2019 NCAA Tournament Picks and Analysis

Posted March 21, 2019 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

*** All game probabilities and efficiency ratings are referenced from the Ken Pomeroy website, as it is the single greatest predictive evaluator ever created by mankind.
deandre-hunter-broken-wrist

EAST:

Early Upsets:

#9 UCF over #8 VCU: 

This is an interesting matchup that features two teams that rank in the top 15 nationally in defensive two point shooting percentage, so this could come down to who is able to knock down threes the most effectively. That is not VCU’s modus operandi at all, as they rank a lousy 330th nationally in three point shooting percentage, and UCF’s imposing 7-6 center Tacko Fall could wreak havoc on their inside game. With leading scorer Marcus Evans still questionable to play, VCU will likely not be at full strength.

#6 Maryland over #3 LSU:

There’s value here as many hot on the Belmont bandwagon may pick the Terps to lose their first round game, but a significant rebounding edge (#7 vs #73 in total rebounding percentage) combined with superior talent should push Maryland forward in that one. LSU actually looms the most likely 3 seed to lose first round, so it’s a low risk proposition to take a chance with a balanced team like Maryland, who ranked in the top 25 in efficiency on both sides of the ball per KenPom for most of the season, to make the Sweet 16. LSU is defensively challenged, ranking just 62nd in defensive efficiency, and looks to be the most overseeded from an overall efficiency standpoint of all the 3 seeds. Additionally, questions loom over coach Will Wade’s suspension from his duties.

Upsets to avoid:

#5 Mississippi State over #4 Virginia Tech:

This is a bad matchup for the Bulldogs who rank 221st nationally in three point percentage defense against a Hokie team that ranks 8th in three point shooting percentage and plays at a glacial pace (345th in the nation in terms of tempo). Mississippi State’s inability to defend the perimeter will likely force themselves into an early hole that they won’t have enough possessions left to cut into.

#7 Louisville over #2 Michigan State: 

This one will be tempting for some as Louisville has a head to head win from earlier this year and Michigan State has made early exits the last two seasons and draw an underseeded opponent in terms of efficiency (the highest ranked of all the 7 seeds), but the Spartans have made defensive strides since the overtime loss to Louisville despite injury issues. More specifically, MSU boasts the 3rd best two point percentage defense in the nation, which may force Louisville into attempts from beyond the arc, and they rank just 179th in three point shooting percentage. Izzo is hell-bent on getting back to the Sweet 16.

Regional Semifinals:

#1 Duke over #4 Virginia Tech:

Virginia Tech pulled the upset at home while both teams were missing their best players, but now Zion Williamson and Justin Robinson return for this potential clash. One of those tips the scale a bit more than the other, however, and we like Duke’s ability to guard to perimeter (37th in three point shooting percentage defense) against a team that plays slowly and lives and dies by the three.

#2 Michigan State over #6 Maryland:

Sparty won the lone conference meeting at home in a fairly easy manner, and the way they are playing currently, this doesn’t look like a table that can be turned. Maryland’s major strength is on the boards and that will be completely neutralized by the Spartans, who rank 6th nationally in total rebounding percentage.

Regional Final: 

#1 Duke over #2 Michigan State:

For as much crying as the Spartans have done over the unfortunate (and incorrect) decision for the committee to send them to same the region as the field’s top seeded team, it’s arguably Duke that should be more outraged by this potential matchup- they should have been rewarded with the field’s weakest 2 seed, rather than the team with more quadrant one wins than any other in the field and a legitimate claim to a 1 seed based on that attribute. It’s actually a dangerous game for the young Blue Devils from a matchup standpoint; Michigan State ranks 3rd nationally in two point field goal percentage defense, and Duke is dismal from three point range, ranking 330th nationally (at 30.9%, they would be the worst ever three point shooting team to win a National Championship). Still, with Zion Williamson playing at his current level and the boon of NBA talent surrounding him, Duke will get some threes to fall and create enough points off turnovers, as Michigan State ranks just 180th in turnovers per possession, to get the job done. After watching Duke erase a 20 point lead with under ten minutes to play at Louisville, it appears they may simply refuse to lose with their current core of starters at full strength.

WEST

Early Upsets: 

#12 Murray State over #5 Marquette: 

It’s the only one of the always popular 12/5 upsets that we like this year. Marquette comes in having lost five of six and is the lowest ranked of all the 5 seeds from an efficiency standpoint by a wide margin (28th per KenPom, which equates to the weakest 7 seed). Murray State’s Ja Morant may be the second best player in this entire tournament, and while Marquette has ammunition of their own in the sharp-shooting Markus Howard, they don’t have a clear defensive matchup advantage that shows any ability to stop Morant, who may very well score and assist at will in this one. Conversely, Murray State ranks 4th in the nation in three point shooting percentage defense, and looms well equipped to neutralize Marquette’s biggest strength, as the Golden Eagles rank 9th in three point shooting percentage. A key matchup to keep an eye one will be how Murray State can get to the rim, as they rank 5th in two point shooting percentage to Marquette’s 19th ranked two point shooting percentage defense. Given that Marquette is the most likely 5 seed to lose both their first and second round game, this looks like a low risk play in what should be a fun, high-octane game.

#10 Florida over #7 Nevada:

This game is a virtual tossup from an efficiency standpoint, with just 0.52 points separating them, the closest of all the 7/10 matchups. More than that though, the feeling here is simply that the Gators are more battle tested, having made a late run to the SEC tournament semifinals to earn a bid following a lot of close defeats to top competition in conference play. Compare that to Nevada’s complete lack of quality wins and their puzzling, inexplicable losses- a 27 point loss at New Mexico and two losses to San Diego State- and we’ll give the Gators the seasoning edge. The key here could be the Wolfpack’s ability to take care of the ball- they rank 8th nationally in turnovers per possession, but Florida turns its opponents over at a decent rate, good for 46th nationally. With Michigan statistically the most likely 2/7 winner next round anyway, this is a low risk pick.

Upsets to avoid:

#6 Buffalo over #3 Texas Tech:

This is a pick that is gaining steam and it’s borderline disrespectful to the often overlooked Red Raiders, who made the Elite 8 a year and boast the nation’s best defense. Specifically, their 2nd ranked two point percentage will likely force the Bulls (who like to shoot quickly- they’re 12th in possessions per game) into ill-advised attempts from the perimeter, and that’s not their forte- they rank 215th in three point shooting percentage.

Regional Semifinals: 

#4 Florida State over #1 Gonzaga: 

In a rematch of a game that the Noles won by 15 a year ago (strange that the committee set this same region up to be potentially identical to last year), the depth and seasoning of Florida State could again be too much for Gonzaga to overcome for the same reasons. The Bulldogs enter the tournament on an ugly note, as they were held to 47 points by a St. Mary’s defense that ranks just 55th nationally in total efficiency. The Noles check in at 9th, and their impressive length presents a much stiffer challenge that Gonzaga’s top ranked offense may likely be unprepared for given their recent competition, especially inside the arc, as they enter this tourney riding high off an impressive ACC tournament showing. Florida State stunningly shows 11 players that average ten minutes or more, and this depth could come into play with Killian Tillie’s status still up in the air for Gonzaga, just as it was a year ago in the same spot.

#2 Michigan over #3 Texas Tech:

An intriguing matchup featuring the nation’s two best defenses, we’ll give the edge to Michigan, who has a bit more consistency on the offensive end (18th vs 35th in offensive efficiency) and has an experience edge after last year’s run to the title game. Michigan is also far more likely to reach this game in the first place, so this is partly an odds play in a region that looks like it could completely explode.

Regional Final: 

#2 Michigan over #4 Florida State: 

Michigan beat Florida State 58-54 to win the West region a year ago, and a similar defensive struggle can be expected again this year with the same team emerging victorious. Michigan has two major attributes that should work in combination for them in this spot. For one, the importance of point guard play in the tournament can’t be overemphasized, and Zavier Simpson’s assist to turnover ratio of 3.56 is the best in the nation. This correlates to Michigan’s top ranked offensive turnover percentage; this team simply doesn’t give the ball away. Its tendency to play slowly (340th in possessions per game) exacerbates this efficiency.

SOUTH

Early Upsets:

#11 St. Mary’s over #6 Villanova: 

There are a lot of reasons to like this pick. For starters, St. Mary’s is the highest rated 11 seed in terms of efficiency, and Villanova is the lowest rated 6 seed, making this by far the most likely 11/6 upset independent of the matchups. But the matchups add further issues for the Wildcats, a team with a tendency to bomb threes relentlessly (53.5% three point rate, highest in the tourney), and one that ranks 352nd in percentage of points from two point shots. That’s very bad news against a team like St. Mary’s who really contains the perimeter, ranking 9th in the nation in both three point percentage defense and three point rate defense. Both teams play a very slow style, ranking 324th and 340th in possessions per game respectively, which likely means less three point attempts for Villanova. And they don’t connect that well on all those threes in the first place, ranking just 121st in the three point shooting percentage. That’s more bad news, because St. Mary’s hits the glass hard, and ranks 16th in defensive rebounding percentage. With Purdue the most likely winner of all the potential 3/6 games, this looks like a low risk upset pick with a lot of upside.

#13 UC Irvine over #4 Kansas State:

The red hot Anteaters haven’t lost in two months and boast the nation’s best two point percentage defense. Kansas State isn’t an offensive juggernaut by any means as they rank just 104th in offensive efficiency, but they especially struggle from deep, ranking just 211th in three point shooting percentage. If those are the shots that Kansas State is forced to settle on against the stingy UC Irvine interior defense, they could be in for a long afternoon, especially as leading rebounder and double digit scorer Dean Wade remains questionable and unlikely to play. Kansas State is the lowest ranked 4 seed in terms of efficiency while UC Irvine is the highest ranked 13 seed, and with Wisconsin the most likely 5/4 winner, this pick checks out as another obvious low risk shot.

Upsets to avoid:

#12 Oregon over #5 Wisconsin:

Oregon is actually going to go off favored in this game so this isn’t technically an upset, but rather an extreme value proposition to fade the public by backing the higher seeded and better team. Oregon has been hot lately but Wisconsin holds far superior efficiency numbers and this is a rare instance where you can receive several points of edge relative to the Vegas line, which usually converges to analytical estimates like KenPom and Sagarin. Notably, Oregon’s main defensive strength is containing the three, as they rank 10th in three point percentage defense. However, this advantage is likely to be meaningless as Wisconsin is not a team that depends on the three; they rank just 295th in three point rate. We have to side with the math in this one, especially as the Badgers have a favorable matchup in the next round.

Regional Semifinals:

#1 Virginia over #5 Wisconsin:

This won’t be the most exciting game in the tournament, not by a long shot, as these teams play some of the slowest styles of basketball in the country, ranking 353rd (dead last) and 323rd respectively in possessions per game. Virginia has perfected the style, however, and won the battle of styles earlier this year against the Badgers.

#2 Tennessee over #3 Purdue:

Purdue may be lucky to get this far, but we are picking them to get here primarily because of a favorable path. No team depends more upon one player than Purdue depends on Carsen Edwards, who takes 37% of their shots. That strategy can’t last forever, as every great player is bound to have an off night, and an experienced Tennessee squad with an upperclassmen point guard like Jordan Bone, who ranks in the top five tournament players in assist to turnover ratio, will expose the inconsistency of the Boiler offense.

