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Top win contenders in 2020 Santa Anita Derby

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The Grade 1, $400,000 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park, moved back two months from its usual place on the calendar due to the suspension of racing in Southern California this spring, is one heck of a racing puzzle.

Watch the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, June 6 from 6-7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Before the Santa Anita Derby, watch a special presentation of American Pharoah’s historic 2015 Belmont Stakes win from 4-6 p.m. on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The seven-horse field for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve qualifying race is led by the undefeated colt Authentic, winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at this track when last seen three months ago. Authentic is trained by Bob Baffert, who won this race last year with Roadster and in 2018 with eventual Triple Crown winner Justify. Baffert also saddles Azul Coast, winner of the El Camino Real Derby on an all-weather surface in February, which was his most recent race. San Felipe runner-up Honor A. P. will try to improve and turn the tables on his rival, while last year’s Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneau d’Or will try to reverse his fortunes from his two starts this year in which he finished ninth and fifth, respectively, most recently in a division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. New faces on the stakes scene include a pair of recent winners in Rushie and Shooters Shoot and recent runner-up Friar’s Road.

Honor A. P. stretched out to two turns last October at Santa Anita off a runner-up effort in his career debut sprinting and his pedigree showed through as he waltzed home to a 5 ¼-length win. Earning a sensational 105 Equibase Speed Figure for a 2-year-old maiden winner in the fall, Honor A. P. was given time off to mature and returned nearly five months later in the San Felipe Stakes to face Authentic, who had run much more recently in January. Chasing Authentic the entire length of the stretch, Honor A. P. held second easily to earn a 101 figure. Coming back to his pedigree, Honor A. P. is out of the sensational mare Hollywood Story, who earned more than $1 million while winning multiple Grade 1 stakes. She’s produced eight foals which have run well to date but this may be her best yet. Honor A. P. is by Honor Code, who earned $2.5 million and was also a multiple graded stakes winner. Honor Code is a son of Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy, so there is little doubt Honor A. P. can handle the 1 1/8-mile trip of the Santa Anita Derby. Honor Code’s first crop of 3-year-olds is racing this year and one of them, Max Player, already proved himself at the distance of the Santa Anita Derby when winning the Withers Stakes in February. Considering Honor A. P. is very likely to improve in his second start as a 3-year-old, and that favorite Authentic may not improve as much and may have a harder time leading from start to finish as he did in the San Felipe, it appears Honor A. P. could win this year’s Santa Anita Derby.

Shooters Shoot is the horse I feel will be in front shortly after the gate opens in the Santa Anita Derby, and that may not only take Authentic out of his game, it may give Shooters Shoot a chance at posting the upset. Shooters Shoot didn’t run that well in his first four starts between August of last year and February, but when stretched out to two turns for the first time as a 3-year-old in March, he graduated from the maiden ranks with honors. Leading from start to finish in a one-mile race at Santa Anita, Shooters Shoot coasted home by 3 ¼ lengths to earn a 97 figure. Sent to Oaklawn Park to prep for the Arkansas Derby, Shooters Shoot next ran an incredible race going a mile as he battled head-and-head from the opening bell through swift in-race fractions and still prevailed by a neck. That effort earned a slightly lower 96 figure but it proved his mental toughness and athletic ability. Unfortunately, a few days before the Arkansas Derby the colt developed a fever and had to be scratched. Returning to trainer Peter Eurton’s base at Santa Anita, Shooters Shoot resumed training in mid-May and has been showing all the signs he’s in peak physical condition. Considering Authentic earned his wins in the Sham Stakes and San Felipe Stakes leading from start to finish, and since Shooters Shoot has drawn inside Authentic in the gate, Authentic will have a much harder time making the lead he appears to need to win if jockey Abel Cedillo (currently the second leading rider at Santa Anita) asks Shooters Shoot for some early speed. From that point, if Authentic tries to press Shooters Shoot, Shooters Shoot can still be a strong factor in the stretch having shown his tenacity in battling in his most recent start. It’s still more likely Honor A. P. can stalk in third early and go by to win, but nevertheless Shooters Shoot has a big shot to run well in this race.

