St. Emilion Wine Tasting Recap

Posted June 13, 2019 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Vino

First of all, when making the wise decision to spend a few days in the lovely wine village of St. Emilion, we can highly recommend the accommodations at the charming Au Logis des Remparts, a centrally located yet secluded hotel within walking distance to all of the restaurants and attractions the village has to offer, and within driving distance to the recommended wineries. Complete with a pool, a parking lot, oversized rooms (we got upgraded!) and set just behind the vineyards of Chateau Villemaurine, we couldn’t have been happier with our stay here.

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While visiting this famous Bordeaux wine region, we obviously took the time to visit several wineries, some of which I’ve placed on a viticultural pedestal for years now. Like most of Europe, wine tastings in St. Emilion are quite different than what most Americans are used to on their normal visits to California or Oregon wine country. Visits are heavily structured and are almost always reserved by appointment only. The format generally consists of a tour of the estate and a brief discussion of its history followed by an explanation of the wine-making process that is usually accompanied by a trip through the vats, barrel-room and caves. Only after this educational overview does the tasting commence; there is no “belly-up and taste” option here. The tastings themselves are quite subdued, consisting of two or three small pours, only one of which represents the actual chateau being visited, as these estates almost always have sister properties or offshoot projects within the family that they are pouring alongside a premier growth. And, the vintage that they’ll be pouring will likely be a much older one and not necessarily the one you’re seeking, since the mentality in Bordeaux is to make wine worthy of cellaring and to showcase that quality to potential customers. Those eager to taste the highly acclaimed 2015 and 2016s will have to buy them by the bottle at this juncture.

Knowing this, I made it my top priority to locate and purchase a bottle of each of the three bottles of 2015 St. Emilion that earned a spot in last year’s Wine Spectator Top 100. We had planned to visit two of these vineyards, and I had tasted those two wines previously, but consuming an entire bottle of wine while residing within the same region where the grapes are grown is a different experience entirely. For one, wine always tastes better with context, and what better understanding could be gained than by visiting and standing in the very vineyard where the wine was born and understanding its history and process? Furthermore, the ability to drink the wine slowly over a day or two provides a more complex tasting evaluation, as the wine is able to be appreciated in its different forms as it evolves and opens. I was able to find the third bottle of wine on my list, which is not available in the United States nor available for public visitation, at a local wine shop across the street from our hotel:

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Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere 2015, 96 Points- An absolutely monstrous nose of smoke, tobacco and tar above deep, dark currants. Weightless texture considering its overall power, this explodes into a beam of rich, polished blackberry and dark plum that coats the palate, then evolves into creamier layers of toasty vanilla and mocha that expose smoky tobacco, smoldering charcoal and graphite notes through the endless finish. One of the greats, and should improve with time.

Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot 2015, 95 Points- Perfumey red currant nose shows vanilla bean and tobacco leaf influences. Very soft and creamy on the palate yet exploding with elegant, pure flavors of black cherry, wild raspberry and damson plum which evolves into deeper, thicker notes of blackberry and black licorice. Expressive fruit, lingering with exotic white pepper spice and sandalwood through the long finish. Firm tannic grip that will soften with time. This really deepens as it opens, lingering with a tarry edge.

Chateau Monbousquet 2015, 95 Points- Intense and complex on the nose, with tons of smoked meat nuances above its perfumey black currant aromas. Thick, bold and powerful body shows rich blackberry and dark raspberry fruit above layered elements of tobacco spice, mocha and charcoal, with a streak of iron running throughout. Long finish, gaining depth from its black licorice notes as spice lingers.

Here’s a look at each of the Chateaus we visited, and my highest scoring wine at each from its tasting session.

CHATEAU PAPE CLEMENT

We had time for one stop in Pessac-Leognan on our drive from Bordeaux to St. Emilion, and this was an obvious choice given the recent successes of the 2015 and 2016 vintages. Planted in 1300, it is the oldest vineyard in the region, and still bears the name of the Pope who acquired it at that time. There is a lot of history here, but the current winemaking team continues to create wines in a powerful, modern style.

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Chateau Pape Clement 2014, 93 Points- Perfumey and dark, with blackberry and black cherry fruit above juicy plumcake notes. This is very velvety and fruit-driven, uncommon for this vineyard, picking up licorice and Italian herbs through the finish. Gains complexity from tea leaf and baking spice notes which linger long; a deviation from the norm as all elements of loam, iron and smoke have dissipated from previous notes.

CHATEAU LA DOMINIQUE

This spectacularly modernized facility sits on the southern edge of Pomerol and borders the famed estate of Chateau Cheval Blanc, sharing the same plateau and terroir. In my estimation, this has long been an extremely underrated producer, and after visiting it was apparent how their superior technological advancements in the winemaking process, specifically in terms of sorting for ripeness, have helped them catch up to the bigger names in the region.

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Chateau La Dominique 2014, 94 Points- Complex on the nose, with deep cassis, cracked pepper and understated smoked meat nuances. Velvety on the palate with its perfumey blackberry and dark plum fruit that leads into a blast of charcoal, campfire smoke, black pepper and chalky mineral. Very intense and muscular through the long finish.

