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Using history to handicap the 2019 Awesome Again Stakes

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Looking for horses with the ability to challenge for victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park? Look no further than Santa Anita’s own $300,000, Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes, which takes place Saturday, Sept. 28.

This 1 1/8-mile “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic has produced two of the last six winners of the year-end championship — Accelerate in 2018 and Mucho Macho Man in 2013 — along with 2016 runner-up California Chrome.

The 2019 renewal of the Awesome Again is expected to attract a small, but elite field of Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders. The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN starting at 6:30 p.m. ET, so be sure to mark your calendars and get a head start analyzing the expected starters.

Fortunately, the recent history of the Awesome Again demonstrates that you can count on certain types of runners to excel time and time again. Should you be betting longshots or favorites? Local runners or out-of-state shippers? And which trainer has the strongest record of success in the Awesome Again?

We’ve done all the work to answer these questions so you can handicap knowledgeably with history in mind. Here are the tips and trends we’ve come up with using the last 10 years as a guide:

Don’t Worry About Running Styles

For various reasons, it’s difficult to analyze which running style is the most effective in the Awesome Again Stakes. The race was held on a synthetic surface in 2009 and 2010, and while it’s been contested on dirt since 2011, the composition and depth of the dirt has changed considerably through the years — over the last couple of seasons, the track at Santa Anita has been playing much slower than before.

With this in mind, it’s worth noting the last two winners of the Awesome Again Stakes rallied from the back half of the field to prevail. Perhaps it’s wise to upgrade runners who have shown the ability to close from off the pace … or maybe it’s wiser not to draw conclusions based off such a small sample size. Viewing the results of the last decade as a whole, it seems clear any running style can succeed in the Awesome Again under the right circumstances.

Year Winner Position after first 1/2-mile 1/2-mile & 3/4-mile (track condition)
2018 Accelerate 4th by 3.5 lengths (6 starters) 46.17, 1:10.35 (fast)
2017 Mubtaahij 6th by 4 lengths (7 starters) 47.06, 1:11.56 (fast)
2016 California Chrome 1st by 0.5 lengths (5 starters) 46.08, 1:09.28 (fast)
2015 Smooth Roller 2nd by 2 lengths (8 starters) 48.64, 1:12.25 (fast)
2014 Shared Belief 4th by 2.25 lengths (7 starters) 46.52, 1:10.59 (fast)
2013 Mucho Macho Man 5th by a 3.5 lengths (10 starters) 47.45, 1:11.48 (fast)
2012 Game On Dude 2nd by 1 length (9 starters) 48.02, 1:11.94 (fast)
2011 Game On Dude 2nd by a head (8 starters) 45.28, 1:09.03 (fast)
2010 Richard’s Kid 6th by 9 lengths (7 starters) 47.97, 1:11.84 (fast)
2009 Gitano Hernando 5th by 2 lengths (10 starters) 48.54, 1:12.64 (fast)

Del Mar is a Key Proving Ground

Not surprisingly, the majority of recent Awesome Again Stakes winners were exiting races at nearby Del Mar in Southern California. Seven of the last 10 Awesome Again winners prepped at the seaside oval, where the Grade 1, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes is held each summer, and indeed, six of those runners were exiting the Pacific Classic. Four of them (Accelerate, California Chrome, Shared Belief, and Richard’s Kid) managed to complete the Pacific Classic-Awesome Again double, while the remaining two were beaten at Del Mar before rebounding in the Awesome Again.

Favor Proven Top-Level Runners

Generally speaking, it takes a proven high-class competitor to prevail in the Awesome Again. Six of the last 10 winners had already secured victory in a Grade 1 race, while two more had placed at the Grade 1 level. The lone exceptions were Smooth Roller (who had finished fourth in his lone prior stakes start) and Gitano Hernando (who was Group 3-placed in England).

Don’t Be Afraid to Play Favorites

Looking for longshots? You really shouldn’t. Since Santa Anita returned to dirt in 2011, favorites have won six of the eight editions of the Awesome Again, a striking 75% success rate. What’s more, the two non-favored runners started at just 3.30-1 and 5.50-1, and only one runner offering double-digit odds (10-1 shot Nonios in 2012) has managed to crack the exacta. It pays to follow the money when handicapping the Awesome Again Stakes.

