Next weekend in Las Vegas, the week between the conference finals and Super Bowl, there will be two national thoroughbred handicapping championship tournaments.

For an entire weekend, Las Vegas will be the handicapping capital of the world, playing host to the world’s best horseplayers. A horseplayer that would be king or, perhaps, a queen. Elvis would be proud, as would Priscilla.

On one corner; the Coast Casinos Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans. On another; the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championships.

A little reminiscent of the old NFL and AFL. But those championships weren’t played the same weekend. Where’s Joe Willie when you really need him?
One way to look at it is that thoroughbred racing had a chance to dominate the Las Vegas storyline for an entire weekend but decided to step on its own toes. Again.

Would someone please get me the racing commissioner on the phone?

This will be the fourth year of the HWS. The Orleans will host over 800 qualifiers at their big dance, using three ballrooms in its convention center. This year’s contest dates were scheduled in 2005.

A handful of talented handicappers qualified for both contests. Because of the scheduling conflict, the HWS for the first time will allow proxy contestants, qualifiers sending representatives while they play in the NHC.

Not as glitzy as some other venues, the Orleans has a reputation for being horseplayer friendly. Having spent a long weekend there in 2006, it occurred to me at the time that their reputation for horseplayer hospitality was deserved.

I’m looking forward to visiting the new Red Rock Resort & Casino, too, and hearing an explanation from DRF/NTRA sources as to why they didn‘t choose another weekend to avoid a dates conflict.

One spin has the NHC choosing the weekend of the 26th to coincide with the popular Sunshine Millions program run concurrently at Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream Park, one of the few Magna bright spots.

Ironically, the Santa Anita portion of the program might have to be rescheduled at Golden Gate Fields, the Magna track in Northern California, should heavy rains wreck more havoc with synthetic Cushion Track.

The real reasons might be that with so many DRF and NTRA people in Los Angeles for Monday’s Eclipse Awards festivities, they’re just a short helicopter jump over to Sin City. That, and because the NHC just might want to kick down the HWS barn door.

In a Thursday press release, the NTRA announced the creation of a satellite program patterned in a fashion after the Breeders’ Cup special stakes program, a series of traditional races to which Breeders’ Cup lends its prestige and promotional support.

The NHC Tour is a year-long series of qualifying contests offering prize money and seeding into the finals. The Tour is opened only to registered contestants for a $125 annual fee. Contestants earn points based on a Top 20 finish in the qualifying rounds.

There are cash awards for the Top 50 finishers. The winner gets $100,000; the fifth-place finisher $5,000. The Top 3 gain entrance into the finals. Should the Tour winner also win the finals, he or she would earn a $2-million bonus.

The most significant aspect of the NHC Tour might have nothing to do with winning money. Registered contestants are automatically enrolled in a group called the Horseplayers’ Coalition. Still in its formative stage, the group would support the NTRA’s lobbying efforts at the federal level.

Ironic how lobbyist has become a dirty name during this primary season of change, just as horseplayers may be finding their voice. Like the old joke: “they’re off, you lose.”

The Horseplayers’ Coalition can support NTRA initiatives that seek to find legislative and regulatory remedies to tax and business issues that impact pari-mutuel racetracks and their customers. Might turn out to be a futile exercise. But it can’t hurt, and it’s promising that industry people of good will are bringing horseplayers kicking and screaming into the Halls of Congress.

C’mon Anybody!

I must admit to a certain amount of contest bias. Resident HorseRaceInsider handicapper Cary Fotias of Equiform is one of 278 players chasing a million dollars in the NHC next weekend. He qualified last year in New York, when racing was still a given on a daily basis.

But there’s a hand I want to shake, a man I want to thank for his service. An 11-year Army veteran, Sgt. Chris Lavezza, qualified for the NHC on-line while stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, he’ll fly from Frankfurt, Germany to Atlanta, connect with his dad and brother, head for Las Vegas, where his mom and his sister will join them at a dinner reunion Friday. Lavezza, the NTRA release said, will stay up all night to handicap if he has to. “I’ll be ready for day two“ he promised.

So it seems there’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.