CHATEAU PAVIE

As the lone Premier Grand Cru Classe A Chateau that offers tours to the public, securing a private tour and tasting here was our number one priority on this tasting trip. (These reservations are highly competitive, so secure your spot early). The property itself is immaculate to an almost obsessive degree. One wine is poured and the experience is an expensive one at €45 per person, but the tour is informative and personalized and cannot be missed when visiting the region.

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Chateau Pavie 2008, 95 Points- Powerful aromas of minty cedar, vanilla bean and juicy cherry, showing black licorice and wet mineral notes. Silky body of explosive cherry and dark raspberry fruit that gains a blast of black licorice and anise, backed by a complex combination of tobacco, briar and clove spice with cocoa and dark chocolate underneath. Long, intense finish that is all well-balanced and layered with spices lingering longest of all. Super soft on the palate; finish goes on for minutes.

CHATEAU CANON LA GAFFELIERE

As my favorite producer in all of Bordeaux that I’ve been able to taste on a consistent basis over the years, suffice to say that setting foot in the vineyards of Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere was akin to the holy grail. The tour here was a large group, but we really enjoyed being able to walk through and stand in the actual vineyard and hearing detailed scientific explanations of the grafting process from our guide. This was a hardcore highlight for me, and they even had bottles of the 2015 for sale to help me complete my quest.

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Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere 2011, 94 Points-  Lots of smoke, mocha and black tea leaf on the nose, with subtle red plum aromas. Silky and elegant, with refined plum and pure red currant giving way to layered elements of graphite, smoked meat and mocha bean. Weightless on the palate, as tobacco spice kicks in through the long finish. A solid effort in a tough vintage.

CHATEAU BEAU-SEJOUR BECOT

This was by far the most elaborate, meticulous and expansive cave network we encountered, and it was truly mesmerizing. The sheer volume of wine stored below the ground at this estate is astonishing and surreal. From the standpoint of a tour experience, this was second to none for us. The wine is fantastic as well, and the tasting provides a full overview of the four different winemaking projects the family is currently involved in.

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Chateau Beau-Séjour Becot 2013, 91 Points- Aromas of crushed red cherries, red licorice, vanilla bean and barnyard. Silky, elegant and jammy, with cherry plum and red currant preserve flavors gliding effortlessly over undertones of sandalwood, iron and wet limestone. Understated elegance in a tough vintage, medium length.

CHATEAU FRANC-MAYNE

If your preference is for a more old-school, musky and moldy cave experience, this will be a highlight. Rustic and authentic, this Chateau is well worth seeking out for some of the best wines in the region in the €30 and under range. And the tree that guards the entrance to the cave is simply glorious.

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Chateau Franc Mayne 2011, 90 Points- Jammy and plummy on the nose, with wet limestone nuances. Velvety and mineral-driven, with wet rock and slate notes preceding juicy, violety purple fruits- black plum, fig and boysenberry, finishing in unison as this lingers with a graphite bite.

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France Dining Recap

Posted June 12, 2019 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Eats

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Since becoming such an enthusiast of wine in my mid 20s, it’s been a dream of mine to visit Bordeaux, a region which I believe produces the greatest wines in the world. Instead of home-basing out of downtown Bordeaux, I decided to focus on one specific region- St. Emilion on the right bank of the Gironde River. The easiest way to access Bordeaux is in and out of Paris, as high-speed trains travel between the two cities several times daily, and rental cars are easily available at the Bordeaux train station. One of the best parts of visiting France is enjoying the food, so my Sidekick Courtney (who would soon become my fiance) and I focused on authentic bistro style meals in both regions. The results of our culinary adventures follow below, and played a big part in making this a trip we will never forget. We can recommend dining at each of these destinations.

ST. EMILION

L’Envers du Decor- Bright, bustling and authentic bistro features a chalkboard menu as dishes change daily, and in English to boot. I opted for a rich appetizer of rabbit liver followed by a perfectly cooked and substantial filet of beef. We were dining here among the locals as news of the Notre Dame fire spread throughout the restaurant.

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La Terrasse Rouge- The restaurant at La Dominique vineyard offers an affordable three course tasting menu (€39, additional €25 for a three glass wine pairing) combined with expansive vineyard views that look north towards Pomerol. Adjacent first growth Cheval Blanc is visible as well. Lunch consisted of goat cheese ravioli and a succulent roasted breast of duck. Terrace seating is available in warmer months, but the main dining room smells incredible, and the views are the same.

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Lard et Bouchon- The entire St. Emilion region is defined by its limestone plateau, so dining inside of one of its quarries is a magical and mandatory experience. The food here was arguably the most flavor-intense of our entire trip. Innovative dishes like poached eggs in Bordelaise sauce with foie gras and duck breast topped with a foie gras cutlet in Perigeux sauce really hit the bull’s-eye.

