Taking a stand against McKinzie in 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic

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The 36th running of the Grade 1, $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park brings together one of the most evenly matched fields in the history of the race. Six of the 11 horses entered come into the race off first- or second-place finishes at the highest level, with the other five having previous performances which, if repeated, would make them competitive in this year’s race. One of those leading the field in terms of name recognition is McKinzie, who won the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes in August before a disappointing runner-up effort in his most recent race. That race was the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes, won by Mongolian Groom in an upset at 25.40-1 odds. Still, neither horse has yet to win at the distance of the Classic. Vino Rosso and Code of Honor have both won at the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic. Vino Rosso won the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May and most recently crossed the finish line first in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup but was disqualified to second for bumping his rival. That rival was Code of Honor, who had also won the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at this 1 ¼-mile distance in August. Then, there’s the 5-year-old mare Elate, attempting to duplicate the feat of Zenyatta who defeated males in the Classic in 2009. Elate brings a perfect 3-for-3 record at the trip into the race, including a victory in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap in July, but also enters this year’s Classic off a pair of runner-up efforts. Math Wizard won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby in his most recent race and faces older horses for the first time, as does recent Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby winner Owendale and this year’s Grade 1 Preakness Stakes winner War of Will, who was third in the Pennsylvania Derby in his most recent race. Higher Power won the Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic at 1 ¼ miles in August but was a well-beaten third in the Awesome Again. Yoshida has yet to recapture the form of his victory in the 2018 Woodward Stakes as he is winless in six races since then, but the 5-year-old was a fast-closing third in this year’s Woodward. Seeking the Soul won the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes in June but has run seventh and fourth since then.

Main contenders:

The rematch between Code of Honor and Vino Rosso is the number one story in this year’s Classic, in my opinion, and I will give slight preference to Vino Rosso in this case. His 4-year-old campaign has been all about pointing to this year’s Classic, and I think he’s on a pattern to run the best race of his career and win. Returning from six months off in March, Vino Rosso earned a new career-best 114 Equibase Speed Figure winning the Stymie Stakes, a one-turn mile race. One month later he faced one of the best sprinters in the country (World of Trouble) in the Carter Handicap, finishing fourth without showing any late kick at all. A brilliant move on the part of trainer Todd Pletcher was sending Vino Rosso west for the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May at the Classic distance, and the colt proved resilient in tying his 114 figure with a powerful effort as he rallied from fourth to lead in the stretch and gamely held that lead to the wire. Given two months off, Vino Rosso returned in the Whitney and, just as in the Carter, he ran evenly throughout, never threatening to win. Stretched out to 1 ¼ miles again for the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, Vino Rosso once again showed a lot of mental toughness in not only leading from the start, but battling with a number of horses in the late stages, prevailing by a nose at the finish line over Code of Honor. Unfortunately, he had bumped his rival late in the race and the stewards felt that warranted a disqualification to second. Making his third start off a layoff in the Classic and on an improving pattern of figures (108, 112), I feel the previous race at Santa Anita may give Vino Rosso the slightest edge in experience which can help him to earn the glory of a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory.

Code of Honor is also on a solid pattern for improvement. Following his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (moved up to second via the disqualification of Maximum Security), Code of Honor took two months off. That freshening did him a world of good as he won the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes in July, the Runhappy Travers Stakes in August, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (via disqualification of Vino Rosso) in September. Going from a 101 Equibase Speed Figure effort to 108, to 112, is a pattern we might expect of a still-improving 3-year-old in the summer and fall, with further improvement to come. Furthermore, having run three times at the distance of the Classic, winning twice and finishing second in the other start, there’s little doubt Code of Honor has what it takes to succeed in this race.

Elate is a powerhouse of a mare and deserves to face off against males in this year’s Classic. She’s also a perfect 3-for-3 at the 1 ¼-mile trip of this race. Although beaten a nose one race before last in the Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti at Saratoga, the same race she lost by a neck the previous year, Elate earned a 115 figure — as good or better than many of the males in this year’s Classic field. Tough as nails in the stretch in nearly every one of her 18 career starts, Elate has finished second seven times to match her win total. Trainer Bill Mott, who also saddles Yoshida, has given Elate a pair of three-furlong “blowout” workouts coming into the race, a superb strategy to have her on edge for her best, which is good enough to post the mild upset in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.

About the rest:

There is little doubt most of the other eight entrants in this race can run well enough to win, and I would not argue with a single person who felt a win bet on any of them is warranted. However, there are little cracks in the armor on all of the rest, in my opinion, so although I will be considering them all for second place on exacta tickets and third place on trifecta tickets, I will confine my win bets to the three contenders above.

I’ll start with McKinzie, who has only finished lower than second one time in 13 races. His two tries at the Classic distance were below par in my opinion as he missed by a nose while having every chance to win the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Miguel Indian Bingo and Casino in April and ran 12th in last year’s Classic at 3.90-1 odds. Although the 123 speed figure earned in his most recent start in the Awesome Again is the second best figure in the field, he seemed to be running in place throughout the race. Although the jockey change to Joel Rosario may help, I would prefer a jockey familiar with the horse and Rosario is riding McKinzie for the first time. Mongolian Groom led from start to finish in the Awesome Again and earned a field high 126 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. He has two third-place finishes at this distance in his career, and I don’t feel his last effort is repeatable at this distance or against this field. Owendale faces older horses for the first time, which isn’t an impediment in the fall of a horse’s 3-year-old campaign, but the 110 speed figure earned in winning the Oklahoma Derby last month won’t be good enough to win if repeated and he, too, is winless in two tries at a Classic distance. Similarly, Preakness winner War of Will could not threaten in the Pennsylvania Derby and the 107 figure earned at 1 3/16 miles in the Preakness is another effort which, even if repeated, is not likely to win this race. Yoshida closes from far back in nearly every start and rarely gets up in time, but he should be in the top three or four at the end if he’s able to run as he did in the Whitney in August when second with a 115 speed figure. Higher Power posted the upset in the Pacific Classic this summer with a 112 figure, which appears to be an aberration as he was a non-threatening third in the Awesome Again following that win. Math Wizard was a great story for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. when winning the Pennsylvania Derby with a 113 figure, which equaled the effort he put forth when second to Owendale in the Ohio Derby in June. Math Wizard is also facing older horses for the first time as well as trying the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic for the first time. Those two hurdles may be too much to overcome. Seeking the Soul has had a brilliant career, winning more than $3.3 million to date, but as he enters the race off seventh- and fourth-place finishes, particularly with most of the others in much better recent form, he is hard to endorse.

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.