Bet on Bob Baffert

Over the last decade, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has dominated the Awesome Again Stakes. From 15 starters, he’s secured four wins, five seconds, and two thirds, including three victories in a row from 2010 to 2012. Blindly betting all of his starters to win would have yielded a small profit.

Conclusions

Judging from recent history, the 2019 Awesome Again Stakes will be a two-horse battle between McKinzie and Higher Power. For the most part, these two talented 4-year-olds match the profile of a typical Awesome Again winner — they’ve both won Grade 1 races, they’re versatile in terms of running style, and they’ll be heavily supported in the wagering.

But while Higher Power is exiting a victory in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar — the key steppingstone toward success in the Awesome Again — the overall trends suggest McKinzie might have the advantage. An impressive winner of the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, McKinzie is conditioned by Bob Baffert and will almost certainly be favored in the wagering. Having previously won a Grade 1 race at Santa Anita, McKinzie is the early favorite to claim victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and should be tough to beat in the Awesome Again.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Awesome Again Stakes from Santa Anita Park on September 28. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

VanVleet picks up where he left off in the playoffs, and the NBA bets you need to make Tuesday

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Opening day of the 2019-20 NBA season is here with the defending champion Toronto Raptors hosting the New Orleans Pelicans. The late matchup pairs the top two choices to win it all, according to the NBA betting odds, with the Los Angeles Lakers taking on the new-look Los Angeles Clippers. 

If you’re betting on the NBA openers, we have the best bets and prop predictions for Tuesday’s two games.

BIG CHANGES IN THE BIG EASY

The Pelicans sport one of the most overhauled rosters in the NBA after trading Anthony Davis to the Lakers in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and draft picks. New Orleans then selected Zion Williamson first overall in the draft, but unfortunately, his debut will have to wait as he is expected to miss the first couple of weeks with a knee injury. Some more big pickups include Derrick Favors and J.J. Redick.

Although Redick is playing for a new squad this year, while with Philadelphia he had success versus the Raptors in the playoffs, shooting 43.9 percent from the field, 41 percent from beyond the arc, and scored 15 or more points in four of those seven postseason games. With an increased role on the Pelicans and some good shooting numbers, back Over his points total of 16.5 on PointsBet.

NO HANGOVER HERE

The Raptors kick their season off playing a double-header with the first game at home to the Pelicans. The 2018-2019 season saw the Raptors set franchise records in points per game, assists per game, rebounds per game, and 3-point shots made. A regression is expected with Toronto losing both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green but still finds itself a 7-point favorite in the season opener.

With the Championship banner being hoisted, rings handed out, and the Raptors looking to start the schedule strong, look for them to take care of business and cover at home as 7-point favorites.

RIGHT SAID FRED

With Toronto PG Kyle Lowry undergoing surgery on his finger in the offseason, don’t be surprised to see big numbers out of Fred VanVleet in the first few games of the schedule.

Last season, VanVleet averaged 27.5 minutes with 11 points, 4.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. Although this is a revamped Pelicans roster with many new faces, New Orleans struggled to defend opposing point guards last year, allowing 23.3 points per game and the league’s highest assists per game average at 9.1 to that position. If he carries over his postseason play, VanVleet will be a major player and offensive contributor for the defending champs. Take Over his assists total of 4.5.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

The Lakers start their second season with LeBron James at the helm but has more support behind him with guys like Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and Danny Green. The Clippers were also busy in the offseason, adding MVP talents in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

George will not be playing in the opening game (out until November while recovering from shoulder surgery), which plays a major role in shaping this spread, which sees the Purple and Gold as short “home” favorites in the war for the Staples Center.

LeBron and the Lakers have a lot to prove after a terrible finish to 2018-19 and we like them to cover as 2.5-points favorites Tuesday.

DOWN TO DEFENSE

With both Leonard and Patrick Beverly on the floor, the Clippers will be a difficult team to score on. With George out of action and this L.A. offense not firing on all cylinders, the Clippers certainly have the defense to keep things close.

