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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.

Running up the points with Rockets, and the college football bets you need to make in Week 12

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Are you ready for some more MAC-tion? Because there are two more games on the schedule Wednesday night. We break down the best bets for these games and take a look at the weekend ahead in college football – from sides and totals to props and everything in between.

ROOM TO ROAM

The Toledo Rockets might be only slight favorites for Wednesday night’s MAC tilt with visiting Northern Illinois, but they have a significant advantage in at least one area – and it could turn this one into a bit of a laugher. The Rockets come into the game with the nation’s No. 12 rushing offense, averaging nearly 251 yards per game on the ground – and they’ve been especially dominant over their previous two games, racking up a combined 664 rushing yards in narrow victories over Eastern Michigan and Kent State. The Huskies, meanwhile, are coming off getting routed 48-10 to Central Michigan in which the Chippewas posted 327 rushing yards.

An edge like this makes Toledo a terrific option in a variety of different bet scenarios; we recommend buying a few points in their favor and taking an alternate line of -6.5.

MIAMI (OH) FOR 3

The Miami (OH) Redhawks should have little trouble filling the board Wednesday night as they host a Bowling Green defense that ranks among the worst in the nation in points allowed. But while the Falcons have surrendered a mind-boggling 33.8 points per game so far this season, the Redhawks might not necessarily be headed for a parade to the end zone. Miami (Ohio) has one of the worst touchdown-to-field-goal ratios in the country coming into Week 12, having scored 22 TDs compared with 16 FGs – six of those coming over the course of their current three-game winning streak.

Miami (Ohio) is a big-time favorite here, and is a good bet to open the scoring given BGSU’s 2.5 first-half-points-per-game average on the road this season. We like the Redhawks FG to kick off the point parade.

GILBERT  GETTING BACK

Kansas State’s premier rushing threat might be back on the field this weekend. Wildcats senior James Gilbert practiced on Tuesday and is trending in the right direction as he recovers from an undisclosed ailment that kept him out of last week’s 27-24 loss to the Texas Longhorns. It was originally thought that Gilbert would be in the lineup vs. Texas, but he was a late exclusion – and Kansas State struggled in his absence, finishing with a paltry 51 rushing yards on 26 attempts. Gilbert ranks ninth in the Big 12 Conference in rushing yards (558) while adding five touchdowns on the ground.

Gilbert’s return would invigorate a Kansas State rush attack that has a favorable matchup against a West Virginia defense allowing 173 rushing yards per game. We recommend the hosts ATS if Gilbert is deemed fit to return.

WAKING NIGHTMARE

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons have seen their season take a terrible turn with word that standout wide receiver Sage Surratt will miss the remainder of 2019 with an undisclosed injury. Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson confirmed Tuesday that Surratt, who wasn’t featured on the team’s depth chart ahead of its Week 12 encounter with Clemson, would be out for the rest of the season – though he wouldn’t specify what was wrong with the star wideout. Surratt finishes the year with 1,001 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 66 receptions as the premier target for quarterback Jamie Newman.

The absence of Surratt should give bettors even less of a reason to bank on Wake Forest, which has seen the line shift as far as four points in Clemson’s favor. Look for the Tigers to keep the undermanned Deacons below their team total.

Too late to start fading the Fins, and the NFL bets you need to make in Week 11

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This may require a double-take, but listen up. The Miami Dolphins have been the best bet in the NFL since the start of October. Yes, those Miami Dolphins. We break down the odds and let you know what bets we like in Week 11 of the NFL as we dive into sides, totals, props and more. 

STAYING HOT IN Q1

The hottest team in the league right now is Lamar Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens. After knocking off the Patriots in Week 9, they turned their crosshairs on the winless Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10. The Ravens ran just 48 offensive plays but managed to put up 49 points. Lost in the 49-13 win was the fact that Baltimore moved to 8-1 against the first-quarter spread after winning the first 15 minutes 14-0.

This week, Baltimore is a 4-point home favorite versus a Houston team that is coming off their bye. If you don’t trust a team coming off a blowout win versus the worst team in the league and/or covering their last three games, take a look at the 1Q Ravens -0.5 (-105) as an alternative.

Baltimore is second in the league in first quarter points per game at 9.5 and third in the league in points against in the first quarter at 3.67 while the Texans are 0-3-1 on the road this year in the first quarter. Take the Ravens 1Q -0.5.

FEAST AWAITS EVANS

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face a very motivated New Orleans Saints team Sunday, but NOLA will be without their top cornerback in Marcus Lattimore. The third-year CB is week-to-week with a hamstring injury meaning Bucs WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will face sub-par corners in P.J. Williams and Eli Apple.

As Brad Evans pointed out on twitter, this is especially great news for Mike Evans who has struggled over his career versus Lattimore. Evans put up a donut early this year in Week 5 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and averaged 9.5 targets for three catches and 34 yards in two games in 2017 (last year Lattimore struggled following up his 2017 DROY but has been much better this year).

Even with Jameis Winston getting sacked nearly four times a game, Evans is averaging 139 yards a game over his last four contests. Jump on Evans’ receiving yard total on any number below 85 and check in on his reception total, hitting the Over on any number below 7.

LOADING SCREEN

No team in the league relies on the screen game more than the Minnesota Vikings. Per ESPN, Minnesota is averaging 9.8 yards per screen attempt which is 3.5 yards more per attempt than the No.10 team.

The beneficiary of this is running back Dalvin Cook who gashed the Cowboys in primetime every time he got the ball with blockers ahead of him. Over the last three games, Cook has amassed 193 yards receiving and will face a Denver Broncos’ defense that is giving up 8.6 yards per pass to RBs since Week 8.

Grab the Over on Cook’s receiving yards on any total less than 40 yards.

LOADING SCREEN PT. 2

If you’re tailing the Cook receiving yards play and want some action on the other side of the ball, maybe look to fade the Broncos’ backfield in receiving yards. Denver is the worst team at generating yards on the screen game (3.7 yards per attempt) and neither Phillip Lindsay nor Royce Freeman has topped 17 yards receiving in the last two weeks. In the only game Brandon Allen has started at quarterback, Lindsay wasn’t targeted at all and Freeman saw one target which he lost a yard on.

Feel confident in taking Lindsay’s Under receiving yards on anything greater than 19 and Freeman’s Under on any number greater than 25.

AIN’T FADING THE FINS NOW

The best team ATS over the last five weeks has been the Miami Dolphins. The former 0-7 team has rattled off five-straight wins ATS and face a Buffalo Bills team that has zero offensive identity of late and trailed the Dolphins by five points heading into the fourth quarter just four weeks ago.

We are a little bearish on Miami hitting a sixth-straight win ATS but have no problem fading Josh Allen’s Bills who are putting up just 288 yards of total offense over the last three weeks, good for sixth-worst. Their once stellar defense now sits 12th in Wtd DVOA — 9th against the pass and 27th against the run.

The Bills needed 22 4th-quarter points in their last meeting to cover their team total and we don’t see Brian Daboll’s offense clearing 23.5 points since they are 2-5 O/U that total in their last seven.

Get on the Bills’ team total Under 23.5 now, as it may drop under this key number later in the week.