certainly know how to win close games (as evidenced by their three straight wins over the Vikings, Falcons, and Colts) and they match up well with the 49ers on both sides of the ball.

PLAY: Buccaneers for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-2 for a loss of 2.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 1-7 for a net loss of 6.7 units.