Regional Final:

#1 Virginia over #2 Tennessee:

We promised to never take Virginia to the Final Four ever again after last year’s unprecedented debacle of a first round exit as a one seed, yet here we are. Of course, the name on the uniform doesn’t mean this team is constructed the same as last year’s was, or any of the other Virginia teams that disappointed before it were. For starters, DeAndre Hunter didn’t play in that game, and the Cavaliers have never had a lottery pick type of talent on a team in the Tony Bennett era. Statistically speaking, consider that last year’s squad ranked just 30th in offensive efficiency, and this year they rank 2nd. It would be unwise to dismiss that massive difference in production. In fact, they are the only team in the nation to rank in the top five on both sides of the ball per KenPom. They boast one of the strongest backcourts in college basketball behind the trio of Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, the latter of which is 3rd in the tournament in assist to turnover ratio at the point (3.25).

But perhaps the most terrifying stat about Virginia is that they rank 4th in the nation in three point shooting percentage, but rank just 174th in three point rate. This essentially suggests that they don’t depend on the three at all, but when they shoot from beyond the arc, they usually go in. Tennessee isn’t especially strong defending the perimeter, as was on display in their blowout loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship, and rank just 174th in three point defensive shooting percentage. Both teams leave something to be desired in terms of front court presence, and Tennessee’s backcourt is talented but doesn’t seem physical enough to truly take Virginia out of its game plan. Tennessee also leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive side of the ball altogether, ranking just 33rd nationally in defensive efficiency. That’s a fringe number for a Final Four team, and doesn’t inspire much confidence against the nation’s 2nd best offense. Virginia was gifted with the field’s easiest region and path to the Final Four, full of teams that play to their desired tempo but aren’t as skilled as they are at doing so. The loss in the ACC tournament to a tough and underrated Florida State squad seems to have added some value to a team who remains by far the most likely winner of the tournament per KenPom; this is the year they finally land in the Final Four for Tony Bennett. And if they don’t, then they likely never will.

MIDWEST

Early Upsets:

#7 Wofford over #2 Kentucky:

Gasp! Admittedly, part of the allure of this pick is the sheer amount of joy and warmth that this upset would create within our collective hearts. But, this selection isn’t without support. Of all the potential 7/2 games, this one contains the smallest efficiency gap, and we love the matchup here for a Wofford team that has won 20 in a row and basically wins by making threes. Kentucky really struggles defending the perimeter, and ranks just 211th in three point defensive shooting percentage. They could find the pesky Terriers a tough out considering they are the 2nd best three point shooting team in the land and the best in the tournament behind the theatrics of Fletcher Magee. Kentucky’s main advantages are all neutralized here, specifically their ability to rebound, as they check in at 2nd in the nation in total rebounding percentage, but Wofford is no slouch at 18th. Digger deeper, Kentucky doesn’t rank in the top ten in either offensive or defensive efficiency, and that’s historically meaningful in terms of Final Four probability- it drops them a tier, so the risk in making this pick is less than it seems. Also, “Wofford” is super fun to say. Much more fun than “Kentucky”, for sure.

#6 Iowa State over #3 Houston:

This is the most likely 6/3 upset as Houston owns just a 0.56 efficiency margin over the Big 12 Tournament champion Cyclones having played a weaker schedule by far. Houston has had a spectacular season and is very balanced, ranking in the top 25 in efficiency on both sides of the ball per KenPom, but they may not be ready for the attack of the Iowa State offense, which ranks 9th in the nation and will be the strongest weapon for either team on the court.

Upsets to avoid:

#10 Seton Hall over #7 Wofford: 

Part of this opinion derives from our generally negative opinion of Marquette, who the Pirates beat to advance to the Big East Championship, and they seem to be getting a lot of credit for that. In fact, this seems to be the most popular 10/7 upset pick by the public despite the fact that from an efficiency standpoint, this is the least likely of the four 10 seeds to win a first round game. That equates to serious value whether you are playing a bracket pool or betting the game. Seton Hall will struggle with Wofford for the same reason we believe Kentucky will- they struggle to defend the three point shot, ranking just 130th in percentage terms. Amazingly, Wofford will be the best offensive team Seton Hall has played all season, as they rank 11th in offensive efficiency, besting Kentucky, Marquette and Villanova.

#12 New Mexico State over #5 Auburn:

Similarly, this is the least likely 12/5 upset in terms of efficiency, and ironically, the higher seeded team is another that lives by the three, perhaps even more extremely. New Mexico State ranks 105th in defensive three point shooting percentage, and that likely won’t do against Auburn, who depends heavily on this shot, ranking 8th in three point rate and 27th in shooting percentage. For as well as they shoot it, Auburn’s Achilles’ heel appears to be its perimeter defense, but neither of its first two likely opponents present much of a challenge here. New Mexico State is 190th in three point shooting percentage, and Kansas ranks just 136th, and also can’t defend the three (127th). Auburn also is the best in the nation at turning teams over, which they do on nearly 25% of possessions. Both NMSU and Kansas have a tough time taking care of the ball, ranking 129th and 168th respectively.

Regional Semifinals:

#1 North Carolina over #5 Auburn:

If it happens, this game will be a lot of fun, if a tad anxiety-inducing given North Carolina’s preference for a breakneck pace (5th in the nation in possessions per game, and fastest in the tournament), and Auburn’s reliance on the three point shot. Carolina is just average against the three, ranking 89th in the nation against it, but the difference here will be the speed of the Tarheel offense, which is lethal in transition, against a suspect Auburn defense that ranks just 41st in efficiency- a borderline eliminator for Final Four consideration.

#6 Iowa State over #7 Wofford:

These teams are similarly constructed, as both have strong offenses and defenses weak enough to ensure that they will not win their next game. We’ll lean towards the team that has both the slightly stronger offense and the less difficult second round upset to accomplish, but from an efficiency standpoint overall, this is neck and neck, with Iowa State holding only a 1.03 point advantage.

Regional Final:

#1 North Carolina over #6 Iowa State:

It bears mention that the Midwest is by far the toughest path to the Final Four, as 7 of the Top 20 KenPom teams reside in the region. But our predictions benefit Carolina as they would not have to play Kansas in Kansas City or Kentucky in the regional final, which generously upgrades their overall chances of advancing to Minneapolis. Iowa State will try to impose their will and play a slower pace (234th in possessions per game) but UNC is simply the deeper and more talented squad. The rebounding edge looms large here, as the Tarheels rank 5th in the nation in total rebounding percentage to Iowa State’s 147th.

FINAL FOUR:

#1 Duke over #2 Michigan:

Duke got a raw deal as their potential opponents weren’t seeded anything like what one would expect for the overall number one seed, but that’s just the committee being the committee. They would find themselves in a favorable matchup scenario here, however. Michigan would be at a huge disadvantage on the boards, ranking 162nd in total rebounding percentage to Duke’s 20th. As neither team depends too heavily on the three, the battle here would be inside the arc, with Duke’s 4th ranked two point shooting percentage battling the 12th ranked two point shooting defense of the Wolverines. Compare that to the fact that Michigan ranks just 105th in two point shooting percentage and Duke ranks 20th defending shots inside the arc, and you have to wonder where the Wolverines get points in this game. Michigan has been prone to long stretches of offensive droughts and would have trouble making up ground from the perimeter, as Duke ranks 37th in defensive three point shooting percentage.

# 1 Virginia over #1 North Carolina:

From a possessions per game standpoint, this potential showdown features the fastest team in the tournament against the slowest team in the tournament- the tortoise versus the hare, if you will. This game happened once already and Virginia won fairly convincingly on the road. North Carolina has been hot lately but given the prior head the head result and the relative difficulties of both teams’ paths to this spot, we have to side with Virginia, aside from an obvious rooting interest- does anyone really want to see UNC in the National Championship for the third time in four years?

CHAMPIONSHIP:

#1 Virginia over #1 Duke:

Part of March Madness is having someone to root for. The entire planet is picking Duke and North Carolina to play in the title game, which has never happened before, and admittedly, would be pretty cool. If that’s your play, you’re probably right, so go ahead, but you won’t be getting much value, and you’d better make sure you get everything right before it because there won’t be much separating you from the masses. But, who doesn’t want to see UNC win a 7th title or Duke win a 6th, and pass Indiana in the process?  **(buries head in the sand)**

What would be even better though, would be this story: A team that endured one of the greatest embarrassments in the history of sports only a year earlier pulled itself together, improved, and angrily, with a massive chip on its shoulder, avenged that loss and earned a highly esteemed university its first national title ever, while simultaneously rendering  a certain style of play to be revolutionary rather than simply uneasy on the eyes. That is a story I would want to hear, and the good news is, the math supports it.

As mentioned before, Virginia is the best value pick in the field based on their actual probability of winning it all, based not only on KenPom math but also on their entire body of work. Duke has beaten them twice already this season, but instead of falling into a cliche in regard to how difficult it is supposed to be to beat the same team three times, let’s instead break down each game individually. Most recently, Virginia was dominated at home by Duke, losing by 10 in a game that was not nearly as close as that score seems to indicate. In that game, Duke- the worst three point shooting team in the tournament against the best three point defending team in the tournament- made 13 of the 21 three point shots they attempted. You do not need to be a mathematical genius to recognize that this amounts to an enormous outlier that can’t possibly be repeated.

The game at Cameron Indoor Stadium was much closer and could have gone either way, as the teams traded leads throughout before Duke emerged victorious by a 72-70 score. However, there are too many eternally rule-breaking strikes against Duke to pick them as a national champion this year, and as a value proposition, it is basically absurd considering everyone has convinced themselves that they are the second-coming of the ’76 Hoosiers. Aside from having a much more difficult path to even get to this game, we again must restate that they would be the worst three point shooting team ever to win a title. In an era so defined by the long ball, we find this difficult to grasp and support. Some argue this deficiency is balanced by the stat that Duke gains more “and one” opportunities than any team in the country. The problem with that argument is that Duke is also a truly bad free throw shooting team, connecting on only 69% of its attempts, good for just 241th nationally. Virginia ranks 48th and in games like this, that has to mean something. Speaking of fouls, Duke’s bench is shorter now given the injury to Marques Bolden. This is a team currently playing, realistically, with only six players for real minutes. If Zion, or Jack White for that matter, encounters foul trouble, then what? Depth is a real concern here and gives the Cavaliers the edge.

Bracketology 2019

Posted March 17, 2019 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

MIDWEST WEST EAST SOUTH
1 MICHIGAN STATE TENNESSEE DUKE VIRGINIA
2 North Carolina Gonzaga Michigan Kentucky
3 Texas Tech Florida State LSU Kansas
4 Houston Kansas State Purdue Marquette
5 Mississippi State IOWA STATE AUBURN Wisconsin
6 BUFFALO Maryland WOFFORD VILLANOVA
7 Iowa Virginia Tech Nevada Cincinnati
8 Louisville Minnesota Washington Seton Hall
9 UNCG UTAH STATE Belmont MURRAY STATE
10 TCU St. John’s Ole Miss Oklahoma
11 NC State/ Ohio State OREGON VCU UCF
12 Syracuse/ Baylor ST. MARY’S LIBERTY NEW MEXICO STATE
13 SAINT LOUIS VERMONT NORTHEASTERN UC IRVINE
14 GEORGIA STATE MONTANA OLD DOMINION YALE
15 BRADLEY NORTH DAKOTA STATE COLGATE NORTHERN KENTUCKY
16 F DICKINSON/ P VIEW GARDNER WEBB SAM HOUSTON ST IONA/ UNCC

The Top 10 Albums of 2018

Posted December 17, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Tunes

#10: Robyn/ Honey

robyn honey

Ironically or intentionally, the first album we’ve received from Robyn in eight years begins with the throbbing bass pop of “Missing U”, which essentially equates to how fans of hers have felt about her prolonged absence. Quite worth the wait, Honey lives up to her previous work on every level and arguably bests it, especially within the glory of its centerpiece title track. This collection is more concise and atmospheric than ever before, sacrificing pure pop for a refined lounge groove that really suits her entire vibe. Soft beach beats permeate standouts like the aptly named “Beach 2k20” and “Baby Forgive Me”, which melds effortlessly into the big house beat of “Send To Robyn Immediately”– these are really the moments show true evolution on this album, with such subtlety and nuance that stand in contrast to her previous work. There’s a disco catchiness to the bittersweet reminiscence on tracks like “Because It’s In The Music”, pop perfection on “Between The Lines”, while the understated closer “Ever Again” is perfectly placed and lets us off delicately. Body Talk may be a modern classic for the style, but reasonable music fans may be allowed to disagree in regard to the overall quality of this album in comparison; others may simply be grateful that this album was finally released, and prefer to sit back and enjoy both.

