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Handicappers flock to Las Vegas

The 10th annual Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship will be today and Saturday at Red Rock. The purse is $1 million, with a first-place prize of $500,000.

The event has been in Las Vegas for all 10 years, first at the MGM Grand, then at Bally’s.

Internet video coverage will be available at TwinSpires.com. Reporter Jill Byrne will provide updates, interviews and player reactions through Saturday.

A total of 301 handicappers qualified in regional and Internet tournaments over the past 12 months. Defending champion Richard Goodall of Las Vegas will attempt to be the first former winner to repeat.

Along with Goodall, four former NHC champions are in the field: Ron Rippey (2006), Steve Wolfson Jr. (2003), Judy Wagner (2001) and Steven Walker (2000).

There will be a local flavor at Red Rock. The field includes Las Vegas residents Edward De’Ath, Terry Degruy, Warren Fortezzo, Richard and Sally Goodall, Frank Ley, Brian Schwade and Hadj Thomas.

There are intriguing angles to some other participants. Sam Brooks won $100,000 as the winner of the inaugural NHC Tour. Should he also win the NHC this week, Brooks will get a $500,000 first prize and a $2 million bonus.

Kenneth Hopkins can win a rare handicapping double. He captured the 2008 Horseplayer World Series at The Orleans in February.

Las Vegas will host two other big-money tournament finales — the aforementioned Horseplayer World Series from Feb. 19 to 21 at The Orleans and the South Point Finale on April 17 and 18. These events prove that when it comes to betting on horse racing away from the track, Las Vegas is the top destination for handicappers.

Looking to get a jump on the 2010 NHC? The first qualifier is Sunday’s Red Rock Shootout. The entry fee is $100.

POTENTIAL BLACKOUT — The contract extension between the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association and TrackNet, which represents Magna- and Churchill Downs-owned racetracks, ends Sunday — an issue that hangs over the heads of all horseplayers in Nevada. If no agreement can be reached, many major signals, including those from Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park, Golden Gate Fields and the Fair Grounds, will be blacked out in Nevada.

Our race books would revert to the old system of booking bets in-house. Horseplayers would be inconvenienced in many ways. High payoff pools, such as the Pick 6 and Pick 4, would not be available. And those wagers offered would have a cap on payouts, thus limiting one’s chance of winning a high odds score.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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