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). 

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)