11/02/2009 12:00AM

Vegas gears up for Breeders' Cup


LAS VEGAS - Race and sports book directors always look forward to the Breeders' Cup, but maybe never as much as this year.

The Breeders' Cup is a great event that brings out the regular horseplayers who usually bet even more, plus all the casual racing fans or those who just bet during the Triple Crown and on the BC. The hotels love it because those customers also help fill the hotel rooms, the restaurants, and the showrooms, as well as the casinos, so it's always a money-making weekend.

That's even more important this year, not only with the struggling economy but also due to the fact that the sports books have been knocked around pretty good by the NFL favorites covering at a high rate. Actually, let me amend that. Favorites are 56-46-1 against the spread this year, which is just less than 55 percent and not disastrous on its own. Where the books have been hurt is the public has been backing the top teams and hooking them up in parlay as well as betting against the dregs of the league. Last week was one of those "perfect storms," where almost every steam play won and bettors cleaned up with parlays. A look at the list of teams that covered says it all: Chargers, Colts, Packers, Steelers, Patriots, Jets, Saints, Cowboys. All are traditionally popular teams, with the Saints being a new addition, and for good reason as they're now 6-0 both straight up and against the spread. It didn't help that most of them were playing teams that are considered dead on the board (Chiefs, Rams, Browns, Buccaneers, and Raiders). Many bookmakers called it Black Sunday and one of their worst days ever.

So, the thought of the two-Breeders' Cup days on next Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7, with most of the wagering on race days being parimutuel, has to be music to bookmakers' ears. They can open the doors, take the bets, take their cut, and cheer for the players to cash lots of tickets so they keep churning the money through the windows.

To that end, the race books are rolling out the red carpet to attract players to their properties starting with the days leading up to the BC. The Pick the Ponies Invitational, which costs $500 to enter and wasn't sold out as of press time, runs Wednesday through Friday of BC Week at the Las Vegas Hilton.

There also are a number of BC seminars planned starting Thursday at 6 p.m. with one at the Palace Station (with Ralph Siraco of the Raceday Las Vegas radio shows, Richard Saber of the GamingToday weekly newspaper, and Palace Station racebook manager Vic Vivio) and another at the Lucky's racebook at the downtown Plaza with Richard Eng of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Lucky's marketing director Dan Sharpio, and yours truly, Dave Tuley. Up in the state capital of Carson City, near Reno, Lucky's will run a concurrent seminar at the Casino Fandango with Steve Fierro.

On Friday night, after the first day of BC action, Sam's Town on the east side of Las Vegas host a seminar with Gordon Jones, Patrick McQuiggan, and John Kelly.

While Friday is a big day of racing, it's nothing compared to how packed the race books will be for Saturday's card (especially when you throw in a full schedule of college football compared to next Friday's relative dead sports schedule). Every race book in Vegas will be having a BC party, but if you're looking for a little more space and bigger screens to watch the races on, the two biggest free parties are at the Orleans and the South Point in their ballrooms. The Orleans is sweetening the pot with a 10 a.m. seminar with Siraco and Jon Lindo going over the card. Up in Reno, the Grand Sierra has a seminar with Fierro and Lucky's CEO Joe Asher that features drawings for $100 bets on all eight races Saturday.

One horse racing bet where the books can lose money is the futures. The Wynn Las Vegas has the most extensive offering of futures with odds on nine of the BC races. The most intriguing horse is Zenyatta as everyone waits to hear if she will take on the boys in the Classic. As of Wednesday, when the Wynn's John Avello updated his lists after the pre-entries were announced, Zenyatta was offered at 7-2 in the Classic and the 2-1 favorite in the Ladies' Classic (odds are subject to change). Rip Van Winkle was the 8-5 favorite in the Classic. Other chalk were Blind Luck, 3-1 in the Juvenile Filles; Forever Together, 5-2 in the Filly and Mare Turf; Mastercraftsman, 5-2 in the Dirt Mile; Lookin at Lucky, 9-5 in the Juvenile (he's also the Wynn's 15-1 favorite in the 2010 Kentucky Derby); Goldikova, 4-5 in the Mile; Zensational, 7-5 in the Sprint; and Conduit, even money in the Turf. You can download the full lists at ViewFromVegas.com.

Now back to our regularly scheduled football column:

Browns +13 1/ 2 vs. Bears

The Browns are ugly dawgs, but it's not often you see a case of common opponents that goes like this: the Browns played the Bengals to overtime in Week 4 before losing 23-20, the Bengals routed the Bears 45-10 last week. Now, the Browns and Bears meet and the line is nearly two touchdowns - with the routed team favored? Granted, the Bears' body of work is much better, but they haven't shown anything to be this big of a favorite, even at home.

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

49ers +12 at Colts

After a non-covering win in the opener, the Colts have won and covered their last five, but I think this is where that ends with another spread inflated into double digits. True, that hasn't stopped big favorites from covering so far this season (11-5 ATS) but that trend should reverse as these spreads get more out of control.

PLAY: 49ers for 1 unit.

Falcons +10 vs. Saints (Monday)

The Saints showed some flaws last week in falling behind 24-3 to the Dolphins but came back and covered. As impressive as they've been, this is a key NFC South battle, and I can't see them being 10 points better than the Falcons. I'll take the double-digit head-start again.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-2 for a net loss of 1.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1 unit). Season record: 10-13, including 1-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net loss of 4.3 units.