The Lakers have plenty of scoring options but miss out on the services of Kyle Kuzma (18.7 ppg in 2018-19), who will be sitting out in the opening game with a foot injury. While it’s Game 1 of an 82-game season, this Los Angeles rivalry could have playoff intensity right out of the gate. We like a lower-scoring game and the Under 225.5 points Tuesday night. 

Lakers vs Clippers NBA betting picks and predictions: Davis will dominate down low on opening night

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The 2019-2020 NBA season starts off with a bang tonight as two revamped teams with some of the best players in the world take to the court in Los Angeles as the Lakers face the Clippers. 

Expectations are sky-high for both teams after the Lakers added Anthony Davis as a running mate for Lebron James, while the Clippers are led by last year’s NBA Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard. These rivals will be highly motivated to begin the season with a win and stake an early claim as the best team in the league.

We break down the odds for the Battle of L.A. and give you five of our best bets and predictions.

QUICK HITTER

The biggest move the Lakers made in the offseason was obviously the addition of Anthony Davis. But he’s not the only new face with Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Dwight Howard, and Avery Bradley all in line to receive significant minutes in their rotation.

The Clippers have also gone through a makeover adding Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Maurice Harkless. While George won’t play until at least mid-November after undergoing shoulder surgery, the other two should log major minutes.

Playing together in practice and the preseason is no substitute for the actual defensive intensity of an NBA game. So expect both offenses to take some time to gell and back the Under on the 1Q total.

PICK: First Quarter Under 58 (-115)

FIRST HALF BET

The first quarter might see from offensive jitters from both teams but they should begin to settle down after 12 minutes. Lebron James, in particular, should have little problem facilitating the offense while the underrated additions of Green and Cook should improve their three-point efficiency which was among the worst in the league last year.

On defense, they match up well with the Clippers with Lebron able to switch onto Leonard while Bradley can give Lou Williams fits. Rajon Rondo is listed as questionable with a calf injury but if he’s good to go that will be yet another Lakers defender that can pressure opposing ball-handlers.

The Lakers also have a height advantage which should help them win the battle on the boards and get more second chances. Bet on the Lakers to cover the short first-half spread.

PICK: First Half Lakers -1.5 (-120)

TEAM/PLAYER PROP

Davis looks like a great fit in the Lakers offense next to Lebron. The Brow can run the pick and roll, attack down low and hit jumpers when he needs to. He gets to face a Clippers team that was among the worst at defending inside last season, giving up 50.7 points per game in the paint. Montrezl Harrell, Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green will have a major mismatch on their hands against the Lakers star.

Last year Davis combined for 41.8 points, rebounds and assists per game but that includes a stretch towards the end of the season where New Orleans severely limited his minutes. Before the All-Star break, he combined for 45.2 points, rebounds, and assists per contest. Take the Over on his PRA total tonight.

PICK: Anthony Davis – Points, Rebounds and Assists Over 41.5 (-115)

 

FULL GAME TOTAL

The O/U for this game opened at 227 on Saturday and has already dropped to 224 and for good reason. The Clippers should be terrific at defending on the perimeter with Patrick Beverly and Leonard while the Lakers will miss Kyle Kuzma’s production on the offensive end of the floor. Kuzma averaged 18.7 ppg last season but the forward is still recovering from a foot injury.

The Lakers should be much improved at defending the rim with Davis and Howard, which will force Leonard and Lou Williams to carry the offensive load.

The Lakers added plenty of experience and size in the offseason. That might be a formula for winning but also means that they added older players and guys that prefer to set up in the half-court rather than running the floor all game. Expect them to play at a slower pace than last season and take the Under 224.

PICK: Under 224 (-110)

FULL GAME SIDE

As we enter this new era of “Super-Duos” in the NBA the Clippers could find themselves at a disadvantage without one half of their duo. Leonard will do his part on both ends of the floor but the Clippers will need a heroic display from Lou Williams and improved defensive play from their big men if they want to hang with the Lakeshow.

The Clips won’t have an answer for AD and Lebron will come out as healthy and as motivated as he’s been in years. As the season goes on, expect Lakers coach Frank Vogel to start resting his superstars, but he has said that there won’t be any minutes restrictions for Lebron or Davis at the start of the year. Count on the Lakers viewing this as a statement game and back them to pull off the win while covering.

PICK: Los Angeles Lakers -3.5 (-105)