#9: Kali Uchis/ Isolation

Isolation

Colombian-American Kali Uchis made one of the year’s most simulatenously accessible and genre-defying albums, merging Latin beats with American pop in a style all her own. From the opening beats of “Miami”, the raspy voice of the 24-year old vibrates bilingually  between the funk grooves of “After The Storm” and club beats of “Just A Stranger”, which offers the fantastic line “She wants my hundred dollar bills/ She don’t want love.” The pure pop of “Your Teeth In My Neck” and the revenge breakup track “Dead To Me” stand in total contrast to the slow core lounge vibe of “Flight 22” and closer “Killer.” But the centerpiece “In My Dreams” really slaps, displaying synth-pop perfection over a concise, upbeat keyboard riff, complete with a cameo from none other than Damon Albarn. An effortless transition from the catchy “oh-oh-oh” lines of the verses into its soaring chorus comes complete with some serious demonstration of her impressive vocal range through the coda; this is a track to escape to on an album full of them.

#8: Kamasi Washington/ Heaven And Earth

Kamasi Washington- Heaven and Earth

Washington’s new-age jazz pedigree puts him on another level within his genre, and his follow-up to 2015’s 173 minute The Epic re-establishes that claim, checking in at an even more substantial 183 minutes. Gritty saxophone, piano and string arrangements combine with g-funk grooves as lifted gospel vocals engulf the immediately enthralling and politically-driven opener “Fists of Fury”, while the spacious, atmospheric “Connections” is gripping. The highlight track is “Street Fighter Mas”, as melodic vocals lead into Washington’s playful saxophone riffs all above a robotic synth bass groove. As always, these songs are all constructed with perfection, but they are indeed challenging. There’s a harshness to the weight of all of this, but pound for pound, on a musical level, Washington is in a league of his own.

#7: Snail Mail/ Lush

snailmail2

When I wrote about Lorde’s Melodrama a year ago, I conveyed something along these lines: “As much as mainstream pop from young girls barely old enough to drink in the United States really isn’t my thing, it would be hard to deny that there isn’t a single weak moment on this very strong and impressive record.” While Lindsey Jordan’s pitch-perfect and guitar hook-driven Lush doesn’t really contain any similarities whatsoever to that coming-of-age pop album aside from the age of its producer (she’s actually 19, so not of legal drinking age), a simple reality is clear enough to me regardless as that same notion still holds true- I for one experienced my most intense emotional reactions and realizations when I was in my late teens, so it shouldn’t be surprising that today’s youth is articulating the same through music, despite the fact that I am getting older. You’d be hard pressed to find many more moments of simplistic but poignant clarity on any album this year than are present here. Wise beyond its author’s years, “Pristine” kicks things off with a combination of rawness and warmth that is true to its title, while “Speaking Terms” is coated in a soothing sort of heartache. For all the press songs like these and “Heat Wave” received, there isn’t a better moment on an album full of them than “Stick”, where Jordan sings lines like ““And did things work out for you/Or are you still not sure what that means?” as her voice escalates into a strain and the chorus builds into its crescendo. The overall polish present here is rarely seen from such a young artist; time will tell if added maturity takes her to the next level musically, or if the true glory of this record lies in its innocence.

#6: Father John Misty/ God’s Favorite Customer

Father John Misty- God_s Favorite Customer

I suppose perhaps I’m just a sucker for concept albums in general, but when an album of that nature arrives in such drastic contrast to what came before it, it’s simply impossible to ignore. Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, spent two months living alone in a dreary hotel room where he wrote this album, presumably separated from his wife Emma, who two albums back was the focus of his breakthrough record I Love You, Honeybear. God’s Favorite Customer is a return to that prior form for an artist that had turned pretentious, omniscient and self-indulgent on the cynical Pure Comedy that came in between, as Tillman has not only grown wiser but benefits from an impressive sense of… vulnerability in lieu of ego. The beauty is that his usual knack for next-level songwriting, both in terms of lyrical wit and killer melodic hooks, is arguably better off for it. “Mr. Tillman” is pure, self-deprecating genius as the song spends its entirety re-telling a surely not-so-hypothetical interaction between Tillman and his hotel clerk, perfectly straddling the line between the comedic and pathetic (he even whistles) elements of the situation his current mental state has placed him in. Gorgeous ballads abound, from the dream-like piano on tracks like “Dumb Enough To Try” and “The Palace” to standout “Please Don’t Die”, a heartwrenching plea sung partly from Emma’s perspective that finds Tillman as honest as we’ve ever heard him as he sings about “All these pointless benders, with reptilian strangers” between harmonica, perfectly timed 7th chords and a lifted falsetto through its chorus. It’s refreshing to hear songs like the tone-setting opener “Hangout At The Gallows” and the bouncy, warmly self-reflective “Disappointed Diamonds Are The Rarest of Them All” from an artist that seems to have switched from looking inward to looking upward.

#5: DJ Koze/ Knock Knock

Knock Knock

Sprawling and ambitious, one might be tempted to call Knock Knock overlong if it wasn’t so varied and encapsulating, wholly definitive of the German producer DJ Koze’s vast musical background and knowledge. The snares on tracks like “Baby” and the dance floor-ready “Lord Knows” hit with well-aimed cohesion, while the bus-horn, Casio synth repetition and ghostly Bon Iver sample on “Bonfire” are calculated down to the millisecond, and the longing chimes that conclude the airy, remorseful “Muddy Funster” show the meticulous electronic orchestration present here. The stylistic diversity is at once startling and welcome, and keeps the album moving with momentum over its nearly 80 minute length. The darkly lit trip hop ambience of “Scratch That” features the revelation that is Roisin Murphy, who also adds vocals to the nocturnal propulsion of “Illumination” as well as the spacious, nirvana-coma-inducing closing track “Drone Me Up Flashy.” In fact, every guest spot is carefully chosen, however obscure- even Speech from Arrested Development saves the otherwise contrived “Colors of Autumn”, while Jose Gonzalez soars on the bright, warm and reassuring “Music On My Teeth.” The album really hits its true stride over the course of its back half, and that might be asking a lot for some, but when centerpiece “Pick Up” hits in all of its glory, with its single loop of unparalleled precision and catchiness carrying sampled vocals from Gladys Knight, you’ll be glad you stuck around. There’s a stunning juxtaposition here that merits attention; a combination of upbeat house grooves and bittersweet melancholy.

#4: Against All Logic/ 2012-2017

2012 - 2017

Nicolas Jaar has been one of the most prolific experimental artists of the decade, so it seems only fair that in a year so heavily influenced by electronic music, that he would deliver the best of the genre. Working under a new moniker, this collection of songs shows a penchant towards dance-floor ready house beats inter-spliced with Jaar’s trademark acumen for the perfectly timed sampling of rousing soul cuts. Opener “This House Is All I Have” carries some of the same psychedelic lounge grooves reminiscent of his Darkside project, but after that, harder beats dominate a record that is remarkably intriguing and nuanced considering its general accessibility. Attention to detail is evident on the intense banger “Some Kind of Game”, while the sample heavy “I Never Dream” shows off impressively intertwined percussion elements. The downright comical bubble-gum pop of the rollicking “Know You” demonstrates the overall diversity and fun that is present here, while the hypnotic piano keys on “Cityfade” lead into a back half that probably doesn’t quite hold up to the first half, but a compilation such as this can’t possibly be expected to flow with immaculate congruence. 2012-2017 was probably the best album to turn on and enjoy this year, blended into the background of the proverbial dinner party without any frills whatsoever.

#3: Yves Tumor/ Safe In The Hands of Love

safeinthehands

What is this exactly? This is everything. This is the future of music. This is something unlike anything you or I have ever heard before. This is not genre specific, or dare I say, gender specific. This is an alien. This is what we would hear for eternity if we were ever invaded by extraterrestrial life, and we’d be lucky. This is balanced- “Honesty” provides incredible club grooves, “Noid” is impossibly catchy with its contagious, slightly discordant violin sample and refrain (911!) alongside an unorthodox time signature, “Lifetime” cascades elements of percussion, haunting piano lines and subtly intertwined horn, “All The Love We Have Now” fits the wildly underrated lounge bar scene, and closer “Let The Lioness In You Flow Freely” is terrifying and may be the single best conclusion to an album this year even if it gives you eternal nightmares. This is amazing. This is daring. This is Yves Tumor rapidly evolving.

#2: Low/ Double Negative

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In recent memory, there hasn’t been an album that so fully at once encapsulates the dreariness and hopelessness of existence alongside its beauty. The key is the usage of space, and prioritizing restraint above ego to create a consistent, unsettling mood, and on their 12th album, the inventors of the entire genre of slow core are not new at this, they’re just better at it. As a result, Double Negative requires patience, with its glitchy synths, processed vocals and looming dread, but it rewards with repeated listens. The tribal beat of the terrifying “Dancing And Blood” segues perfectly into “Fly” like silk, where a softly rolling bass line picks up subtle piano chords intermittently beneath Mimi Parker’s gorgeous falsetto. The repeated use of the word “always” is noticeable here, to an extent that has to be considered intentional. Highlights abound on tracks like the synth-driven, melodic “Always Trying To Work It Out” and the utterly gorgeous “Always Up” that precedes it; even the devastating penultimate track “Rome” has “Always In The Dark” parenthesized. Ultimately, the point here is the reality of a hopeless permanence, which is startling and practically contrarian due to its surrender as opposed to its protest. In short, like the rest of us, this band isn’t a fan of Donald Trump.

#1: Beach House/ 7

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I can still vividly recall the first time I ever saw Beach House live. In 2007, they were relegated to what was then called the “tent” stage at Pitchfork Music Festival, back in the days when that event was attended by a mere fraction of the masses that attend it now- there might have been two dozen people total in that tent with me. Ambient nearly to a fault, their debut album managed to fit a niche nonetheless, pleasing to the ear without really ever moving the mercury on the thermometer. Simply put, it would have been impossible to imagine that the band in that tent would EVER be capable of creating an album that sounds like this one does.

It didn’t happen overnight, and I’m not of the opinion that 7 is even a better record overall than Teen Dream or probably even Bloom, the former of which was the band’s true indie breakthrough. Yet, it’s arguably more impressive and striking simply because of the musical evolution it demonstrates. This will always be remembered as the album where Beach House went full, unapologetically shoegaze, and the results are exquisite and well-orchestrated in a spot where lesser artists attempting to make a similar leap would have fallen flat on their face. Consider the moment where the gripping and propulsive opener “Dark Spring” melts into the immaculate transition that preludes the slowcore, hypnotic groove of “Pay No Mind.”

