04/05/2012 4:28PM

Tuley: Union Rags remains future book Derby favorite in Vegas


The calendar says it’s time for some spring cleaning, so it’s time to clean out this reporter’s notebook . . .

◗ The field for the Kentucky Derby is really starting to take shape with less than a month until the first Saturday in May. Even after losing last weekend in the Florida Derby, Union Rags is the 7-2 favorite in the future book at Wynn Las Vegas (probably partly due to his preparations being done and being a virtual lock for the starting gate barring injury or illness). Creative Cause and BC Juvenile winner Hansen are next at odds of 10-1. Creative Cause is making his final prep Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby with Hansen going next Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes. Alpha is next on the Wynn list at 14-1 with Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy moving into a group at 15-1 that also includes Gemologist, El Padrino, and Secret Circle. Of course, a lot can change in the next few weeks depending on the results of the remaining major prep races and the health of our equine stars.

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◗ Gordon Jones won the Handicapping Championship at the Orleans last Saturday. Jones won $38,500 for topping the field of 220 with a score of $7,214 from win-only bets over the three-day tournament. The Professor’s name– he taught at USC and Al Michaels was among his students – should be familiar to horseplayers as he covered Southern California racing for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner for 17 years in the 1970s and 1980s and was the longtime house handicapper at Sam’s Town here in Vegas, conducting countless seminars and appearing on the “Track Talk” radio show. He can still be seen as the handicapper on the in-house and simulcast feed from Fairplex Park. Roger Soule compiled a score of $6,822 to claim the $13,200 second-place prize and Chris Westergard was third at $6,450 to earn $5,500.

◗ Station Casinos, doing what it can to fill its race and sports books with customers after the end of March Madness, is offering a $10,000 Twin Quinella each Saturday this month (April 7, 14, 21, 28). Station usually has a $5,000 daily prize pool with bigger money offered for special events like the Derby and Breeders’ Cup, but it is pumping up the money this month. For those who don’t know, the house chooses two races (usually from Southern California but often using other tracks’ major cards such as Saturday’s Wood Memorial Day at Aqueduct) and bettors have to hit the quinella in both races. You pay based on the number of betting combinations you use in trying to hit the jackpot, so if you want to box three horses in the first race and three horses in the second leg, the ticket would cost $18 (three quinella combinations in the first race times three more in the second times the base $2 wager). A straight $2 ticket would be just two horses in each leg. Stations has also mailed out a free play to its Boarding Pass members that play the races. It’s just a $2 play each week, but it’s great to see the books reaching out to horseplayers even before the Triple Crown gets under way.

◗ If you’re reading this before Saturday morning, this is your last call to get down to the Treasure Island for its Wager to Win handicapping tournament with three seats to the Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship up for grabs. The entry fee is $300 (limit one per person) and contestants make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with eight mandatory races. The remaining seven are player’s choice from the contest tracks of Gulfstream, Keeneland, Oaklawn, and Santa Anita. All entry fees are paid back as prize money. Treasure Island, which will be hosting the NHC finals for the second straight year in January, also has Wager to Win contests slated for Sundays, May 6 and June 11, the days after the Derby and Belmont, respectively.

◗ With all this talk about gambling tournaments, it seems fitting to mention that the World Series of Poker, the biggest gambling tourney of them all, is right around the corner on May 28 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino and runs through July 16 when the final table of the Main Event, which starts July 7, will be set. I guess the final table won’t be called the November Nine this year as the finalists are slated to play down to the champion on Oct. 28-30. Now, not everyone can afford the $10,000 entry fee for the Main Event and there’s a website, HogWildPoker.com, which allows people to create their own leagues and earn points to try to earn World Series of Poker seats. There’s also a horse racing tie-in this month as HogWildPoker.com is also holding satellites for the $710 buy-in and a VIP package to the 2012 Celebrity Derby Poker Championship that will be held at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel in Louisville on Thursday, May 3. The HogWild qualifiers are being held each Thursday this month leading up to the April 26 finale at 8 p.m. Eastern. Full details are available at their site as well as derbypokerchampionship.com.