Five vulnerable favorites in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup

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The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is the ultimate handicapping puzzle for horseplayers, and it’s especially appealing to those who adhere to the maxim of “bet a little to win a lot.”

The 14-race slate brings together great horses from all regions in the U.S. as well as from overseas, which means that year after year, top-class runners with full résumés go off at odds far higher than they would in any other setting.

Finding and playing longshots in the Breeders’ Cup can become even more lucrative if you are able to also select – and toss from your betting slips – several horses that are underlays; that is, ones that are receiving more support from bettors than they should and thus carrying lower odds. Zigging while everyone else zags is the essence of astute betting in any environment, and in horse racing it can lead to astronomical payouts.

So, which morning-line favorites in the 36th Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park are most vulnerable to lose at short odds? Here are five candidates:

1. McKinzie (3-1, Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic)

McKinzie may actually not be the Classic favorite once the starting gates open. Vino Rosso and Code of Honor are both 4-1 on the morning line, and both could end up receiving more support from bettors. Still, Bob Baffert’s charge is the top California-based contender and his 12-for-13 career record in the exacta speaks for itself. The one blemish does stand out, though: last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, where McKinzie packed it in early and finished 12th of 14. It’s hard to forget that effort, or lack thereof, and while McKinzie did run much better at a mile and a quarter earlier this year in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, he still couldn’t seal the deal and lost by a nose to Gift Box. Shorten this race up by a furlong, or better yet a furlong and a half, and McKinzie looks much more formidable. But it’s called the Classic for a reason.

2. Arizona (5-2, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America)

Coolmore trainer Aidan O’Brien has won the Juvenile Turf four times since the race was introduced in 2007, and has also finished second four times. It’s therefore no wonder his Group 2-winning colt is the morning-line favorite for this year’s edition. But the competition is very tough, and it’s worth noting that a) Arizona has never run the mile distance before; and b) his young sire No Nay Never, while off to a good start at stud, was a sprinter. This colt prefers to race on or near the lead, and should have a lot of company. A hot pace should set things up for the closers, led by impressive Summer Stakes winner Decorated Invader and the three horses coming out of the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park. Local Zuma Beach Stakes winner Hit the Road is also interesting here at 10-1 odds.

3. Mitole (8-5, Breeders’ Cup Sprint)

I’ve been following Mitole since the very beginning when he dazzled during Oaklawn Park’s 2018 meet, and his win in the Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap back in June is easily one of the year’s standout performances. However, 8-5 odds on a horse competing in Southern California for the first time – even if his workouts at Santa Anita have been good – are too low to accept in a race of this quality. Ultra-fast Shancelot already has a race on Santa Anita’s track under his belt, and Imperial Hint may actually get the best trip sitting just behind the speed if he breaks well. But the biggest threat in my view comes from Catalina Cruiser, who’s 7-for-8 lifetime, 2-for-2 at Santa Anita (both wins coming in his first two starts, and at six furlongs), and 3-for-3 breaking from the inside post, where he’ll be Saturday. If his 4-1 morning-line odds hold up come post time, and Mitole’s also stay steady, Catalina Cruiser’s the better play.

4. Sistercharlie (8-5, Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf)

Sistercharlie’s “rabbit” stablemate Thais is entered in Saturday’s Filly and Mare Turf, and her potential biggest rival in this race, Coolmore’s star filly Magical, spiked a temperature earlier this week and was retired. Those are two big advantages for Sistercharlie, who already deserved favoritism based to the fact that she won this race last year and is currently on a six-race winning streak (all Grade 1 events). Truth be told, if Thais does her job and Sistercharlie gets a good trip and a clear run through the lane (something John Velazquez almost always pulls off), she could make 8-5 look like a gift. But seven of Sistercharlie’s 10 wins have been by a length or less, so the margin for error is slight with this confirmed closer. Furthermore, I think this is the toughest field she’s faced since last fall’s Filly and Mare Turf, even without Magical. Vasilika is 11 for 12 lifetime (!) on Santa Anita’s turf course, and Mrs. Sippy held her own against Sistercharlie last out in the Flower Bowl Stakes. Furthermore, Euro shippers Villa MarinaFanny Logan, and Castle Lady (the last a gorgeous Shamardal filly who I think will improve off of her U.S. debut in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Presented by Lane’s End at Keeneland) are all worthy of consideration as longshot upset candidates.

5. Omaha Beach (8-5, Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile)

You won’t find many bigger Omaha Beach fans than myself, having pegged him as an under-the-radar Kentucky Derby candidate early last winter and even seeking out a future bet on him in Las Vegas that, fortunately as it turned out, was not made. Based on pure talent, I think he’s a cut above his Dirt Mile opponents, with only Mr. Money (who should appreciate the cutback in distance) and Improbable (ditto) in his orbit. Omaha Beach has posted three stellar workouts at Santa Anita following his rousing comeback win in the six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship over Shancelot last month, and by all appearances is ready to extend his cruising speed up to a mile … still, I think that both of his 3-year-old foes mentioned above, along with 5-year-old multiple graded stakes winner Coal Front, will not let him get an uncontested lead, and that could make Mike Smith use more of his colt’s energy earlier than anticipated. Omaha Beach has a proven well of stamina to draw from in the stretch if a fast pace does occur, but he’s no ironclad lock in a race that I think shapes up to be tougher than it initially appeared.

