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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.

Unbeaten Aztecs to start hot, and the NCAA basketball best bets you need to make this weekend

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The San Diego State Aztecs will look to keep their perfect season going on Sunday, while Texas Tech and Kentucky tangle in a matchup between two Top-20 teams on Saturday night. Rohit Ponnaiya digs into the college basketball odds and brings you his favorite bets and predictions for the weekend.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

The game of the night Friday will take place in the Big East as Marquette tangles with Butler. After falling 76-61 to Villanova on Tuesday (which made us a bit of money), Butler has now lost three straight games after beginning the season with a 15-1 record. In Butler’s last three games they’ve allowed 112.3 points per 100 possessions and a large reason for that is that they’ve been sending opposing teams to the line. Over that three game span they’ve given foes an average of 26.7 free throw attempts per game.

That’s bad news against a Marquette squad that has scored at least 82 points in each of it’s last three games and is led by the leading scorer in the country in Markus Howard. Howard has averaged 35 points per game over his last five contests and has averaged 12.5 FTA over his last two. As a team the Golden Eagles know how to get to the line, attempting 23.6 free throws per game, 18th highest in the country. We like the Over 64.5 on Marquette’s team total. 

EVERYTHING IS BIGGER IN TEXAS

Two Top-20 teams face off in the Lone Star State on Saturday as the Kentucky Wildcats travel to Lubbock to face Texas Tech at 6:00 p.m ET. This matchup should get plenty of action with the Red Raiders coming off a Final Four finish while Kentucky is…well Kentucky.

Texas Tech is coming off a road loss against TCU but is 9-1 at home. Chris Beard’s Red Raiders are known for their defensive intensity and this year’s squad ranks 7th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency according to the KenPom rating system. That said, Kentucky ranks 42nd in defensive efficiency and 32nd in offensive efficiency (while Texas Tech ranks 97th on offense).

Kentucky has three guards (Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey) that love to apply pressure on opposing ball-handlers while also being able to create their own shot. With Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery, Calipari’s squad has a (pardon the pun) big edge in size and rebounding ability. And unlike past editions of the Wildcats, this team has plenty of veteran experience so don’t expect them to be rattled playing in hostile territory.

We’re expecting Texas Tech to have the chalk and backing UK as the likely underdog, but if public action makes the Wildcats the faves the value will be on the Red Raiders.

HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN DEVILS

It’s the battle of Arizona on Saturday night as the Arizona State Sun Devils host the Arizona Wildcats. These teams met up on January 4, with the Wildcats routing ASU by a score of 75-47. But don’t expect to see a repeat of that score with the Sun Devils now enjoying home-court advantage.

The Wildcats led by guard Nico Mannion and big man Zeke Nnaji are 13-5 but they have been very beatable when playing outside of Tucson. They’re 9-2 ATS at home but just 1-6 ATS on the road and at neutral sites. They have an average scoring margin of plus-26.6 ppg at home but that falls to minus-1 ppg away from home.

The Sun Devils also play way better in front of their home crowd, outscoring opponents by a margin of plus-15.7 ppg in Tempe, compared to minus-7.2 ppg when they have to travel. Take the home side to cover as underdogs.

THE LAST OF THE UNBEATENS

The last unbeaten team in the country are the No. 4 San Diego Aztecs who head to Vegas to take on the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels on Sunday. The Aztecs have an aggressive defense and have been holding opponents to just 56.7 ppg on 36.7 percent shooting. But SDSU has been effective on the offensive end of the floor as well, ranking 14th in the country in offensive efficiency.

UNLV has been solid, winning seven of the their last nine games and going 6-3 ATS, but they might be out of their depth here. Their two losses during that span were by 14 points against Nevada and seven points against Boise State. The Aztecs beat Nevada by 13 points and clobbered BSU by 18 after leading by 23 points at halftime.

UNLV has been sloppy with the ball turning the ball over 14.6 times per game, second-worst among all Mountain West teams. SDSU has just 11.1 turnovers per game on offense while their pesky defense forces 15.2 TO per game. The full game spread might be a bit too rich for our blood but with the Aztecs fifth in the nation with an average first-half scoring margin of plus-9.2 ppg, look for them to cover the 1H spread. 

MID-MAJOR TO WATCH: DAYTON (17-2 SU, 11-8 ATS, 13-6 O/U)

Dayton is flying up the rankings currently sitting at No. 7. Their 17-2 record is even more impressive when you consider that both defeats were in overtime to quality opponents, falling 90-84 to Kansas and 78-76 to Colorado.

Led by forward Obi Toppin (19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 62.3 percent shooting) the Flyers are first in the country in field goal percentage at 52.5 percent and rank third in scoring with 83 ppg. On Saturday they take on the Richmond Spiders who can also fill up the basket converting at a clip of 47.5 percent from the field, including a sizzling 57.6 percent from the floor over their last three games. The Over is worth looking at.

NATIONAL TITLE ODDS

Gonzaga isn’t a program to sleep on anymore, currently sitting at No. 1 in the polls and with the best odds to win the National Championship at +1000. The Zags have the top rated offense in the nation, putting up 88.8 ppg on 50.6 percent shooting and those numbers jump up to 93.5 ppg and 52.5 percent at home.