The perfection of “Lemon Glow” deserves special mention, as synthesized keyboard opens the track on a menacing note as the shoegaze textures of Alex Scully’s guitar provide the perfect backdrop for Victoria LeGrand’s sultry, intimate vocals over lines like “I come alive/ You stay all night”. But it isn’t all fun and games; there is tension and grind within the repetition of the persistent synth line that dominates here, as well as abrasive percussion elements, all of which add a realistic element to the representation of a true relationship, sexual or otherwise. The beauty of Beach House is their ability to capture exactly that in a surreal ambiance that runs to the contrary.

Victoria LeGrand switches things up with French vocals on the show-stopping “L’Inconnue”, a stunning track that changes gears on a dime without sacrificing one iota of its ethereal beauty, while “Drunk in LA” conveys the type of hungover lounge vibe that made this band, but with an orchestrated textural element that defines its pinnacle. The shapeshifting “Dive” is nearly perfect, opening on a slow, practically a cappella note before exploding into a monstrous guitar riff. If playing devil’s advocate, 7 doesn’t finish as powerfully as its predecessors, as “Beyond Love” redux “Girl of the Year” doesn’t hit nearly as hard, and closer “Last Ride” is a serious notch below songs like “Take Care”, not to state the obvious. Still, in a year that saw the true beauty of music take a backseat to the absurdity of manufactured pop songs, it is hard to quibble. This is the greatest band of the decade staking its full claim to that title with effortless nonchalance.

The Top 10 Songs of 2018

Posted December 3, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Tunes

The Top 10 Songs of 2018

#10: “Pick Up”/ DJ Koze

Many times in life, and also in music, less is more. German producer DJ Koze proves this as his single loop of unparalleled precision and catchiness carries sampled vocals from Gladys Knight on this standout from his sprawling electronic record Knock Knock. There’s a stunning juxtaposition here that merits attention; a combination of upbeat house grooves and bittersweet melancholy.

#9: “In My Dreams”/ Kali Uchis

Colombian-American Kali Uchis displays synth-pop perfection over a concise, upbeat keyboard riff, complete with a cameo from none other than Damon Albarn. An effortless transition from the catchy “oh-oh-oh” lines of the verses into its soaring chorus comes complete with some serious demonstration of her impressive vocal range through the coda; this is a track to escape to.

#8: “Some Kind Of Game”/ A.A.L.

Nicolas Jaar expands upon his trademark psychedelic electronica for hard house beats on this intense, relentless banger. Precise and dance floor ready, this track is seemingly never-ending, and the attention to detail is flawless between its perfectly integrated sampling and the crucial moment early-on where the beat drops altogether.

#7: “Slow Burn”/ Kacey Musgraves

The opening track from the country singer’s breakthrough crossover album is much more than a Taylor Swift moment, as rich production combines with Musgraves’ soothing, warm vocals all above a spot-on melody. This became the song of the summer for those less inclined towards silly, poppy rap songs- it encapsulated everything a summer anthem should be, with a chill vibe in terms of both sound and theme.

#6: “Fly”/ Low

What we have here is an exquisite use of space and restraint, with “Fly” serving as the perfect tone setter early on the devastating slowcore epic Double Negative. A softly rolling bass line picks up subtle piano chords intermittently beneath Mimi Parker’s gorgeous falsetto as pleads, “Take my weary bones/ And fly…”

#5: “Lifetime”/ Yves Tumor

There wasn’t any other song this year that had as much going on as this one- forceful, cascading percussion, haunting piano lines, subtly intertwined horn elements- all behind forefront vocals. AND I MISS MY BROTHERS!!!

#4: “Suspirium”/ Thom Yorke

Perhaps Yorke’s defining moment as a solo artist, “Suspirium” drifts beneath a haunting piano line that is at once foreboding and impossibly gorgeous, a combination that he has mastered in his work with Radiohead. Subtle flute elements add texture and beauty, while of course there is that trademark falsetto holding it all together.

#3: “Believe”/ Amen Dunes

Damon McMahon’s coarse vocals wash over this perfectly orchestrated melody with fluidity and nostalgic emotion, creating the rock song of the year by any measure. The twangy folk-Americana vibe of its guitar line builds steadily into a thematic and stunning crescendo, touching on spirituality, mortality and acceptance in five short minutes that would be better off never ending.

#2: “Please Don’t Die”/ Father John Misty

This heartwrenching ballad finds Josh Tillman as honest and vulnerable as we’ve ever heard him as he sings about “All these pointless benders, with reptilian strangers” between harmonica, perfectly placed 7th chords and a lifted falsetto through a chorus that hints towards serious suicidal considerations during the two months he spent living alone in a hotel and wrote this song. Watching this truly awe-inspiring video, the chorus being sung from his wife Emma’s perspective truly resonates, which literally means that Father John Misty is issuing (gasp!) a cry for help.

#1: “Lemon Glow”/ Beach House

Aside from the fact that this is arguably the first song Beach House has ever written that is quite so blatantly and seductively sexually driven, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that this was clearly the best song created in 2018. Synthesized keyboard opens the track on a menacing note as the shoegaze textures of Alex Scully’s guitar provide the perfect backdrop for Victoria LeGrand’s sultry, intimate vocals over lines like “I come alive/ You stay all night”. But it isn’t all fun and games; there is tension and grind within the repetition of the persistent synth line that dominates here, as well as abrasive percussion elements, all of which add a realistic element to the representation of a true relationship, sexual or otherwise. The beauty of Beach House is their ability to capture exactly that in a surreal ambiance that runs to the contrary.

Breeders’ Cup Saturday Picks and Analysis

Posted November 2, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

BREEDERS’ CUP 2018 SATURDAY PICKS

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3- Filly and Mare Sprint, 7f, 11:00

1) #5 GOLDEN MISCHIEF (10-1)- Winner of three straight races at 6f enters off a win in the TCA Stakes at Keeneland (94 Beyer, 102 Bris), a race that has produced five of the last ten winners of this event, and overcame a speed favoring flow from off the pace in that race. The 6f figures she earned when winning against optional claiming company in April (101 Beyer, 108 Bris) fit well against these. Trainer Brad Cox wins with 27% of his runners second off the lay and four-year-old daughter of Into Mischief looks primed for a career effort here as the extra furlong could hit her right between the eyes based on how she’s finished her recent races. She hasn’t raced beyond 6f this year but the fact that she won a listed stakes at 7f as a two-year-old helps contain any significant distance concerns. Detractors will point to her 4-1-1-0 record at Churchill, but she has only raced here once over her last ten starts and appears in completely different form now. She fired an eye-catching bullet work over the track this week, turning in 4f in :47.0, the fastest of 113 that day; we’ll take a shot in a race that has recently been unkind to favorites.

2) #13 MARLEY’S FREEDOM (8-5)- Undefeated in three starts at ascending distances since switching to the Baffert barn, culminating in a 7f score in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga (100 Beyer, 103 Bris). She skipped a scheduled run in the L.A. Woman Stakes after that to train up to this race and hasn’t raced in over two months, but Baffert wins with 25% of his runners in that spot. BRIS Prime Power selection is a deserving favorite and the one to beat if she returns to form after the layoff, as her mid-pack running style is favorable from a race shape standpoint- her average BRIS Late Pace figure of 105 tops the field by a wide margin. A must-use in multis and on top in exotics.

3) #11 FINLEYSLUCKYCHARM (10-1)- Horse for the course has won 6 of 7 career starts at Churchill, the lone off-the-board effort being a puzzling no-show in this year’s Humana Distaff at this distance. She’s won at both 6f and 7f this year but has been inconsistent, tending to alternate between wins and subpar efforts. She’d be due for the former after a 7th place dud at this distance behind the favorite in her last, and shouldn’t be overlooked at a fair price here over a track she relishes, but the feeling with her has always been that she may be better suited to 6f than 7f and is susceptible to a speed duel up front; Timeform designates this race has having a fast pace that will be unfavorable to front-runners.

4) #1 SELCOURT (4-1)- Speedster owns the best speed figure at the distance for her Grade 2 win in the Santa Monica in March (104 Beyer, 108 Bris) over the pre-Baffert edition of Marley’s Freedom, but hasn’t raced since and enters off a long layoff for a trainer who doesn’t excel in that spot (12% winners 90+ days). She figures to take action at the windows off of that number, but hasn’t yet raced outside of Santa Anita and may not be in peak form for this, especially having to deal with all of the speed to her outside as she’s buried inside on the rail. She did win a 6.5f listed stakes off a similar layoff in January, however.

Longshot:

#9 STORMY EMBRACE (20-1)- Draw a line through her last race, where she broke poorly, and you’re left with three straight wins at the distance, including a field high BRIS figure over the last four months two back (97 Beyer, 105 Bris).

4- Turf Sprint, 5.5f, 11:38

1) #6 RAINBOW HEIR (12-1)- This race always seems to come up speed heavy, and this year’s edition is no exception. The stretch out to 5.5f from last year’s 5f distance makes us even more keen to find a closer, and this is where we land as the best of the bunch. Aside from eight year old’s field high BRIS Late Pace average (99), looking at his form lines, he’s consistently gobbled up ground in the stretch of his 5f races. Two back, he made up three lengths in the stretch to win a Gulfstream listed stakes at that distance before settling in for a long layoff, posting figures that fit quite well here (106 Beyer, 102 Bris) and defeating last year’s runner-up and today’s foe Richard’s Boy. He should be sharper now than he was in his last, where he finished 3rd (but still gaining ground) at 5f after a seven month layoff, and the extra ground looks to be a huge positive. Trainer Jason Servis has been hot of late and he wins with 28% of his runners off a similar lay; we prefer this of his three entered here.

2) #5 DISCO PARTNER (7-2) A quick look over the form lines for BRIS Prime Power selection can be deceiving. Digging deeper, he’s struggled on soft turf and at distances beyond 6f, but has been remarkably consistent outside of those parameters, and probably would have won last year’s race had it been run at this distance. Instead he settled for third place, running out of ground after making up nearly three lengths in the stretch. He ran huge in his last, winning the 6f Belmont Turf Sprint (106 Beyer, 106 Bris) after a three-month layoff and over good ground, which is usually a detriment, so we aren’t subscribing to the popular notion that he’s a toss on anything less than firm (if the ground is too soft, they’ll scratch him anyway). He’s probably better going 6f than 5.5f and the turf condition is still a concern, but he gets a new rider here as Joel Rosario takes over for Irad Ortiz, and the idea that he could be even sharper than that second off the lay (20% trainer wins) is a scary proposition; a must use on top of all wagers.

3) #13 WILL CALL (20-1)- Another late mover, four-year old is 2/2 over this turf course, including a win over good turf, and has won four times at this exact distance over the past year. Last seen when a hard-closing 2nd in the Grade 2 Woodford at Keeneland (95 Beyer, 97 Bris) to today’s foe Bucchero at this distance, he figures to be sharper second off the lay (trainer Cox wins at a 27% clip in that spot) and to have more pace to run at.

4) #9 STORMY LIBERAL (4-1)- Defending Champion is tough to dismiss in this spot coming off of three straight wins between 5f and 6.5f, defeating some of today’s more stingy foes in Richard’s Boy and Conquest Tsunami. He doesn’t by win very much, yet always seems to get his nose on the wire first. It’s hard to repeat in a race this wide open, but he fits right in here figure-wise (105 Beyer, 101 Bris), and you can bet he will be in the mix at the end.