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Atelier de Candale-The intimate restaurant at Chateau Candale offers a bargain prix fixe menu at lunch time (€26) in a gorgeous countryside vineyard setting. A crab meat and lobster bisque was followed by a perfectly medium-rare cooked and richly prepared filet of beef. Outdoor seating is available in warmer months, and the dining room features floor to ceiling windows to soak in the views.

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Les Delices Du Roy- This small and casual bistro is famous for its duck burger, so that’s what you order here. This is not ground duck, as you can plainly see, but instead consists of sliced duck breast and foie gras cutlets doused in a rich green peppercorn sauce. Knife and fork are advisable when consuming this juicy dish. An appetizer of rabbit terrine was the perfect prelude.

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La Table de Plaisance- This Michelin two star restaurant provided a unique and romantic ambiance to both execute a proposal and celebrate an engagement. The terrace looks out upon the Monolithic church with the city square and medieval town below. At €72 per person for three courses and two glasses of wine, this is a bargain special occasion lunch for such a highly acclaimed establishment. Highlights included a white asparagus soup and monkfish soaked in beets and wrapped in bacon.

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Chai Pascal- Cozy and laid back wine bar was the perfect finale to our St. Emilion adventure, as the friendly servers delivered substantial portions of rustic bistro classics at affordable prices. My starter of pork terrine could have been a meal in itself, but I made room to finish the crispy, gamey confit leg of duck.

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PARIS

Le Procope- Always a lively destination for a late night dinner on Rue l’Ancienne Comedie, Paris’ oldest cafe is always a mandatory stop when visiting the city, specifically for its famous Coq Au Vin served in a cauldron.

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Les Deux Magots- No cafe crawl can be considered complete without a trip to this famous literary rendez-vous next to the Saint-Germain des Pres church. It served as the perfect first meal off the plane for weary travelers as the confit duck leg served with crispy potatoes really hit the spot.

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Polidor- Hemingway’s favorite establishment still draws a packed house in a noisy, bustling setting. They go to extreme measures to maintain the antique quality of the place; for example, the restroom consists of a single hole in the ground behind a door (not pictured). The service is friendly, if a bit frantic and inattentive, but the Beef Bourguignon with mashed potatoes lived up to its billing.

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Le Petit Pontoise- A charming little restaurant off the south bank of the Seine that provides a €23 two course lunch menu along with friendly service. We sat outside on a narrow sidewalk as I started with a pork mousse terrine followed by a sliced duck breast in peppercorn sauce served with roasted potatoes and carrots.

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Le Trumilou- Finding decent dining in the touristy area around the Notre Dame can be challenging, but you could do worse than this location set just north of the Seine. They offer a two course lunch for €20, which culminated in a simply prepared roast beef .

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Cafe Pont Neuf- We enjoyed an impromptu and leisurely Easter brunch here at this centrally located spot before heading to the airport, and I finally got my leg of lamb.

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Au Revoir!

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Belmont Day Late Pick 4 Analysis

Posted June 8, 2019 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

BELMONT DAY PICK 4 PICKS AND ANALYSIS

Tacitus

8- Woody Stephens, 7f, 4:04

1) Honest Mischief (6-1)- Chad Brown charge owns the best Brisnet speed at distance (108) and field high Beyer at the distance (97) for his maiden win last out. Makes his third career start and has room to improve from a ground saving post; can sit in the second flight of runners and get first run on what figures to be a hotly contested pace. Best bet of the day on a colt who may have unlimited upside.

2) Mind Control (5-2)- Deserving favorite draws outside the main speed here and enters having won two of his three 2019 starts, and was a Grade 1 winner at the distance as a two-year-old. Won the Grade 3 Bay Shore last out and earned a Beyer that ties for the best here at the distance (97); fits well in this spot and must be used on top in all wagers.

3) Hog Creek Hustle (20-1)- The lone Brisnet “S” designation in a field full of speed merits a look on that attribute alone as he cuts back to the distance where he has won before following a respectable 2nd at 8f in the Pat Day last out. Has shown ascending Brisnet speed figures in his last three races while running in graded company; usable on top at hefty odds.

4) Burracho (15-1)- Winner last out at this distance beat a salty field on Derby day and now steps up in class, but has shown three straight ascending Brisnet speed figures.

Try to beat:

Complexity (4-1)- Talented Chad Brown runner has a Grade 1 win at 8f over this track as a two-year-old but picks a tough spot for his first start of the year after more than seven months on the shelf as he draws inside the main speed and will likely be forced into a hotly contested pace early.

9- Met Mile, 8f, 4:46

1) Firenze Fire (4-1)- A perfect 3/3 at Belmont, one-turn specialist stretches out over his favorite track having won here at 6f in his last. Ran the best race of his career over this track and distance when winning the Dwyer, earning a field high 8f Beyer (107). Looks poised to lay back off the pace and set up his late move in a likely speed-heavy race.

2) McKinzie (5-2)- By far the horse to beat on paper as he cuts back following a triumphant score in the 8.5f Alysheba, where he posted speed figures that tower over these (109 Beyer, 112 Brisnet). There’s not much to knock here besides the fact that he’s never raced at Belmont and draws inside the speed; must-use on top in any case.