Authentic is undefeated in three races and on that count alone can’t be discounted as a contender to win the Santa Anita Derby. Add to that, trainer Bob Baffert’s strong record in a race in which he’s saddled three of the last five and five of the last 11 winners, including Roadster last year and Justify in 2018. Authentic earned a field-high 113 Equibase Speed Figure winning the Sham Stakes in January, his second career start and first around two turns, beating next-out El Camino Real Derby winner Azul Coast in the process. Two months later in the San Felipe Stakes, Authentic controlled the pace from start to finish and won by a little over two lengths. However, he regressed to a 105 figure. Although continuing to work well since then, it’s interesting the colt has put in three straight six-furlong workouts, not the pattern one might expect from a totally fit horse. Then again, I am not questioning Baffert’s training regimen when so much of his success has come in 3-year-old stakes races like this one. My concern about Authentic lies in the fact that if he is indeed a need-the-lead type – and if Shooters Shoot utilizes his early speed, Authentic may find himself a bit out of his game. That, combined with a decline in his figure from his previous race, and the fact he will likely be the prohibitive betting favorite, means I will try to beat him when I make my bets in this race, although his winning would be no surprise.

The rest of the field, all with a chance to succeed with their top efforts, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Anneau d’Or (106 in 2019), Azul Coast (101 when second to Authentic in the Sham Stakes), Friar’s Road (92 when second to Shooters Shoot) and Rushie (101).

Win Contenders:

Honor A. P.

Shooters Shoot

Authentic

Watch the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, June 6 from 6-7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Before the Santa Anita Derby, watch a special presentation of American Pharoah’s historic 2015 Belmont Stakes win from 4-6 p.m. on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

PointsBet USA unveils partnership with Detroit Tigers

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In the absence of MLB games until – hopefully – later this month, MLB betting made some news Thursday with the announcement that PointsBet USA is now the official gaming partner of the Detroit Tigers. It’s the first such arrangement between a sports betting entity and an MLB team, made possible by PointsBet USA’s recent agreement with MLB designating the sportsbook as an authorized gaming operator by the league.

“The PointsBet team is excited to announce our groundbreaking deal with the Detroit Tigers and Major League Baseball, becoming the first legal sports betting operator in U.S. history to partner with an MLB franchise,” PointsBet USA CEO Johnny Aitken said in a news release. “We offer the most betting options in the world on MLB games via our unique PointsBetting product, and we are excited to inject a unique and robust betting proposition into the great state of Michigan.”

Michigan legalized sports betting in December, for both brick-and-mortar and online operators, and books began taking bets in March. PointsBet USA is not only the first book to partner with an MLB franchise, but the first to partner with any Michigan-based professional sports team.

As part of the multi-year deal, PointsBet USA will have TV broadcast-visible branding at Comerica Park, a sponsored presence on the Tigers’ digital platforms, and will be integrated into The District Detroit app and the MLB Ballpark app.

“We are thrilled to welcome PointsBet as a gaming partner of the Detroit Tigers,” said Chris Granger, group president of sports and entertainment for Ilitch Holdings. “Our incredible fans will love the unique experiences and innovative offerings that PointsBet’s personalized platform provides. We look forward to the fan-friendly enhancements this will bring to the game-day experience in and around Comerica Park for years to come.”

NBA betting: Eight seeding games to bet when NBA returns

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NBA betting is back on the board with the NBA season restarting in Orlando after the COVID-19 shutdown. From July 30-August 14, the 22 remaining teams with NBA Championship aspirations will face off against each other to determine playoff seeding, so get ready for some exciting matchups.

We take a look at eight must-bet NBA seeding games to watch as the league returns to action.

Clippers vs Lakers (-1.5, 218.5), July 30, 9 p.m. ET

When the Los Angeles Lakers, led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, take on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers, the NBA doesn’t get much better than this. Opening day and Christmas Day also featured this marquee matchup and the opening night of the restart in Orlando will mark the fourth time this season that these LA rivals have faced off.

The Lakers are third in the NBA in scoring defense, allowing 106.9 points per game, while the Clippers hold opponents to just 43.6 percent shooting from the field, also third-best in the league. With both teams coming in off lengthy breaks, there may be some rust on the offensive end of the floor making the Under 218.5 an intriguing play.

Betting trend to watch: The Clips won the first two meetings while the Lakers won the last one in March. The Under hit in each of those contests with an average score of 108.7-106.7 in favor of the Clippers.

Celtics vs Bucks (-5, 217.5), July 31, 6:30 p.m. ET

Barring an absolute collapse, the Milwaukee Bucks will wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East, but they will still likely want to play MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo in this one just to shake off the cobwebs after the break.

This could be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals and it will be interesting to see how Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker looks after being hampered by knee issues following the All-Star break. Boston split the series with Milwaukee during the season and Walker torched the Bucks both times, scoring 32 points against them in November and putting up 40 on them in January.

