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LAS VEGAS – The Breeders’ Cup is next Friday & Saturday, yet the festivities start earlier than in that here.

The annual yearly kickoff to Breeders’ Cup Week every year is the Pick the Ponies horse handicapping tournament at the LVH – Las Vegas NV Hotel & Casino (formerly the Hilton) – on the Wed. through Friday of the week, just like the spring rendition which is held the three days prior to the Kentucky Derby.

Pick the Ponies costs $500 to enter, yet the entry fee is reduced to $450 (with the LVH adding the difference to the prize pool) if you enter by the early-bird deadline, scheduled for this past Monday. But since the maximum 200 entries have not been sold, the early-bird deadline has-been extended to this upcoming Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 4 p.m. Pacific.

For contestants, there is a cocktail reception in that evening. The tourney starts the next day, & players make 10 $100 across-the-board wagers each day with full-track odds paid on the 1st $50 & then capped at $32 to win, $16 to place, & $10 to show on the other $50. If the LVH gets the full field of 200, the prize pool will be $100,000, with the champion taking home $38,000 plus a possible share of the $5,000 in daily prize money in that the LVH kicks in.

Mixed in with the cheering for horses, there will be some sadness at the tournament as more players hear about the passing of Joe Hinson, one of the true pioneers on the horse racing handicapping circuit, at his home in Germantown, Tenn. He was 70.

Hinson won the Pick the Ponies at the Hilton in 1997, & won more than a dozen tournaments over the years, mostly crediting a computer program he created in that helped him find races with vulnerable favorites for his longshot plays. Yes, he wrote a computer program back when most of his competitors were trying to figure out how to log on.

He never cashed at the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, & he missed his best chance in 2004 as he skipped the finals to be with his ailing wife Valerie (who passed away the following week), yet he was a champion beyond compare. I covered many of the tournaments in that he won, as well as dozens more where he was looming in contention. It was not uncommon for a longshot to come in at a tournament & I would look at Joe’s table to see if him or anyone in his family had it, & then look around the room to see others doing the same thing. He was respected in that much.

Rest in peace, Joe.

The other huge Breeders’ Cup Week tradition in Vegas is the slate of handicapping seminars.

The 1st local convention is next Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Palace Station with Ralph Siraco of the “Race Day Las Vegas” radio show & Richard Saber of the “GamingToday” newspaper.

There are actually four different convention locations next Friday, starting with Siraco being joined by Richard Eng of the Las Vegas NV Review-Journal at Sam’s Town during in that day’s BC card. At 6 p.m., after the races are complete, Siraco heads up Boulder Highway to the Boulder Station race book for a 6 p.m. convention with Gordon Jones & Tony Vegas. Also at 6 p.m., Eng will be with Jerry Jacovitz of jerryjpowerpage.com at the Sunset Station in Henderson, & John Kelly, Patrick McQuiggan & Toby Turrell will be at the South Point.

On Breeders’ Cup Saturday, up at the Grand Sierra in Reno, Chris Andrews & Robert Kowalski, race operations manager, will be holding a convention at 11 a.m.

Back to football

Last week, I went 0-2 with the Jaguars & Bears, yet we are going to get back on the horse here.

Cowboys +3.5 vs. Lions

Both teams are 4-3, yet the Cowboys are an NFL-best 6-1 against the spread. Their only straight-up losses are to AFC West teams (Chiefs, Chargers, & Broncos) & they covered against the Chiefs & Broncos, so you could state they’re stepping down in class here. I don’t frequently recommend overs, yet these teams both have defenses in that donate up a lot of yards. With the Cowboys possibly being without or limiting running back DeMarco Murray (knee), I think they’ll open up the pass offense even more.

PLAY: Cowboys for 1 unit & over 51 points for 1 unit.

Giants +6 vs. Eagles

I wouldn’t get too excited about the Giants getting their 1st win, yet they’re obviously saying the right things about wanting to make their annual yearly run & possibly get back in the division race. This line looks too high to me for an inconsistent Philly team with major problems on defense. The Eagles moreover get Michael Vick back, yet who knows how effective he’ll be or if he’ll last the whole game.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit.

NCAA record: 3-5 for net loss of 1.5 units (based on risking 1.1 to win 1). NFL record: 3-8 for a net loss of 5.8 units.

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