3) Prince Lucky (12-1)- Appears a bit overlooked here after a dreadful outing last out over a sloppy track, but he’d won three in a row before that race. Pletcher and Velazquez team up for a colt that owns the highest Beyer and Brisnet speed figures at this distance in the field this year (106, 106) for his February win in the Hal’s Hope; a run back to that race puts him squarely in the mix at long odds, and he’s one of just three here to have won at Belmont.

4) Thunder Snow (5-1)- Two-time Dubai World Cup winner has raced well at Belmont and has tactical speed, but has never won a race in the United States, and all of his best races have come at 10f. The feeling here is that the 8f distance may be a tad sharper than ideal for this likely race shape but he deserves respect on class alone.

Try to beat: The sprinters.

Mitole (3-1) and Promises Fulfilled (12-1)- Horses cutting back tend to fare better than those stretching out in this race, and these two happen to both be “E” designations who figure to be on the motor from the start. Mitole just won at 7f in his first attempt beyond 6f; we opposed him there and will do the same here on principle in a tougher spot. Promises Fulfilled is perhaps a bit more appealing as he’s won at 8.5f before, but that was over a year ago against less pace and far inferior foes.

10- Manhattan, 10f, 5:36

1) Bricks and Mortar (7-5)- Besides the fact that he’s won 8 of his last 10 races, with the two losses coming by a combined 1.5 lengths, what’s been most impressive has been the way he’s won. The glacial paces he closed into in winning his last two (1:15 for the 3/4) usually mean death for off the pace types, but he gobbled up ground both times and simply refused to lose. Catches some added ground here as he’s never gone 10f, but it seems that should only help based on his last two and also that his highest career figures came in his longest race at 9.5f (107 Beyer, 106 Brisnet).  A highly viable single every time he runs until someone beats him.

2) Raging Bull (10-1)- Sneaky Chad Brown closer has caught soft ground in 5 of his last 6, but the one race of those over firm came in the 9f Hollywood Derby where he won convincingly and earned competitive figures (97 Beyer, 104 Brisnet). The move back to firmer ground combined with the added distance could hit him right between the eyes at a price as he owns the highest Brisnet Late Pace figure of 112. Runs third off the lay and adds blinkers; Brown wins with 25% of his runners after making that equipment change.

3) Robert Bruce (6-1)- Our Arlington Million champion has been somewhat of a forgotten horse since that win, having missed the board entirely in his last two. He’s been running on soft turf and distances both longer than shorter than this one, however, and a return to firm turf here at the same distance as the Million which seems to be his sweet spot could inspire an improved effort second off the lay for Chad Brown, who wins with 25% of his runners in that stage of their form cycle.

4) Channel Maker (9-2)- Inconsistent type cuts back to 10f after winning his last over this turf course, earning competitive speed figures (106 Beyer, 103 Brisnet) at 11f. His best race puts him right in the mix but the feeling here is that he may be more effective going longer than this; was easily beaten by the top selection three back and only three wins in the last ten starts came at 11f or longer.

Try to beat:

Olympico (6-1)- Chad Brown holds a heavy hand here but we upgrade the runners moving from soft to firm ground who have been losing over the off going rather than the opposite; his last nine races have all come over good to soft turf so it’s fair to wonder whether he moves down over firmer ground.

Quarbaan (8-1)- Fits on figures but has lost ground in the stretch of both of his last two after leading and getting ideal trips; not sure he wants to go this far.

11- Belmont Stakes, 12f, 6:37

1) Tacitus (9-5)- Favorite checks off a lot of boxes in this spot, as sire Tapit has won three of the last five editions of this race, and colts to skip the Preakness after contesting the Derby have won four of the last five where a Triple Crown wasn’t on the line. Additionally, he was the only colt in the Derby to gain ground on the winner in the stretch after racing within five lengths of the pace at the second call, so the added distance should be a positive. Still owns the best Brisnet speed figure of the group (103) for his 9f Wood Memorial score; the one to beat, albeit at short odds.

2) Tax (15-1)- Didn’t do a lot of running when 14th in the Derby, but he had excuses from an inside post that didn’t allow him to be comfortably positioned near the pace as preferred, and the sloppy track didn’t seem to do any favors either. With a pedigree that suggests he can run all day, the combination of tactical speed and grinding style should suit quite well in this race third off the lay. With all of the steam on the new shooters, it’s worth mentioning that he defeated Sir Winston by 5 lengths earlier this year in the 9f Withers. The Timeform figure he earned in defeat in the Wood Memorial (120) is second only to the Preakness winner, and if we like Tacitus to win, we have to like him at least a little bit coming narrowly beaten out of the same race.