Try to beat:

#11 WORLD OF TROUBLE (6-1)- Wise-guy will attract attention off his field high last out Bris speed figure (107) earned at 6f, a bit of an outlier figure that came over wet turf and against questionable company, and the fact that Irad Ortiz jumps off of Disco Partner to grab the mount. The Beyer didn’t come back quite as favorably and ranks behind the best here (102) as three-year old meets elders for the first time and spent most of the year contesting longer dirt races; likely underlay seems like he could go off favored with a lot of question marks in this spot.

#14 CONQUEST TSUNAMI (6-1)- Seasoned front-runner may stand the best chance to hang around at the end as he’s actually cutting back in distance here, having raced on the lead at 6.5f in his last before losing it by a head in the stretch to Stormy Liberal. There’s an argument to be made that he’s been in the lead at the 5.5f mark in most of his races, and he has the back figures to make an impact on the lead here (106 Beyer, 100 Bris); there’s also the argument to be made that his speed won’t be as effective at the shorter distance and he draws widest of all in this spot.

Longshots:

#1 RUBY NOTION (20-1) and #8 CHANTELINE (15-1) are types we would play against under normal circumstances as the field-high Bris speed figures earned at the distance (109, 106) came over a soft turf course. The course isn’t supposed to come up with that much give, but if it’s closer to yielding than good, keep an eye on their odds as their chances move up massively in a race that is already a total crapshoot. Ruby Notion was victorious in that race and is 3-1-0-1 at Churchill.

5- Dirt Mile, 8f, 12:16

1) #1 CITY OF LIGHT (5-2)- Versatile sort enters off the strength of five consecutive triple digit Beyers between distances ranging from 7f-10f. He’s yet to contest this exact distance but ran his two fastest figures (106, 107 Beyers) at the 7f and 9f distances that it encompasses, defeating Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite and Older Male division leader Accelerate in the latter. He suffered a wide trip when 2nd last out in the 7f Forego in his first of the layoff but has two Grade 1 wins at that distance. Notably, his best BRIS Late space figure (114) is the highest in the field, a dangerous combination for a runner who tends to be placed near the front. BRIS Prime Power selection looms a conceivable single in a race without much depth and has never missed the board in nine career starts.

2) #10 CATALINA CRUISER (8-5)- Unbeaten in four starts but relatively untested, west coast speedster ships away from California for first time. Son of Union Rags dominated the 8.5f San Diego Handicap (107 Beyer, 108 Bris) by nearly seven lengths on the lead before cutting back to 7f and duplicating that margin in the Pat O’Brien, easily defeating last year’s winner of this race, Battle of Midway. There’s an argument to be made that he’s benefited from easy trips as he hasn’t had much company up front on the lead; he may not be able to separate from this field in a similar fashion.

3) #7 FIRENZE FIRE (6-1)- Three-year-old found his niche at this distance, clobbering the Dwyer field by 9 lengths from off the pace (107 Beyer, 102 Bris). A replication of that performance would be highly competitive here from a figures standpoint as he stretches back out to 8f on the heels of a 6f win. Will face elders for the first time, but race shape should suit his running style. It’s worth noting that his two graded wins at the distance were both one-turn miles at Belmont; he should appreciate that configuration in this spot as well.

4) #6 SEEKING THE SOUL (5-1)- Late-running five year old owns three wins over the track, including last fall’s Grade 1 Clark Handicap at 9f and the Grade 3 Ack Ack at this distance in his last (98 Beyer, 99 Bris). Figures appear a bit below the best here and 8f may be a tad sharp, but with the second best Late Pace figure in the field (108) he is eligible to grab a piece underneath.

Longshot:

#3 ISOTHERM (20-1)- Cuts back after acquitting himself well against the likes of Accelerate and West Coast, who he finished 3rd behind beaten 2.75 lengths in the Grade 1 Awesome Again in his second start switching to dirt from turf. He ties for the best Bris Last Race figure off that effort (103) and shows the highest average early pace figures as well; could take them a long way on the front end.

6- Filly and Mare Turf, 11f, 1:04

1) #10 MAGIC WAND (5-1)- Aidan O’Brien shipper has been pointed to this and looks ready to peak after a solid 2nd to today’s foe Wild Illusion in the Group 1 Prix de l’Opera at 10f. She defeated that one handily earlier this year in a Group 2 at Ascot at 12f, so the feeling here is that she will appreciate stretching out from her last. The RPR of 114 she earned two back when again 2ndto Group 1 foes is the best in the field at or beyond the 11f distance and she had an excuse when 5thbefore that as she was sick with a virus; three-year old gets first time Lasix as well as Ryan Moore in the saddle which always demands attention. O’Brien is 0-11 in this race but we look for him to buck that trend as long as the ground doesn’t come up too soft.

2) #14 EZIYRA (15-1)- Winner of four of her last five against Group 2 and Group 3 company, four year-old finished ahead of the top selection at 12f when 3rd against Group 1 foes and has never been off the board in 11 career starts. There’s a lot to like as she steps up in class here, especially given her three wins at 12f; no need to worry about the distance with this one. Three starts back, she rallied from last to win at 12f and knocked off the highly regarded Yucatan, now the Group 1 Melbourne Cup favorite. Her top RPR at 12f (112) puts her in the mix at a square price; intriguing as a more experienced Euro option at likely three times the price of the three year olds. Gets first time Lasix and enters fresh off 48 days rest.

3) #3 WILD ILLUSION (7-2)- Winner of three straight, including a 10f Group 1 on the Arc undercard where she bested 15 foes and posted a field high RPR (116). She’s traded wins with the top selection this year but may not be as well-suited to stretch out an extra furlong from her last as 10f looks like her sweet spot; pace type demands respect nonetheless as she enters with two Group 1 wins this year (no other Euro shipper even has one). Sire Dubawi won this race last year with Wuheida. She does not receive Lasix in the spot.

4) #1 FOURSTARCROOK (5-1)- We like her chances best of the Brown barn to handle the added distance. Her win over stablemate Sistercharlie came at 10f, while her losses came at 8.5f and 9.5f. In five starts this year, she has posted ascending RPR numbers, culminating in a 114 winning the 10f Flower Bowl in her last (104 Beyer, 94 Bris), and that has been a key prep for this, producing 6 of the 19 winners. Brown enters Thais as a likely rabbit; expect this six-year old mare to be flying late after that one softens up the front-runners.

Try to beat:

#6 SISTERCHARLIE (3-1)- Has dominated the US division this year but stretches out to a distance that may prove a bit challenging, as she hasn’t won beyond 9.5f this year. She does have experience just short of this distance (10.5f) in France, but those races came against softer company than she faces here and the RPR figures she earned (104-110) aren’t as strong as her shorter races. She’s delivered consistent RPRs of 112 in her last four races which slots in below the best here so it seems like we know what we are going to get with her; merits respect based on her campaign but looks like an underlay for the win spot at these odds and off an 84 day layoff.

7- Sprint, 6f, 1:46

1) #2 PROMISES FULFILLED (6-1)- Has really come into his own at sprint distances, winning his last three at 6f-7f and posting a field high Beyer (108) in between, defeating today’s older male foes Whitmore and Limousine Liberal most recently at 6f. Three year olds have had success in this event and he may still be improving, is pure speed and benefits from the defection of XY Jet as well as a ground-saving post; could be the one to catch with some knocks existing against the favorite, his lone true speed pace contender up front. He broke his maiden at this distance over the Churchill track. Often in this race, the fastest runner wins, and this doesn’t set up for a pace collapse on paper as Timeform designates the race shape as favorable to horses on the lead; looks like a merry-go-round race to our eyes as well.

2) #5 IMPERIAL HINT (9-5)- Last year’s runner-up is a logical favorite in this spot coming off three straight graded wins, posting figures that tie for field high in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt (108 Beyer, 106 Bris). He is 0/2 over the track however, although both of those races came at a longer distance and one came over sloppy dirt, but he did have a so-so work over the track this week, so maybe he just doesn’t like it. Perhaps more concerning is trainer Luis Carvajal’s record 2nd off the lay- he has just 1 winner of 28 starters in that spot. BRIS Prime Power selection looms the most likely winner, but is by no means a single; outright wagers better spent elsewhere.

3) #9 ROY H (5-2)- Defending champion returned to form in his last, winning the 6f Santa Anita Sprint (105 Beyer, 105 Bris) and should be sharp for his 2nd off the lay, where trainer Peter Miller wins with 25% of his starters. He enters off the exact same pattern as he did when winning last year- a 2nd place finish to Ransom the Moon in July, a layoff, and a win in October off that layoff. The difference could be a bit less bottom to fall back on, as he took off the entire spring following a rough trip to Dubai. Only one horse (Midnight Lute) has repeated wins in this race, but he draws outside the speed in a similar fashion to how he won this a year ago, and Miller sends stablemate Distinctive B to his inside as a presumptive rabbit.

4) #1 WHITMORE (6-1)- Closing type cut back to 6f after winning the 7f Forego (104 Beyer, 102 Bris) and just missed the top selection by a head. He’s been a hard knocker in all six of his graded starts this year, running a neck behind Imperial Hint as well, so if we like those two best, we have to like him at least a little. While his running style arguably translates better to 7f than 6f, he does have a Grade 3 win at the distance from April to fall back on, and will be flying late, but closers haven’t historically fared well in this event.

Try to Beat:

#8 LIMOUSINE LIBERAL (6-1)- At the risk of making the same mistake yet again, we just can’t muster up enough support for him based solely on the horse for the course angle. Backers will cite his 8-6-1-0 record at Churchill, but the last three of those wins came at 7f (and two of those came over sloppy tracks). You have to go back to last June to find his last win at 6f and that came against a weak Grade 3 Field. Whitmore has bested him in both of their last two meetings and his Beyers have landed consistently in the 99-101 range, below the cut here. Passing for the win, but he does love the track and had a bad trip in his last, and merits inclusion underneath.

8- Mile, 8f, 2:36

1) #11 LIGHTNING SPEAR (20-1)- Battle-tested seven year old Euro invader is being overlooked here off of two subpar efforts, the last of which came over soft ground that he does not relish. Before those, he’d won a Group 1 at the distance and placed in two more, defeating today’s foe Expert Eye in the process and earning the highest RPR in the field (122). He will have to regroup quickly after the ship as this race comes 14 days after his last, but he wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t up for it. Having raced in Group 1 or Group 2 races for 22 straight starts, 20 of which came at this distance, he brings as much experience and class as any of these and gets first time Lasix in his last career race for trainer David Simcock, who finished 3rd in this race in 2014.

2) #5 OSCAR PERFORMANCE (6-1)- We were dead set on playing son of Kitten’s Joy on top here, but he’s just so hard to trust if there is any give in the ground whatsoever- his worst career race came over a Churchill turf course rated good. He also benefited from an easy lead in winning his last in the Woodbine Mile and produced slow figures to boot (99 Beyer, 93 Bris). It’s rare to win this race wire to wire- no horse has done so in its last 20 runnings- and the lead is ultimately where he’s most dangerous. However, he does have the best RPR of any of the Americans (119) for his record setting score in the 8f Poker (104 Beyer), where he actually sat just off the pace, and this edition of the Mile appears to have come up particularly devoid of speed. The Woodbine Mile winner has hit the board in the last eight runnings of this race, so we slot him in here, and will use him on top in multis as lone speed on turf is always potentially deadly. He did win over good going as a three year old and is 3/3 at this distance. It also remains to be seen how truly strong this Euro contingent is, and we want have at least one American to fall back on here.

