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). 

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.