3) Intrepid Heart (10-1)- Primarily a pedigree and pace play, as sire Tapit has been responsible for three of the last five winners of this race, and damsire Touch Gold won it to deny a triple crown attempt. A stumble at the start cost him over this track last out when 3rd in the Peter Pan, but the addition of blinkers and a less taxing race shape should increase tactical type’s chances. Lightly raced and facing Grade 1 company for the first time (and graded company for just the second time), but has shown increasing Brisnet speed figures in his three career starts is eligible to improve again third off the lay for Todd Pletcher.

4) Sir Winston (12-1)- Earned the highest Beyer in the field when 2nd over this track in the Peter Pan (100). Deep closer is rapidly improving but will need to stay in touch with the leaders in a race that is not traditionally kind to that style of running, as well as turn tables of 9 combined lengths against the top two selections. The transitive property doesn’t mean much in horse racing, but it’s still worth mentioning. He’s never won a dirt race and chooses a tough spot to earn his first, but the added distance could be the key for a colt who is rapidly improving and is bred to run true routes, by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again and out of an Afleet Alex mare, one of just two damsires in this field to have won this race.

Try to beat: The Preakness colts.

War of Will (2-1)- Admittedly a warrior, but draws an outside post here and will have to track the speed while losing ground all the way around following two very tough races over the last five weeks. 12f may be further than he wants to go under those circumstances. The feeling is that the top four selections are better colts than any that ran in the Preakness, and all four have run higher Brisnet tops. He rode a golden rail in the Preakness and the setup doesn’t appear to set up as kindly here against a tougher group.

Bourbon War (12-1)- Our Preakness selection removes blinkers after that experiment backfired, but we are through endorsing him for anything more than a spot underneath the superfecta at this point. Grinders without tactical speed are not generally successful in this race, although he does round out the Tapit contingent.

Everfast (15-1)- Continues to destroy exacta bets by coming in second at long odds thanks to perfect setups, but that trend ends here in a race that doesn’t favor his drop back early style. (He was 22 lengths back at the start of the Preakness. 22!)

Pick 4 Bet:

Honest Mischief, Mind Control, Hog Creek Hustle/

Firenze Fire, McKinzie, Prince Lucky/

Bricks and Mortar/

Tacitus, Tax, Intrepid Heart, Sir Winston

Kentucky Derby Undercard Picks

Posted May 4, 2019 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

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6- Humana Distaff, 7f, 12:13

1) Spiced Perfection (7-2)- Winner of three of last four at this distance, and the other was a 2nd place finish by a nose, so she’s really found her niche at 7f and is well-aimed in this spot. Received a brilliant ride from Castellano who retains the mount here when winning the Grade 1 Madison, sitting just off the pace behind today’s foe Amy’s Challenge and pouncing late, earning career high speed figures (100 Brisnet, 96 Beyer). Should be even sharper second off the lay for Peter Miller as her figs have been ascending over her last three.

2) Marley’s Freedom (7-5)- BRIS Prime Power selection cuts back to 7f in her third start off the lay for Baffert, who wins with 27% of his runners in that stage of their form cycle. Owns the best speed at the distance for her score last summer on Travers day (103 Brisnet, 100 Beyer) and also has a 7f win over dirt labeled “good” at Santa Anita (97 Brisnet, 99 Beyer). Fired a bullet at Churchill on 4/25, the fastest of 25 workers; all systems go, a must-use on top.

3) Amy’s Challenge (4-1)- Front-running type took them as far as she could last out while seeking her first win beyond 6f, but couldn’t quite hold off the top selection. With a bullet work under her belt from 4/27, the fastest of 79 that day, she should be keen to make the lead again, but the fear is that there’s enough pace signed on to keep her honest, and she may meet a similar fate beyond her ideal distance of 6f.

4) Mia Mischief (12-1)- Held her own against this group last year, as she defeated Talk Veuve To Me to win over this track and distance on Derby weekend (98 Brisnet, 97 Beyer) and ran within a neck of Amy’s Challenge at 6f. She’s run twice over muddy tracks this year, finishing 1st and 2nd, and is 5-2-2-0 lifetime at Churchill. Should be involved early third off the lay for Steve Asmussen, who wins with 22% of his starters in that form stage.

7- Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, 8f, 12:55

1) Proctor’s Ledge (5-1)- Defending winner of this race (99 Brisnet, 96 Beyer) returns to her ideal distance a bit under the radar after having experimented and failed going longer. She still owns the best speed figures at 8f in the field from the narrow runner-up finish on Belmont Day that followed that score (100 Brisnet, 99 Beyer), although she’s had three declining figures since then. Wasn’t disgraced when beaten a neck for the win by today’s foe Valedictorian in her last when cutting back to this distance from 10f after a nearly six month layoff, and will be sharper for this; daughter of Ghostzapper hasn’t been out of the exacta in her last three 8f starts.

2) Precieuse (3-1)- Chad Brown on turf can’t be ignored, especially with the girls, and he has this one in form. BRIS Prime Power selection exits a half length win over today’s foe Valedictorian at this distance after a 7 month layoff (98 Brisnet, 97 Beyer). Has another shorter layoff to contend with here, but Brown wins with 27% of his runners off a 46-90 day rest and this one in particular appears to run well fresh, and has handled surfaces ranging from soft to firm.