On Saturday, Gonzaga hosts Pacific and will probably be favored by more than 20 points. Gonzaga is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings at home between the two teams dating back to 2016, and the average score of those games was 80-52 in favor of Gonzaga.

If you want to look at a team that’s tumbled down the odds board look no further than the Memphis Tigers who came into the season at +1300 after a terrific recruiting class. After top freshman James Wiseman was suspended and then chose to leave the school, Memphis has looked ugly, coming off a 80-40 smackdown at the hands of Tulsa on Wednesday night. The Tigers currently sit at +6000 odds and even that might be generous. Memphis will try to get back on track on Saturday as they host SMU.

BETTING TRENDS

• By holding Memphis to just 40 points, Tulsa managed to cash the Under for the sixth game in a row. The Golden Hurricanes are 15-4 to the Under and will take on UConn on Sunday. Thanks to a defense that ranks inside the Top-50 teams in the country in opponent FG percentage and an offense that ranks outside the Top-250 in FG percentage, the Huskies have also been a great Under bet, going below the total in 12 of their last 16 contests.

• Virginia has been awful on offense, terrific on defense and plays at the slowest pace in Div 1. But oddsmakers might set the total for their Sunday matchup on the road against Wake Forest a tad too low. The Demon Deacons have gone 8-0-1 to the Over in their last nine games and are 7-1 O/U at home this season.

• Austin Peay is 7-0 ATS in their last seven games overall and is a perfect 6-0 ATS at home this season. On Saturday, the Governors will host the Belmont Bruins in a Ohio Valley Conference matchup. The Bruins are coming off a 10-point loss on the road against Murray State and have failed to cover in their last two away contests.

NHL Midseason betting review: Stanley Cup futures odds and best bets

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With the NHL heading into the All-Star break we take a look the updated futures odds to win the Stanley Cup as well as the best and worst teams to wager on in terms of Moneyline, Puckline and Over/Under bets.

Despite Washington leading the way for the Presidents’ Trophy this season, Tampa Bay still has the best odds to win the Stanley Cup. The Lightning are followed by the Boston Bruins and the defending Stanley Cup champions the St. Louis Blues.

On the other hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs have fallen outside the Top-5 and now sit at +2000, while the San Jose Sharks have plummeted from a Stanley Cup contender to a +8000 long shot.

Here are every teams’ odds to win the Stanley Cup, courtesy of the Superbook at Westgate:

Teams Odds to win Stanley Cup (as of Jan 23)
Tampa Bay Lightning +600
Boston Bruins +800
St. Louis Blues +800
Washington Capitals +1,000
Colorado Avalanche +1,000
Vegas Golden Knights +1,000
Pittsburgh Penguins +1,200
Dallas Stars +1,200
Arizona Coyotes +1,600
Florida Panthers +2,000
Toronto Maple Leafs +2,000
Vancouver Canucks +2,000
Edmonton Oilers +2,500
Calgary Flames +2,500
New York Islanders +4,000
Carolina Hurricanes +4,000
Nashville Predators +4,000
Columbus Blue Jackets +4,000
Philadelphia Flyers +5,000
Winnpeg Jets +5,000
Minnesota Wild +6,000
San Jose Sharks +8,000
Montreal Canadiens +10,000
New York Rangers +10,000
Buffalo Sabres +10,000
Chicago Blackhawks +10,000
Los Angelas Kings +50,000
Anahiem Ducks +100,000
Ottawa Senators +200,000
New Jersey Devils +200,000
Detroit Red Wings +1,000,000

The Capitals don’t just have the best record in the league, they’ve also been the best Over bet as well as the top team to back on the moneyline returning a profit of +9.35 units for bettors this season.

Thanks to rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins and a group of forwards that can’t find the back of the net, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been the NHL’s best Under bet. The top team to back on the puckline as a favorite has been the surprising Vancouver Canucks who lead the Pacific Division.

While the Golden Knights were sweating sportsbooks when they made their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, oddsmakers have made some of that money back this season as the Knights have been the second-worst money team in the league. The Knights are still way ahead of Detroit who has cost bettors dearly with a loss of almost 20 units.

BEST OVER BETS

Teams Over/Under
Washington Capitals 31-18
Florida Panthers 30-17
Nashville Predators 28-17
Toronto Maple Leafs 28-18
Tampa Bay Lightning 27-20

BEST UNDER BETS

Teams Over/Under
Colombus Blue Jackets 18-32
Dallas Stars 16-29
Carolina Hurricanes 21-29
San Jose Sharks 21-28
Calgary Flames 20-27

BEST MONEY BETS

Teams Total Money Won (based on 100$ bets)
Washington Capitals $935
New York Islanders $700
Colombus Blue Jackets $605
Pittsburgh Penguins $596
New York Rangers $567

WORST MONEY BETS

Teams Total Money Won (based on 100$ bets)
Detroit Red Wings $-1992
Las Vegas Golden Knights $-1010
Los Angelas Kings $-916
San Jose Sharks $-895
Toronto Maple Leafs $-829

BEST PUCKLINE TEAMS AT -1.5 

Teams Total Money Won as Puckline Favorite (PL record as favorite)
Vancouver Canucks $840 (11-12)
Colorado Avalanche $771 (14-14)
Chicago Blackhawks $480 (7-8)
Florida Panthers $410 (13-17)
New York Rangers $375 (5-5)