This is a good time for out-of-town horseplayers to think about a trip to Las Vegas. Two big-money handicapping tournaments are coming soon: The Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship will be at Red Rock on Jan. 29 and 30, and the Horseplayer World Series will be at The Orleans from Feb. 18 to 20.
A last-chance final qualifier is in Las Vegas for each tournament that locals will want to circle on their calendars.
Red Rock will host a one-day NHC qualifier Jan. 27. The cost is steep, $500, and a negative is only 30 percent of fees will be returned as prize money. However, the kicker is the top five finishers will move on to the NHC, a tournament for which you must qualify and cannot buy your way into.
The Orleans will host a one-day qualifier Jan. 31. The entry is $100, and all fees will be returned as prize money to the players, as it should be. The top 10 finishers will get a free entry, worth $1,000, to the HWS.
Tournament players will be forced into a quandary Jan. 31. On the same day as The Orleans winter qualifier, the Red Rock will host the ”Shootout,” which will serve as the first qualifier on the road to the 2011 NHC. My suggestion so you can play in both tournaments is to station a friend or relative at the other location while communicating by cell phone.
These tournaments are an exciting way to try for a life-changing score while keeping a cap on your expenses. The first prizes will be about $500,000 in the NHC and more than $300,000 in the HSW.
The NTRA has a yearlong NHC tour that costs members $125 to join. The 2009 tour winner is New Orleans resident Bryan Wagner, who won $100,000. If Wagner also were to win the NHC, he would get an additional $2 million bonus. Not bad considering his natural odds of winning, based on the number of NHC contestants, are 300 to 1.
Tournament play remains a huge potential growth area in the racing business. Regardless of what is written about the plight of owners, trainers and jockeys in the sport, without horseplayers there would be no purse money for which to run.
Though most horseplayers lose money over the course of a year because of high takeout rates, smart bettors can profit by combining good money management with skillful handicapping.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.