3) Valedictorian (6-1)- There’s little separating the top three here based on recent head to head results, and she merits inclusion based on race shape considerations. In a race with no “E” designations, she’s the only one to have wired a race, which has happened in two of her last three, and also shows a wire to wire win over yielding turf from last year at 8.5f. Looms potential lone speed, dangerous at this distance which hits her right between the eyes, although the wide post is a concern.

4) Environs (8-1)- The “other Chad” looks to be potentially ignored here, and that might be a mistake. Stakes winner in France won her stateside bow at this distance in allowance company and earned a 94 Brisnet figure; fits here with a move forward in her second off the lay for a trainer that wins with 24% of his runners in that spot. Leaving Chad Brown out of races like these in multis is generally not wise.

8- Churchill Downs Stakes, 7f, 1:45

1) Whitmore (4-1)- When we see a race that sets up with this much pace, the first thing we ask ourselves is who the best closer is at the distance. It’s true that Whitmore has been racing closer to the pace of late but his best races emerge from more of a stalking trip, and consistent six year-old continues to run his race every time out; he hasn’t missed the exacta in his last seven races, and he’s run triple digit Beyers in 8 of his last 10. He ran a great race when 2nd over this track at 6f in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and owns the top Beyer in the field at the distance (104) from last year’s Forego. That’s appealing in a race full of types that may prefer a panel shorter. It’s true that he was no match for likely favorite Mitole in his last, but that one has never raced beyond 6f and will meet pace pressure the likes of which he hasn’t seen before, and he’s one that we will try to keep him off the board entirely.

2) Do Share (10-1)- His last race may fall into the category of “show me that again before I believe it”, but at this price it’s worth finding out if he can. Deep closer finds a spot here that fits his style perfectly following a career best where he saw his high Brisnet speed figure at 6f explode from 105 to 116, which by far tops the field. Enters off a long layoff and has lost head to head to some of these, and while he does have a win against weaker at 7f, his closing kick hasn’t been duplicated beyond 6f; a head scratcher for sure, but must be used if there is any chance his last was real, especially as he figures to be flying from off the pace.

3) Promises Fulfilled (4-1)- Our BC Sprint selection from last year makes his first stateside start following a 4th place finish in the world class Dubai Golden Shaheen. He’s the only pace colt we have any faith in to hang around for a piece, as he’s far more battle tested than Mitole and has indeed won at 7f. But the feeling is that he might simply be better at 6f and that he may need this race to regain his top form after the Dubai trip. An interesting speed figure paradox we stumbled upon today: both he and Whitmore covered 7f in and identical 1:21.2 on Travers Day last August in separate races. Beyer awarded the top selection a figure five points higher, while Brisnet, perhaps more logically, awarded equal figures (102).

4) Majestic Dunhill (30-1)- Bombs away underneath, playing for a complete pace meltdown. George Weaver trainee has run four straight times at this distance, and has posted Brisnet Late Pace figures above 100 in three of them; holds the best average closing number and makes sense to blow up the trifecta at a price if the pace sets up as we imagine.

9- American Turf, 8.5f, 2:37

1) Social Paranoia (10-1)- In a race that sets up as fairly paceless, Pletcher entry figures to sit a ground saving trip near the lead as the only colt in the field to have run a triple digit Brisnet E1 Pace figure. He takes a class leap having just broken his maiden in his first start of the year after five unsuccessful attempts last year, but if the figure earned in his last at this distance is to be believed (95 Beyer, 97 Brisnet) they are all running for 2nd, as no other foe has broken the 90 Beyer threshold. Morning line price seems unlikely to hold, but half of that seems sufficient.

2) Avie’s Flatter (6-1)- Winner of last three dating back to last year, all at distances at or beyond this one, including the field’s only win over yielding turf last October, where he posted a competitive 92 Brisnet (81 Beyer) speed figure holding off today’s foe Henley’s Joy as that one charged late.

3) Henley’s Joy (8-1)- Encountered traffic in both of his last two turf starts but rallied strongly in both to just miss, son of Kitten’s Joy could work out a better trip at a price here and fits on form going back to his 8f win in last year’s Pulpit Stakes (94 Brisnet). Ran poorly in only start on off-going.

4) A Thread of Blue (3-1)- Perfectly logical favorite draws the rail and should show some speed early. Winner of last three owns the field’s second best speed figures at the distance (95 Brisnet, 88 Beyer) but hasn’t raced in over two months; may need a sharpener, and lost only race over yielding turf. Include in multis but doesn’t jump off the page at this price in a wide open race.