Betting trend to watch: Milwaukee opened as a five-point favorite, with the total set at 217.5, but don’t count out the Celtics, who have gone an impressive 14-4 ATS as an underdog this season.

Rockets vs Mavericks (+1.5, 225.5), July 31, 9 p.m. ET

The battle between James Harden and Luka Doncic will be a treat for basketball fans, but the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks have plenty of firepower in addition to their All-NBA guards.

With the full game total for this contest opening at a reasonable 225.5, keep an eye on the first half total when it drops.

Betting trend to watch: Fast starts have been a trend for both squads, with Houston leading the league with 59.9 first-half points per game and Dallas second with 59.3 ppg. For good measure, the Rockets also rank 25th in the NBA in first-half scoring defense, surrendering 58.1 ppg.

Heat vs Nuggets (-1, 212.5), August 1, 1 p.m ET

Both the Miami Heat and the Denver Nuggets could see their seeding change dramatically based on how they perform in Orlando. Miami has an absolute gauntlet to run through with its first four games against Denver, Toronto, Boston and Milwaukee.

The Nuggets have long had a massive edge at home, due to the increased elevation at the Pepsi Center, and losing that advantage in Orlando could hurt. Then again, Miami could be in the same boat considering that they posted an average scoring margin of plus-9.3 ppg at home — and that plummeted to minus-2.7 in away contests.

Betting trend to watch: The Heat have been one of the highest-scoring teams in the league during the first quarter, but have really struggled to put the ball in the hoop at the end of games, averaging just 26 ppg in the fourth quarter. With Denver holding opponents to just 26.2 fourth-quarter points per game on the road, this is a trend you’ll want to consider when live betting in the final 12 minutes.

Bucks vs Rockets, August 2, 8:30 p.m. ET

It’s always a blast watching two MVP favorites face off against each other, and after Harden came up short against Antetokounmpo last year there seems to be a lack of respect between the two superstars. The Greek Freak took a potshot at Harden when he selected his team during All-Star weekend, with the Rockets guard responding with, “I wish I could be 7 feet and run and just dunk. Like, that takes no skill at all.”

Betting trend to watch: Unfortunately for the small-ball Rockets, defending in the paint is their biggest weakness, especially after trading away Clint Capela left them with the 6’5″ PJ Tucker often manning the center position. Houston allows 51.5 ppg in the paint, sixth-worst in the league, and Giannis is the most dominant inside scorer since Shaq, putting up 29.6 ppg this season.

Grizzlies vs Pelicans, August 3, 6:30 p.m. ET

Not only will this matchup feature the two best rookies in the league in Ja Morant and Zion Williamson, but it will also be a prime spot for the New Orleans Pelicans to gain ground on the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

New Orleans was impressive on offense even without Zion and have become even more unstoppable since the first-overall draft pick joined the team on January 22. Once Zion joined the fold the Pelicans averaged 120.1 ppg and played at the fastest pace in the league.

Betting trend to watch: Thanks in large part to Morant, Memphis also looks good on the offensive end of the floor, ranking seventh in the league in both possessions per game and shooting percentage. With both teams electrifying on offense – and terrible on defense – this should be a very fun game with the Over worth looking at.

Trail Blazers vs Nuggets, August 6, 8 p.m ET

There might not a more dangerous team currently outside a playoff spot than the Portland Trail Blazers, who arguably boast the second-best backcourt out of all 22 teams in Orlando and will also get center Jusuf Nurkic back from a broken leg. The Nuggets are third in the West but sit only 1.5 games behind the Clippers and 1.5 games ahead of the Jazz, so every game matters.

This is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference semifinals, where the Blazers upset the Nuggets in seven games. In three games head-to-head this year the Nuggets went 3-0 SU and ATS.

Betting trend to watch: Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard has struggled against Denver, averaging 21.6 ppg on 37.7 percent shooting over his last seven regular-season games against the Nuggets. Although he played better during the playoff series last season, it was CJ McCollum who carried the Blazers offense, especially in Game 7 when Lillard went 3-17 from the field.

Raptors vs 76ers, August 12, 6:30 p.m. ET

There might not be much on the line if the Toronto Raptors have already secured a seed by this time, but if their nerve-wracking seven-game playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers last year is any indication, this should still be a great game.

Betting trend to watch: It will be interesting to see how these teams play on neutral ground. Toronto has been one of the best teams in the league away from home, going 23-9 SU and 16-15 ATS and posting an average scoring margin of plus-4.2 ppg. On the other hand, the 76ers have been terrible on the road, going 10-24 SU, 9-23 ATS and posting a scoring margin of minus-5.3.