3) #7 EXPERT EYE (8-1)- Last seen when 3rd by a little over a length in a French Group 1, three year old gets first time Lasix fresh off a 55 day layoff. He’s yet to break through as a Group 1 winner or win at the distance but has won two at 7f over his last four and hasn’t missed the board in any of those; consistent type has posted competitive RPR numbers at the distance to fall back on (117-118), has a 120 at 7f and looks primed and well-aimed for trainer Sir Michael Stoute, who generally doesn’t fly horses over here who aren’t serious contenders.

4) #2 NEXT SHARES (10-1)- We already touched on the success of closers relative to front-runners historically in this race. It seems logical then to pay some attention to the field’s best closer (field high Bris Average Late Pace and Best Late Pace- 102/113) who enters off a career best effort in his last when winning the Shadwell Mile and posted field high last race figures (106 Beyer, 104 Bris) along with an RPR that suggests he isn’t out of his depth against the Euros (115). It’s notable that the huge jump forward in figures in that race came over turf labeled “good.” Playable for a piece here at the very least; deep closers have pulled a few stunners in this event.

Try to beat:

Aidan O’Brien. Proflic trainer is actually winless with 19 previous starters in this race, and there are good reasons to play against his three runners here as well. #13 GUSTAV KLIMT (10-1) is winless at the distance in five starts and seems better at 6-7f. The filly #3 HAPPILY (15-1) is winless in six starts this year and off the board in three of her last four. Another Filly, #8 I CAN FLY (10-1) comes off a career best race when 2nd in a tough Group 1, wheels back quickly for this two weeks later and had lost to two of today’s foes, Happily and One Master, before that. She did run second over soft going in her last to the highly regarded Roaring Lion in her last, posting a 117 RPR, and is the one we prefer of these three if one is to be used as a long shot play.

#12 ANALYZE IT (6-1) would be a massive underlay at these odds. Another pace type that has become allergic to winning, he finished an easily beaten 4th in his last without excuse after three straight 2nd place finishes by a neck. He figures to go early from his wide post and isn’t touchable at anywhere near these odds.

9- Distaff, 9f, 3:16

1) #2 ABEL TASMAN (7-2)- We believe one needs to view her abysmal performance when beaten ten lengths as the heavy favorite in her last one of two ways: Either it was a gift from the racing gods as you’ll now receive double the odds on last year’s runner up, the horse with the highest speed figures at the distance this year (105 Beyer, 107 Bris) and by far the race’s most likely winner, or she is heading into declining form and is a play against. Given that there was a virus going through the Baffert barn that affected many runners around the time of her dud, we feel that she had an excuse in that race and will simply draw a line through it and enjoy the inflated odds; the performance was such an outlier compared to all of her prior form that it was practically too bad to be believable. She is eligible to return to healthy form now third off the lay, where Baffert wins at a 25% clip.

2) #3 LA FORCE (20-1)- Bombs away for the place spot as Patrick Gallagher entry is likely to be completely overlooked here second off the lay, where he wins with 30% of his runners. She’s finished 2nd in her last three races at shorter behind solid company and while gobbling up ground in the stretch. Two back, she made up 3.5 lengths on the now retired but highly regarded Unique Bella to finish just a half a length from the win at 8.5f, posting speed figures that stack up quite competitively in this spot (99 Beyer, 102 Bris). The feeling here is that she can improve upon those figures with the added ground in this spot of her form cycle, and with only two Beyer points separating her from a 2-1 favorite, we’re inclined to play for value.

3) #11 MONOMOY GIRL (2-1)- Three year old Bris Prime Power selection has done nothing wrong this year, winning all six of her starts but being disqualified last time out for drifting in the stretch of the 8.5f Cotillion at Parx (101 Beyer), a race she was all out to win at a distance shorter than this one. She’s 3-2-1-0 over the track here and has won twice at the distance, but hasn’t yet faced elders. Looms as controlling speed but may find her trip a bit more contested from a wide post as the speedy Vale Dori lines up just to her inside, and her speed figures at the distance don’t exactly tower over this field the way you’d expect a 2-1 favorite’s should (97 Beyer, 102 Bris); this is a fair spot to try to beat the heavy favorite in our eyes.

4) #10 BLUE PRIZE (6-1)- Horse for the course has won three straight and boasts a 5-2-3-0 record over the Churchill dirt. A Grade 1 winner of the 9f Spinster at Keeneland in her last (93 Beyer, 99 Bris), we question the quality of the fields she has beaten, but this division hasn’t exactly been world beaters this year. Steps up in class here and will need to step up in terms of figures as well as she hasn’t topped a 94 Beyer at the distance; trainer Ignacio Correas wins with just 15% of his runners third off the lay.

Try to Beat:

#7 MIDNIGHT BISOU (6-1)- Likely to draw attention at the windows off her “win” over the favorite, that came via a somewhat controversial disqualification, and however one feels about that, it would be tough to deny that her chances of defeating Monomoy Girl were far better at 8.5f or less than it is at 9f. She faces the same obstacles in terms of battling against elders for the first time in addition to apparent distance limitations, having lost ground in the stretch in both tries at 9f.

10- Turf, 12f, 3:56

1) #5 MAGICAL (10-1)- Not long ago, Aidan O’Brien brought a three year-old daughter of Gaileo to this race that had just exited a strong showing at Ascot two weeks prior after having finished off the board in the Arc. The year was 2015, and that filly was Found, who shocked the boys and won this race, turning the tables against another heavily favored Arc winner. The pattern is too exact to overlook- Magical just won the 12f British Champions at Ascot after a 10thplace finish in the Arc- to say the least of the fact that the connections chose to enter her here instead of the Filly and Mare Turf race, where one imagines she’d have vowed for favoritism. She’s shown ascending RPRs over her last three races (109-113-118), the last two coming at this distance, and gets a four to seven pound weight break as well as first time Lasix. A similar leap forward figure wise as a result puts her squarely in the mix to turn the tables having beaten elders twice already this year; looks extremely live here in a sneaky sort of way at a likely huge price, especially in multis as everyone singles Enable.

2) #12 WALDGEIST (9-2)- Has been pointed to this for Andre Fabre, coming off a hard-luck 4th in the Arc where he finished 1.75 lengths behind the favorite in an effort that was better than it looks on paper. A monster at 12f, he’d won four straight at the distance against Group 1 and 2 company in France and has duplicated RPR figures of 121. An obvious alternative to the heavy favorite given that he was less than two lengths behind her with excuses and will be five times the price.

3) #2 ENABLE (1-1)- Back to back winner of the world’s most prestigious turf race, the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, Enable will be the heaviest favorite on the day and by far the horse to beat here. Still, we will stubbornly try, for one simple reason: she’s trying to win the Arc and Breeders’ Cup back to back, and that’s never been done before in seven tries. With a field high RPR (126) at the distance, seven straight wins at 12f and receiving first time Lasix third off the lay, she’s a mandatory defensive use, but crazy things have happened in this race, and we require better than even money odds to buck history following a transatlantic trip.

4) #1 TALISMANIC (12-1)- Last year’s winner would probably still be favored against last year’s field based on his current form, but the waters are far deeper this year as the Euro contingent looms stronger. Enters off an 13th place finish in the Arc behind Enable and Magical, and was beaten an easy 2.5 lengths by Waldgeist in the start before that. Earned an RPR of 118 winning this last year; a reproduction of that number would slot him right about here.

Longshot:

#3 CHANNEL MAKER (12-1)- The Americans look up against in this spot but he’s the only one who shows competitive speed figures at the distance, as he posted a 118 RPR winning the Grade 1 Turf Classic wire to wire. That win came over soft turf so he’d appreciate some give in the ground, he’s better going longer, and might get away with an easy lead as Euros don’t usually bring speed on turf.

11- Classic, 10f, 4:44

1) #3 CATHOLIC BOY (8-1)- In a race where the two favored older horses ship in from the west coast (no pun intended) and may have questions to answer in terms of running away from California, why not take a shot on a rapidly improving three year old who has already proven himself at the distance? After all, three year olds have won four of the last five runnings of this race, and have hit the board in all five. In fact, the pattern of using the Travers as a prep and then training up to the Classic has been quite productive, with American Pharoah and Arrogate following the same pattern before moving forward figure-wise in their wins in this race. He may not be the freak that those two were, but the Beyer he earned in his Travers win after switching back to dirt from turf (104) was higher than the one Triple Crown winner Justify earned in the Kentucky Derby. Incredibly, the last eight winners of this race ran at Saratoga in one of their last two races before this; son of More Than Ready has tactical speed but can sit off the likely fast pace here as Javier Castellano retains the mount.

2) #2 ROARING LION (20-1)- How about a turf to dirt three year old exacta? Kitten’s Joy progeny are famous for their turf success but haven’t been bad on dirt either (202 wins/ 1480 route starts =14% winners over the last five years) and his damsire Street Sense is a Kentucky Derby winner. He’s a perfect 4-4 at 10-10.5f and his RPR at the distance (127) is the second highest in the field, so if he can translate that form to dirt he would be a significant overlay here considering he’d likely have been the second choice had his connections opted to run him in the Turf and that he may actually prefer this distance. Trainer John Gosden saddled the last turf to dirt or synthetic winner of this race, Raven’s Pass, in 2008. Race shape should suit, as Timeform pegs this race as favoring off-the-pace types, and he’s by far the most accomplished of those at the distance.

3) #14 ACCELERATE (5-2)- Deserving favorite has enjoyed quite the campaign as a five year old, winning four Grade 1s with three of them coming at this distance. Bris Prime Power selection holds a fairly towering advantage on figures (115 Beyer, 114 Bris, 128 RPR), and if he runs back to those, he wins this race easily. We are willing to take a shot against him on top in outright wagers off his last though, when his figures were more sluggish (100 Beyer, 106 Bris). His only loss this year came in his only race away from California, and he now ships again after a tough campaign to meet fresher horses with arguably more upside and draws the widest post of all here. A defensive use.

4) #7 WEST COAST (5-1)- Our selection in this race last year, he finished a respectable 3rd before coming back to run 2nd behind Gun Runner in the 9f Pegasus and then 2nd again behind today’s foe Thunder Snow in the 10f Dubai World Cup when that one freaked on the egregiously speed-favoring track. Laid off for six months, he returned to run 2nd to the favorite in a 9f tune up for this. Baffert’s second off the lay stats aren’t spectacular (23% winners, -0.37 ROI) and the likely speed duel (which should burn both Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn from hitting the board) may be too much to overcome here, but he’s eligible to hold on for a piece. If he goes to the lead and gets less pace pressure than is expected though, he could win this, as he proved difficult to pass in last year’s Travers when using those tactics.