5) Seismic Wave (8-1)- Closing type stretches out for Bill Mott third off the lay following a 9f Stakes win. We don’t really like Bill Mott third off the lay, but will include son of Tapit reluctantly in multis. Shows ascending Brisnet figures in all four career races but moves up in class here.
10- Pat Day Mile, 8f, 3:28

1) Last Judgment (5-1)- This race is a shitshow, but hopefully not on par with last year’s result, which saw slop transform the race into a catastrophic win by a colt named Funny Duck that destroyed the Pick 4 dreams of the entire planet. We digress. At 8f on the dirt, eager and ambitiously placed speed colts will ensure a wicked pace up front, so again we look for a closer with upside, and land on this lightly raced Pletcher trainee, who cuts back from 8.5f after winning in optional claiming company. Drawn wide in 14, he may be slightly overlooked, but the feeling is that he wouldn’t be entered here if he couldn’t win (read: wasn’t GOING to win). His Brisnet Late Pace Last Race figure (99) is best in the field after having run at least a 75 E1, and that is the stat that we are banking on here.

2) Instagrand (6-5)- By far the most likely winner, but far from a lock or an advisable single in our eyes. The two “Ps”- pace and price- render this race worthy of a spread, but son of Into Mischief must be used off his field high figures at this distance (100 Brisnet, 93 Beyer). Provides some security in this spot as his form towers over these, but far from a sure thing, especially at these odds. He’ll have company on the lead, including Mr. Money Bags, who doesn’t appear to be bred for this distance.

3) Durkin’s Call (15-1)- Rail draw can’t hurt, and neither can experience… Bill Mott charge has raced his last five at this distance and has gone 3-1-1, winning his last two (89 Brisnet, 87 Beyer). A class leap looms large here but he has finished races well, and he is the only colt in the field to have won twice at this distance in 2019. Versatile runner runs off a layoff here but can be competitive fresh.

4) Frolic More (20-1)- How about a closer that is also a horse for the course? Son of More Than Ready is 3-1-1 at Churchill and gets a cutback following a 90 Brisnet figure, which is competitive here. Still has just a maiden win to his credit, however, and that came at 7f, but he did earn a 94 Brisnet figure when 2ndover an off track at 8f three back, and was flattered when the colt that beat him just 1.5 lengths came back to win the Lexington.

*** We could make a case for nearly anyone here. Dream Maker, specifically, continues to puzzle, as he works bullets and then refuses to run when the gates open; he’s burned us one too many times at this point to play again despite our affinity for Monarchos, but would be no surprise to win this outright. Also, Hog Creek Hustle offers value at 30-1 in the event of a full blown pace meltdown, and Captain Von Trappe is the other colt to win at 8f this year. Dumph and Mr. Money are also appealing on the cutback, and Mr. Money Bags could be any kind despite the fact this will be a massive stretchout for him. ALL key is in play here with a likely even money favorite, which isn’t great news.***

11- Turf Classic, 9f, 4:25

1) Bricks and Mortar (5-2)- Son of Giant’s Causeway should be the star of the entire day, and would be an absolute steal for the win at these odds, as he is the most likely winner of the sequence by far in our eyes, and holds the largest BRIS Prime Power advantage (+12.9). The race doesn’t appear to be loaded with speed to set up his late move, but look at how impressively Irad Ortiz sat close to a slow pace in his last and was able to overtake the leader. The fractions of :51 and 1:15.1 he closed into are almost impossible to imagine regardless of the lack of speed, and the defection of Brisnet E designation Prime Attraction from the Alysheba back into this race ensures at least a target to run at. Simply put, his figures tower above these (106 Brisnet, 107 Beyer), and he’s won over both yielding and firm turf. A very logical single in a sequence where one is badly needed, and it merits mention that this “S” designation still holds the highest average E1.

2) Synchrony (8-1)- He was our pick in this race last year, when he ran out of ground chasing a very slow pace and finished 3rdover yielding turf. He is the only other runner to have duplicated triple digit Beyers at or beyond the distance outside of the top selection, but considering the similarities in their running style, it is very hard to imagine this six-year-old turning the tables given the fact that they both chased the same slow pace in their last.

3) Breaking The Rules (15-1)- Sneaky type won his last two races of 2018 before a three month layoff, and his return at the shortened 8f distance did not result in a win, but he was gaining ground late to finish 2nd. Son of War Front out of an AP Indy mare merits a look in this spot as a mid-pack runner in a race loaded with what appear to be deep closers; if the pace is a crawl, he can have a say here from a more tactical position.

4) Ticonderoga (8-1)- We’d be remiss to not include a Chad, so this is the one. To view this son of Tapit as a win candidate is likely a bit of a stretch, but deep closer will be flying late, and shows ascending Brisnet speed figures over his last four races dating back to last May.