Watch NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup starting with Future Stars Friday on Nov. 1 from 4-8 p.m. ET (NBCSN) and continuing with Championship Saturday on Nov. 2 from 3:30-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN until 8, NBC from 8-9). 

Verlander injury shuffles Astros’ MLB futures odds

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MLB betting got a shake-up Sunday afternoon, specifically on World Series odds and AL pennant odds, with news that Astros star pitcher Justin Verlander could miss the rest of the season – or at least a significant chunk of it – with an arm injury.

Initial reports suggested Verlander had an elbow ailment, but both he and manager Dusty Baker quickly denied that. Baker called it a forearm strain and said that Verlander would be re-evaluated in “a couple of weeks.” The reigning AL Cy Young winner pitched a solid six innings in an 8-2 Opening Day rout of the Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Verlander’s injury led oddsmakers to shuffle futures book odds on the defending AL champions. Covers checked in on the MLB odds moves with a couple of Las Vegas sportsbooks.

How does Verlander’s injury affect Astros’ World Series odds?

At CG Technology books, risk analyst Rich Zanco said the Astros quickly moved from +1,200 to +1,800 in World Series futures. The SuperBook at Westgate also had Houston pegged +1,200 prior to Sunday’s news and initially went to +1,600, then dialed it a little further to +1,800.

However, there were apparently buyers on the Astros at that point, prompting the SuperBook to reel the price in to +1,400.

How does Verlander’s injury affect Astros’ American League odds?

In AL pennant futures, the Astros initially moved from +600 to +800 at The SuperBook, then ticked back to +700.

World Series odds

Team Odds to win
Los Angeles Dodgers +350
New York Yankees +350
Houston Astros +600
Atlanta Braves +1,600
Minnesota Twins +1,600
Tampa Bay Rays +1,800
Washington Nationals +2,000
Cleveland Indians +2,000
New York Mets +2,000
Chicago Cubs +2,000
Oakland Athletics +2,000
St. Louis Cardinals +2,500
Cincinnati Reds +2,500
San Diego Padres +2,500
Philadelphia Phillies +3,000
Chicago White Sox +3,000
Los Angeles Angels +3,000
Milwaukee Brewers +4,000
Boston Red Sox +5,000
Arizona Diamondbacks +6,000
Colorado Rockies +8,000
Toronto Blue Jays +10,000
Texas Rangers +10,000
Pittsburgh Pirates +20,000
Detroit Tigers +20,000
San Francisco Giants +30,000
Seattle Mariners +30,000
Miami Marlins +30,000
Baltimore Orioles +30,000
Kansas City Royals +30,000

Odds courtesy The SuperBook

MLB picks and predictions for Opening Day

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It was a long and scary road, but we finally get MLB betting back on Thursday, July 23. Opening Day of the pandemic-shortened 60-game baseball schedule is headlined by a pair of matchups, with the New York Yankees visiting the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers rekindling their rivalry with the San Francisco Giants.

Like we do each MLB season (COVID-19 or not), we’ll be taking a swing at today’s baseball odds and giving our best MLB picks and predictions. Up first: Opening Day 2020.

MLB picks for today

New York Yankees vs Washington Nationals

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge was supposed to miss the start of the season back in the spring, but the delay to the 2020 campaign allowed the outfielder to heal up from broken ribs and return to his longball-launching self.

Judge looked great in New York’s warmup games, albeit for a limited number of at-bats. He went 3-for-7 with all three hits leaving the ballpark. And he wasn’t alone, with the Yankees’ other power bats providing plenty of pop around him in the order. He’ll get a chance to go yard again on Opening Day.

PREDICTION: Aaron Judge home run (+210)

San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers

The Giants are no strangers to Clayton Kershaw, who has long dominated the Dodgers’ divisional foes. In 49 career appearances against San Francisco, The Claw is 23-12 with a 1.74 ERA and has allowed just 0.71 hits per innings pitched in those starts.

The Giants don’t pose much of an offensive threat, averaging 8.22 hits per game in 2019. San Francisco has managed 45 total hits in its last eight starts against Kershaw – an average of 0.86 hits per inning faced. Given the Dodgers’ ace looked ready for work in his tune-up efforts, we could see him go seven innings or more on Thursday, panning out to a little over six hits for San Fran.

PREDICTION: Giants between 6-7 total hits (+235)

Mookie Betts has reportedly landed a whale of a contract extension with the Dodgers after joining the ballclub this offseason via a trade with the Boston Red Sox. And what better way to lock down that deal than an impressive effort on Opening Day.

Betts recorded 313 total bases in 2019 (30th) and 353 in 2018 (fourth). He’s been swinging well in training sessions this offseason: in 27 at-bats during the spring/summer schedule, he has 13 total bases, including two doubles and a home run, while hitting leadoff during Summer Camp. We like that to continue into Opening Day.

PREDICTION: Mookie Betts two or more total bases (-182)

Top MLB consensus for today

Want to know who today’s biggest MLB betting and consensus bets are right now? Check out our top MLB consensus picks.

Opening Day betting card

  • Aaron Judge home run (+210)
  • Giants between 6-7 total hits (+235)
  • Mookie Betts two or more total bases (-182)