Try to beat:

The horses who have never run 10f on dirt before- MCKINZIE (6-1), MIND YOUR BISCUITS (6-1), and YOSHIDA (10-1)- You know who the only horses are to win this race without ever running a 10f dirt race before? Zenyatta and Ghostzapper. One of them won 19 consecutive races from off the pace and the other posted a 120 Beyer when he won this race and cemented himself as one of the greatest freaks of the last 20 years. We don’t see any of these three as living up to that standard of all-time greatness, especially against a field as salty as this one. McKinzie is another going 2nd off the lay for Baffert, will likely be bet down from is morning line, and has Petionville (6.8 AWD) as a dam sire. Yoshida posted a respectable figure (107 Beyer) in the 9f Woodward, but that came against a suspect field, and his closing punch has been effective at shorter distances. Mind Your Biscuits is probably the most intriguing of the three, if only for the reason that he might be the first horse in history that would have been single digit odds in any of three Breeders’ Cup races from 6-10f. In that sense, he is reminiscent of Ghostzapper, but closer doesn’t possess the brilliant speed that one did. Looking for a pace meltdown in his first 10f try is asking a lot at short odds.

Longshot:

#4 GUNNEVERA (20-1)- We’d be remiss not to mention our old friend and 2016 Kentucky Derby selection. Late runner has never been a Grade 1 winning type but is always a threat when a pace scenario shapes up the way this one does. Crazier things have happened in this race (Arcangues at 133-1 and Volponi at 44-1 come immediately to mind) than him picking up the pieces and winning it after all the pace horses kill each other, Roaring Lion doesn’t handle the dirt and the 9f horses can’t go any further. We will be using him underneath on tris at the very least.

Arlington Million 2018 Picks and Analysis

Posted August 10, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Uncategorized

9- Secretariat

1- REAL STORY, 20-1 (RPR N/A, 93 BRIS, 87 Beyer)- Won local prep wire to wire while setting hot fractions (:47.45, 1:11.45) and looks like he could be lone speed again from the rail. Will need to take a big step forward in figures but they will all have to reel him in as he stretches out here.
2- PLATINUM WARRIOR, 10-1 (Beyer N/A, BRIS N/A, 108 RPR)- Won a 10f Stakes in Ireland two back and posted a career high RPR in that effort. Now cuts back from 12f, where he was 9th against Group 1 foes, in his last. Looks like the most attractive Euro in the double digit range to our eyes as he figures to sit a ground-saving, forwardly placed trip in a race without much speed on paper.
3- BANDUA, 20-1 (Beyer N/A, BRIS N/A, 103 RPR)- Cuts back from last two races, which came at 14f and 12f against stakes company overseas. Shows a win at the distance over soft turf in Ireland.
4- CARRICK, 20-1 (82 Beyer, 89 RPR, 91 BRIS)- Was last seen finishing 3rd in a 9f Grade III event; lightly raced sort is in heavy here in fourth career start but may get a better trip than he did in his last, eligible to improve.
5- PONT DU GARD, 30-1 (83 Beyer, 91 BRIS, 90 RPR)- Was 4th in local prep last out so would have to take a big step forward to hit the board against these.
6- MING, 20-1 (Beyer N/A, BRIS N/A, 98 RPR)- Shipper takes a class leap here but enters off back to back wins against weight for age company in Ireland. He did finish soundly beaten, 7 lengths behind fellow shipper Platinum Warrior, two starts back.
7- CAPTIVATING MOON, 20-1 (88 Beyer, 91 BRIS, 99 RPR)- Consistent type hasn’t missed the board in six 2018 starts and seems to simply keep running out of ground. Deep closer nearly inhaled the field when 2nd in the 9f local prep for this and seems to be begging for added ground. We’d be a bit more supportive if there was more pace signed on but with so many Euro shippers a quicker than expected pace could easily materialize in which case he is live for the win at a huge price. And he’s also adding blinkers, which should keep him more in touch with the leaders that usual. Will be using on top.
8- UNTAMED DOMAIN, 5-1 (84 Beyer, 92 BRIS, 104 RPR)- Keeps switching surfaces and can’t seem to find his niche, as claim to fame still remains a 2nd place finish to Mendelssohn in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He was beaten nearly 7 lengths by the favorite two starts back at 9f and his form seems to have leveled off; looks like an underlay at these odds after missing the board in three of last four starts.
9- ANALYZE IT, 2-1 (99 Beyer, 96 BRIS, 113 RPR)- Owns field high Beyer and BRIS Speed figures at the distance after being nosed by the highly regarded Catholic Boy in his last two. Has a 5L and 7L head to head advantage respectively in recent starts against Captivating Moon and Untamed Domain, so appears by far the most formful of the American contingent. Whether he can maintain the 1.75 length advantage he enjoyed last out against classy Euro foe Hunting Horn remains to be seen; deserving favorite that must be used on top.
10- SNIPER KITTEN, 12-1 (87 Beyer, 92 BRIS, 84 RPR)- Son of Kitten’s Joy is somewhat of an unknown quantity in his fifth career start, having run past 8f only once. He’s closed well and figures to appreciate the added ground but takes a step up in class. He held off a fast closing Captivating Moon at 8f when winning his last, but the feeling is that one would have had him after a few more steps.
11- DUBBY DUBBIE, 30-1 (83 Beyer, 91 BRIS, RPR N/A)- A closing 3rd in the local prep for this, he’s never gone this far but may improve with the added ground based on running style. It would be a surprise to see him hit the board in this spot, however.
12- LUCIUS TIBERIUS, 12-1 (Beyer N/A, BRIS N/A, 107 RPR)- Winner of last two starts at this distance against Handicap company abroad, he will make his first U.S. start here for Aidan O’Brien. Takes a bit of a class leap but fits as a potential underneath type based on figures and experience at route distances.
13- HUNTING HORN, 7-2 (96 Beyer, 94 BRIS, 116 RPR)- Aidan O’Brien charge was third 1.75 lengths behind today’s foe Analyze It in his stateside bow last out in the Belmont Derby. Group 3 winner abroad stands a chance to take a big step forward in second start off the ship considering connections and field high RPR at the distance, assuming he can navigate a wide post. BRIS Prime Power selection would offer value at this price with Ryan Moore in the saddle.
Picks:
1) Hunting Horn 7-2
2) Analyze It 2-1
3) Captivating Moon 20-1
4) Platinum Warrior 10-1
10- Beverly D
1- DADDY’S LIL DARLING, 8-1 (96 Beyer, 101 BRIS, 109 RPR)- Winner of the local prep is well acquainted with classic distances, as her last three have come at 9.5f or beyond. She wasn’t disgraced two back when finishing 3rd just a 1.5 lengths behind Fourstarcrook and Sistercharlie who she will again have to catch today. Those two seem to consistently be about a length better but she’s very live underneath at a decent price.
2- NYALETI, 15-1 (Beyer N/A, BRIS N/A, 109 RPR)- Group 2 winner overseas has yet to race beyond 8f. After fading to 4th in her last against Group I company, she is in deep waters here for her first start on U.S. soil.
3- SISTERCHARLIE, 9-5 (104 Beyer, 104 BRIS, 112 RPR)- Heaviest favorite of the Grade 1 stakes card had an awful trip two back in the New York when narrowly missing stablemate Fourstarcrook for the win. A cleaner trip here would make her a very tough filly to beat at this distance. Chad Brown has won the last three consecutive runnings of this race and we don’t feel the need to look any further than his two top contenders here. With her field high Beyer, Brisnet and RPR figures, race plays should lean heavily towards keying her on top and perhaps singling in multis. She enters third off the lay and off a bullet work at Saratoga on 8/3.
4- DONA BRUJA, 6-1 (103 Beyer, 98 BRIS, 109 RPR)- Last year’s runner up enters this race in a completely different spot in her form cycle, laid off since April as opposed to entering third off the lay after having won the local prep at the distance a year ago. She was 5th in that April start after strangely setting the pace in a change of tactics, a solid 3 lengths behind two of today’s favorites, Sistercharlie and Fourstarcrook. It’s also worrisome that she hasn’t run back to this distance since last year’s race; this is a lot to ask off the layoff as trainer Correas wins with just 11% of his starters off a similar lay. May be worth keeping off the board in this spot.
5- THAIS, 30-1 (88 Beyer, 87 BRIS, 105 RPR)- Would appear to be stretching her capability at this distance, as miler has run only once as long as 8.5f and posted her lowest career BRIS speed figure in doing so. Has the right trainer to win this race but this looks like the Brown rabbit.
6- OH SO TERRIBLE, 50-1 (82 Beyer, 82 BRIS, 84 RPR)- A well beaten 5th in the local prep before running back to finish 5th against optional claimers less than two weeks later. Appears to be aptly named, to say the least of being badly misplaced here.
7- FOURSTARCROOK, 9-2 (101 Beyer, 101 BRIS, 110 RPR)- In career form for Chad Brown as a six year old, mare has not missed the board in her last eight starts spanning the last two years and enters this event fresh off upsetting Sistercharlie, handing that one her only defeat of the year. It will be more difficult to duplicate that result with a more fair trip for her stablemate, but she looms one of the two Brown entries to be feared and will be more than double the odds of her stablemate.
8- INFLEXIBILITY, 8-1 (99 Beyer, 93 BRIS, 102 RPR)- Gets a slight cutback after being caught in the stretch at 10f in her last, but pace type still may be better suited to distances shorter than this. She’s winless in graded events in her career and settles in slightly below the cut in figures. Looking elsewhere.
9- ATHENA, 3-1 (97 Beyer, 97 BRIS, 110 RPR)- Impressive winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks at 10f in her first start off the ship. 3-year old has posted ascending RPR figures in her last three starts for Aidan O’Brien. She figures to take action here on connections alone (despite O’Brien’s winless record in this particular race), but to our eyes she looks like an underlay at these odds without another step forward in figures, which come in a notch below the preferred selections.
Picks:
1) Sistercharlie 9-5
2) Fourstarcrook 9-2
3) Daddy’s Little Darling 8-1
4) Athena 3-1
11- Arlington Million
1- CIRCUS COUTURE, 30-1 (Beyer N/A, BRIS N/A, 101 RPR)- Tough spot for a class jump in his first US start combined with a stretchout, as his longest race this year has come at 9f. Was beaten 8 lengths by today’s foe Century Dream at 8f, so we’d have to side with that one.
2- SPRING QUALITY, 8-1 (102 Beyer, 97 BRIS, 106 RPR)- Won Manhattan in blanket finish upset last out in first 10f try. Rapidly improving type demands respect in this spot, as he has head to head 1 length wins against two of today’s stingiest foes, Robert Bruce and Money Multiplier, within the last year. May need pace, but enters as the field’s only last out Grade I or Group 1 winner.
3- ALMANAAR, 5-1 (102 Beyer, 98 BRIS, 110 RPR)- Enters second off a long layoff for Chad Brown after an easy win in allowance company. 6-year old fits with these on back class, having beaten last year’s winner Beach Patrol at 9f last winter when that one was in top form, but hasn’t run beyond that distance since 2015. Closing type figures to appreciate the added ground here but lack of form at the distance and limited recent campaign leaves questions against these. Look for room underneath.
4- DIVISIDERO, 10-1 (100 Beyer, 93 BRIS, 115 RPR)- Won local prep for this at 9.5f from deep off the pace and had never won beyond 9f before that. Returns after a 7th place finish in last year’s event, needs pace.
5- CENTURY DREAM, 12-1 (Beyer N/A, BRIS N/A, 111 RPR) Euro shipper may find some class relief in his first US start, as Group 3 winner enters off a respectable 4th place finish in a Group 2 event at 8f. He stretches out here after having run his last four at 8-8.5f though, and was 11th in his only start at 10f this year. He does have one win at the distance from last year, but that came over soft turf.
6- CATCHO EN DIE, 20-1 (100 Beyer, 97 BRIS, 99 RPR)- Won what used to be the local prep for the American Ledger marathon when wiring the 12f Stars and Stripes in his last. He will cut back here and seems likely to see more company up front. Argentinian-bred has never hit the board in a Grade I event and may find this bunch a bit too classy.
7- TWENTY FOUR SEVEN, 30-1 (95 Beyer, 89 BRIS, RPR N/A)- Was 6th in the local Marathon prep and takes an enormous class leap here. Quite rightfully the longest shot in the field as he looks like an extreme outsider on paper having never won above the allowance level.
8- MONEY MULTIPLIER, 6-1 (103 Beyer, 103 BRIS, 112 RPR)- In career form for Chad Brown as a 6-year old.  Held off a closing Divisidero in 9f Monmouth Stakes two back before a runner up finish at 11f in his last against Grade I foes, posting a field high 103 Brisnet Speed figure for 2018 at or beyond 10f. Figures to be sitting on a big one third off the lay as he cuts back here, but feels more like an underneath type against Grade I company.
9- DEAUVILLE, 6-1 (100 Beyer, 95 BRIS, 112 RPR)- Will attempt this event for the third straight time after show finishes in the last two (he was our top selection last year and a late inclusion underneath led to an enormous trifecta score in 2016). Led late in the stretch last year but was caught without excuse and hasn’t won in his last ten starts; he may very well be allergic to winning. Has shown declining figures over his last four and while his best race puts him in the mix, he always seems to find one better. Form-wise he looked more appealing each of the last two years and wasn’t able to finish better than 3rd against weaker fields than this one; expecting a bit of regression here.
10- ROBERT BRUCE, 9-2 (101 Beyer, 97 BRIS, 106 RPR)- Had been undefeated in seven career starts before being bumped in the stretch and finishing 6th just 1 length from the winner, today’s foe Spring Quality, in his last. He had beaten that one at 9f before that however, finishing his final 1/8 in under 11 seconds, and with a cleaner trip, Chad Brown trainee stands to move up third off the lay, where he wins with 22% of his runners at that stage of their form cycle, at a distance he should relish. The feeling here is that BRIS Prime Power selection has been pointed to this and checks all the boxes in this spot. The pick.
11- OSCAR PERFORMANCE, 3-1 (104 Beyer, 117 RPR)- Tied world record time at 8f (1:31.1) when winning his last after a layoff. Boasts field high Racing Post Rating for his win over this track and distance in last year’s Secretariat where he won wire to wire in a time three lengths faster than the Million winner; this race has been kind in recent years to horses with experience over the track (The Pizza Man, Hardest Core, Beach Patrol). Versatile runner looms the one to beat even as he navigates the widest post of all and is a must-use on top as enters off a field high BRIS last race speed figure and also holds the top figure at the distance.
Picks:
1) Robert Bruce 9-2
2) Oscar Performance 3-1
3) Spring Quality 8-1
4) Money Multiplier 6-1

