Updated on 09/16/2011 7:43AM

There are no sure things

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I can't possibly tell you who will be in contention after the first day of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, but I can predict with reasonable certainty that it will be a mix of professional tournament players and relative unknowns.

The prize money ($212,000) and the prestige involved (an Eclipse Award for National Handicapper of the Year) lures top handicappers that I see at all the major tournaments: Mike Labriola, Ross Gallo, Paul Zubernick, Tommy Castillo, and Mike Mayo.

But there's no guarantee that one of them will win the championship in a field of 177. After all, Steven Walker came from nowhere to win the first title two years ago and then last year another outsider, Judy Wagner, shocked her competitors with a win in the final race of the contest.

Who could be this year's darkhorse?"

* Ruth Beufait? At 82, she's the oldest qualifier, but she has experience on her side, considering she has been handicapping since the mid-1930's and plays in half a dozen tournaments a year.

* Randy R. Gallo? He's the youngest qualifier (he finished second at Foxwoods Casino on Sept. 22, three days after his 21st birthday), but he has the pedigree with his father, J. Randy Gallo, having qualified the last two years and his uncle, Ross Gallo, being in this year's field.

* Michael Lasky? He's better known as a sports handicapper, operating under the name Mike Warren, and the founder of the Psychic Friends Network. No word if Dionne Warwick helps with his selections.

There's also a submarine technician, animal trapper, a heavy metal singer, an owner of a beef jerky company, a webmaster, a longshoreman, a pawn broker, a track announcer and a contortionist.

No matter who prevails - whether it's a professional or a $2 bettor - it's sure to be a great story.

More tournaments on tap

The National Handicapping Championship competitors will be leaving after the tournament concludes, but it won't be long before a lot of them are back in Nevada.

Counting last weekend's Suncoast Invitational, there are no fewer than a dozen big tournaments in the Silver State this year in addition to the NHC.

The next major event is the Championship at the Orleans on April 3-6. The early-bird deadline, which gets you a free entry in a bonus $20,000 one-day tourney on April 3, is March 13. The entry fee is $500. A second Championship at The Orleans will be Oct. 9-12. A second Suncoast Invitational will be Aug. 7-10.

Other 2002 events include: Pick the Ponies at the Las Vegas Hilton on both May 1-3 and Oct. 23-25; Sting in the Spring on May 2-4, and the Brawl in the Fall on Oct. 24-26 at the Reno Hilton; Summer Showdown II on June 14-15, also at the Reno Hilton; Summer Stakes III at Bally's on Aug. 2-3; and two yet-to-be-announced tournaments at the MGM Grand in June and August.

Johannesburg new Derby favorite

As recently as last week, Siphonic was the 5-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby future book of Coast Resorts oddsmaker Frank Minervini. After Siphonic finished second in the Santa Catalina Stakes, Minervini raised his odds to 10-1. Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Johannesburg is now the 6-1 favorite, followed by Repent at 8-1 and Saarland at 10-1 with Siphonic. John Avello, who sets the horse racing odds for the Park Place Entertainment properties (Caesars Palace, Bally's, Paris, Flamingo, Las Vegas Hilton and Hilton hotels in Reno and Laughlin), has Johannesburg, Siphonic and Repent all at 6-1. Former Derby favorite Officer is 45-1 at Coast Resorts and 50-1 at Park Place.

Park Place also has futures for the Kentucky Oaks, to be run the day before the Derby. Habibti, Bella Belluci, and Belterra are the co-favorites at 8-1. Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Tempera and You are next at 10-1. The odds would probably be lower on some of the top fillies, but there's a chance they might take on the boys in the Derby (in which case an Oaks future bet would be a loser). The good news for bettors is that this keeps some value in the top contenders' odds until their trainers make their intentions known, though some would say it's 8-1 or 10-1 that these horses even make it to the race let alone win.

Tyson may not be welcome

Nevada residents have probably heard about this. A lot of people are trying to bring a controversial project to Nevada. The vast majority of newspaper columnists and talk show hosts have railed against the idea, saying it's not worth the risk no matter how much money it brings to the state.

No, I'm not referring to the federal government's attempt to dump nuclear waste at nearby Yucca Mountain. I'm talking about the attempt to bring the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight to Las Vegas on April 6.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission has scheduled a special licensing hearing for 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.

After the melee in New York Tuesday at a press conference to announce the heavyweight title bout, many news service reports and TV have erroneously stated that Tyson last fought in Nevada in 1997 when he took a bite out of Evander Holyfield's ear, but the last straw for the NSAC was in 1999 when Tyson hit Orlin Norris after the first-round bell in a fight that was ruled a no-contest. After that incident, commission member Lorenzo Fertitta said, "I'm not so sure we need him in the state of Nevada any longer." Tyson was advised to clean up his act before reapplying for a license. Many observers say that hasn't happened and that the commission should back up its stand.

The commission might not have to make the controversial decision if the district attorney files rape charges against Tyson for an incident at his Las Vegas home in September.