California Wine Country Tasting Recap

Posted July 18, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Vino

An abbreviated summer trip to the Bay Area and Healdsburg included visits to eight wineries where I tasted close to 50 wines. My 7-year old son Alex was along for the ride this time, so we decided to avoid Napa altogether and really focused on wineries that offered either seated tastings, outdoor areas, or both. This is becoming more and more of my preference these days anyway, as rising land costs in Napa have resulted in its wineries almost completely pricing out those of us seeking affordable tasting experiences. It’s gotten to the point that if I am paying $100 for two people to taste wine, I’d be better off just skipping the tasting and purchasing an entire bottle of whatever I desire, and then drinking it overlooking the vineyards, or back at my hotel pool.

The more relaxed pace allowed us to really zero-in on what I feel are the can’t miss tasting spots in these areas. And of course, as a result of the wineries we selected, this turned out to be a trip to wine country that focused almost entirely on Zinfandel and blends, and very little on Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasting the differences in terroir between the Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and Sonoma County Zinfandels was an eye-opening exercise, and as Cabernet prices continue to soar, these impressively structured and nuanced alternatives should be on the radar of every California wine lover. We discovered some delicious white wines as well, and spent less time at tasting bars and more time sitting outside overlooking the surrounding vineyards than ever before.

To briefly recap, our itinerary combined a list of old favorites with some new surprises.

  • The J. Lohr tasting room in downtown San Jose is always a great stop, as the tasting is complimentary, the service is friendly and knowledgeable, and the Gesture wines deliver consistent quality at the price-point.
  • Our first trip to Sarah’s Vineyard in Gilroy was a success, as we enjoyed our tasting outdoors along with a picnic lunch before ordering more bottles to share by the bocce ball courts. The quality of the Pinot Noir and Viognier here far exceeded expectations.
  • The relatively new Hartford Family tasting room on the Healdsburg square now offers outdoor tastings with very generous pours of its top notch Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, as well as wines by the glass. Despite the lack of vineyard views, I could sit here for an entire day and be perfectly content.
  • Limerick Lane is almost entirely empty every time I visit there and I cannot for the life of me figure out why, as they are making some of the most innovative and delicious wines in the area. The reservation-only tasting experience is very relaxed, intimate and informative.
  • I never miss Seghesio on any trip to Healdsburg, as it is the only winery I deem worthy of my wine club membership. We enjoyed an outdoor tasting for the first time ever with spectacular service before ordering a bottle to share. They remain the Zinfandel king of the area in my book.
  • The drive up Dry Creek Road is usually my favorite part of any trip to this area, and we opted to stop at Ferrari-Carano to enjoy a bottle of Chardonnay while seated over their sunny terrace this time around.
  • Every time I have ever been to Ridge, they haven’t been pouring outside because of excessive heat. We took advantage of the milder temperatures and enjoyed a seated outdoor tasting. You’d be surprised how great the views are here from the valley floor. Just watch out for the cactus at the host stand.
  • We made our last stop at Mauritson on the way out of town, and purchased a bottle to enjoy outside. (We really only wanted a glass, but that is apparently no longer an option here).
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The entire tasting crew (plus well-behaved kiddos) enjoying the day at Sarah’s Vineyard in Gilroy, where the Viognier 2016 and Pinot Noir Estate 2015 were big hits. 

Below, I’ve listed my top 10 scoring red and white wines tasted on the trip. As always, wines scored the same are listed in ascending order of price, as extra credit is given to wines that deliver equal quality at more affordable price points.

REDS

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While enjoying the always relaxing and spectacular tasting at Limerick Lane, we were asked if there was anything specific we would like to try. When I answered honestly, we enjoyed an unexpected treat, and the greatest wine of our entire trip!

  1. Limerick Lane 1023 Russian River Valley 2015, 95 Points, $60- Huge, explosive nose of red currant fruit and exotic spice. So soft and seamless on the palate entry, showing off a gorgeous body of dark raspberry, plum and licorice that runs along a backbone of smoke, white pepper spice and cinnamon. Milk chocolate notes creep in late, this is a blockbuster. Incredible elegance and an essay in balance as the finish lingers for minutes. Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache.
  2. Seghesio Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Cortina 2015, 94 Points, $40- Super elegant, with explosive dark raspberry and licorice flavors above briar and cracked pepper undertones. Creamy body shows a mocha note through the long finish. Seamless texture. Rocking in a stream of solid vintages for this single vineyard offering.
  3. Hartford Family Russian River Valley Zinfandel Old Vine 2016, 93 Points, $40- A near perfect expression of the varietal. Dark and brooding, with crackling briar and pepper spice above blackberry, black licorice and black plum. Loads of black pepper underneath. All in finesse and not overly ripe, a big and burly Zin. Savory herbs creep in late.
  4. Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2015, 93 Points, $45- Silky and ripe, with black cherry and wild berry flavors that give way to savory underbrush, wet slate and mocha. Incredibly polished and deep through the long finish.
  5. Hartford Family Zinfandel Russian River Valley Jolene’s Vineyard Old Vine 2015, 93 Points, $60- Exotic spice and baked raspberry pie aromas. Elegant but robust, with intense baking spice, cinnamon and cracked pepper that runs through the core of jammy red currant fruit, lingering long on a savory herb note. Delicious and expressive.
  6. Mauritson Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2015, 92 Points, $37- Deep and intense, with crackling briar weaving through rich, earth-driven blackberry that leads into peppery spice. Lingers with a firm tannic grip, but this is a mouthful, showing lively acidity throughout.
  7. Ridge Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Pagani Ranch 2015, 92 Points, $40- Huge, ripe red currant fruit aromas. Plump and plummy, with juicy baked plum pie and black cherry flavors gaining traction from subtle tobacco and pepper. Silky tannins, this is super bright, alive, and almost port-like.
  8. Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vine 2015, 92 Points, $40- Velvety, ripe and deep fruit flavors of dark raspberry and black cherry. Super elegant and streamlined through the delicate finish, feminine and refined, if perhaps a tad less complex than the Cortina and Rockpile.
  9. Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2015, 92 Points, $42- Explosive nose of ultra-ripe blackberry pie backed by savory herbs. Silky and refined, with tons of blackberry paste and black licorice at its core. Leads into white pepper spice through the very vibrant, alive finish.
  10. Sarah’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Clara Estate 2015, 92 Points, $45- Dark body but aroma is true to the varietal, with jammy raspberry and strawberry aromas. Ultra-soft texture, with understated dark raspberry, blackberry and black cherry flavors above a blast of white pepper and tobacco spice. Just super soft through the long finish. This feels very refined, for fans of the darker style of Pinot.

WHITES

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The impeccably manicured grounds at Ferrari-Carano have always been second to none. The winery recently added a terrace where you can enjoy this view while relaxing with a bottle, a choice we recommend above dealing with the often busy tasting room.

  1. Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Russian River Valley Tre Terre 2016, 91 Points, $28- Intense and concentrated, with golden delicious apple and poached pear flavors. Succulent and juicy, gaining complexity from its subtletly intertwined oak influences as it lingers on a toasty vanilla bean note. Smooth, driven and persistent, laced with a lovely nutmeg spice note.
  2. Sarah’s Vineyard Viognier Santa Clara Estate 2016, 91 Points, $32- Floral aromas of white peach leads into vibrant stone fruit flavors of peach and apricot. Creamy texture is laced with honey and floral spice through the long finish. Spiciness really defines this, one of the best American Viogniers I’ve tasted in years.
  3. Hartford Family Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Far Coast 2015, 91 Points, $65- Fresh and tropical, with floral notes of lemon-lime, nectarine and guava laced with creamy toffee spice that is understated and perfectly intertwined. Smooth, polished and balanced through the long finish.
  4. Sarah’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2015, 90 Points, $32- Citrus and toffee notes on the nose. Creamy body of golden apple, pear and vanilla bean. Rich, polished finish, with caramel spice lingering.
  5. Hartford Family Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Stone Cote Vineyard 2015, 90 Points, $65- Golden-bodied, with ruch golden apple and pear flavors above layers of toasty oak and vanilla bean. Picks up honeysuckle nuances as it lingers with oaky spice. Creamy, oily and thick throughout.
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Visiting wine country with a 7-year old didn’t slow us down at all! Alex was a perfect angel and really enjoyed the beauty of the vineyards. (At Mauritson)

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Courtney and I enjoying the top-billed Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Tre Terre 2016 on our second annual trip to California Wine Country. (She preferred the Viognier from Sarah’s Vineyard, which I scored the same, but it lost the tiebreaker based on its slightly higher price point.)

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I surpassed the mark 5000 wines tasted, evaluated, scored and recorded on this trip. Until next time! (Enjoying the game-changing Limerick Lane 1023 in front of the winery’s 108-year old Zinfandel vines).