***We are generally not a fan of the 8f Makers at Keeneland form, as all of the runners that exit it appeared to be losing ground at a shorter distance. Markitoff and Prime Attraction will not get away with easy fractions given that they are here together, so both will be tossed. Next Shares deserves respect but the feeling is that he is better suited to 9f races, and his recent form has been in decline. ***

Kentucky Derby 2019 Picks And Analysis

Posted May 2, 2019 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

Below, our Derby picks and analysis for every colt in the field are organized by projected running style. Included are the sire and damsire for each, as well as the top Beyer and Brisnet speed figure earned beyond 8f as a three-year-old, and the Tomlinson Distance Rating, which attempts to quantify 10f distance pedigree. The defection of morning line favorite Omaha Beach, who was going to be our selection, leaves the race in unique shape from a historical perspective for two reasons:

  • There are now no colts in the race designated as an “E” by Brisnet. This designation attempts to predict a colt’s running style, and in this case indicates early speed. This is somewhat of a rarity, having occurred only 4 times in the last 18 editions of the race. Historically, this would seem to indicate a slower than usual pace, but the fact that all of the main speed is all drawn next to each other on the inside adds a bit of a wrinkle to that assessment.
  • There is now only one colt in the field to have earned a triple digit Beyer figure around two turns. This is also extremely rare, having occurred just once since the inception of these figures in 1992; that race was won by 21-1 longshot Animal Kingdom. The average top Beyer earned by the winner before the race over that time has been 103, and no colt here equals that figure. That has happened only twice in the last 27 years (2010, 2017), and implies an extreme lack of separation among the top contenders.

Improbable-Work-CD-042219-001

 PACE:

#7 MAXIMUM SECURITY (New Year’s Day/ Anasheed), 8-1

101 Beyer, 102 Brisnet, 267 Tomlinson

Pros: Undefeated in four career starts, son of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion New Year’s Day wired the Florida Derby after being allowed to set slow fractions on the lead (:48.4/ 1:12.4), and then powered home in a stunning :35.96 for the final 3/8. That’s the fastest in the field, the first sub :36 9f prep fraction since the Blue Grass was still run on synthetic in 2011 and the fastest on dirt in over two decades. That effort earned him a 123 Brisnet Late Pace Figure, which is the fastest figure ever for a Derby prep. Somewhat amazingly, he is the only colt in the field to post a triple digit Beyer around two turns and he shows ascending Brisnet speed figures over his four starts. His pedigree is a bit of an unknown quantity but he does get bonus points for having Mr. Prospector in his immediate sire line, and his female family seems fairly laden with stamina influences, as damsire Anasheed boasts a 7.7 AWD. Won a 6f race over a muddy track, one of just two colts to win on off-going.

Cons: Having only four career starts, he has some history to buck, as only three colts in the last 100 years have won the race without having run at least five times. However, all three came in the last decade, so perhaps trends are changing. More specifically, he has extremely limited route experience, having run just once beyond 7f. For the sake of comparison, of the aforementioned three that won this race with four or fewer career starts, Animal Kingdom had run beyond that distance all four times, Big Brown had done so three times, and Justify had done so twice. For a front-running type, it’s fair to question how brilliant his speed truly is, considering he has never run a Brisnet E1 pace figure higher than 90. Will he be able to duplicate his powerful finish after facing real pressure on the lead? His sire doesn’t have much of a sample size in terms of measuring distance pedigree, but Tomlinson and AWD (6.7) numbers are on the low side.

Conclusion: In a race that figures to be somewhat devoid of early speed relative to previous Derbys, he stands to benefit from a tactical edge as the likely pacesetter drawn centrally and outside most of the other speed. While many will dismiss his powerful closing move in the Florida Derby based on how slowly that race was run early, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle- many preps are run slowly, and we still have never seen numbers like that, so it has to at least count for something. Still, the four fastest final 3/8 times and Brisnet Late Pace figures in the field did all come out of that race, so handicappers would be wise to approach that data with some uncertainty. However, he may offer inflated odds based on that as well as the fact that he ran in a 16k claiming race when he broke his maiden (more than a few horsemen are likely wishing they had forked over that dough). The feeling here is that this one could be any kind and offers upside potential that makes him a must use on top, at least defensively. A trendy angle that is beginning to emerge involves the idea that he either wins the race or misses the board entirely, with little room in between; we will not fall into this trap, as it stands to reason that he could surely lead most of the way and get nailed on the wire. This general mentality also seems to indicate value for him in the 2nd and 3rd slots in exotics relative to his win odds.

#1 WAR OF WILL (War Front/ Sadler’s Wells), 15-1

94 Beyer, 96 Brisnet, 368 Tomlinson

Pros: Held in high regard after breaking his maiden over a sloppy Churchill track in his first try on dirt, Mark Casse trainee won his first two starts of 2019 before an injury in the Louisiana Derby caused him to fade to 9th in his last. From a pedigree standpoint, checks in with a powerful Tomlinson, and owns the highest damsire AWD in the field (10.7). Fired a bullet 4f work over the track in :47.3, the best of 73 that day, and had worked equally well at Keeneland before that; Casse has already said that he will be sent straight to the lead from the rail post.

Cons: We never like to see a colt encounter obstacles in the run up to this race. The six week layoff since his last race is enough to overcome (only two colts in the last 90 years have won off a similar lay) without having to worry about an injury; now, despite the strong pattern of works, he may be at a fitness disadvantage after not getting what he needed out of that race. His speed figures never really did jump off the page even when he was healthy and winning and remain a cut below here. Closing fractions of :39.89 and :13.94 at 9f would make him a virtual toss if he didn’t have excuses, but he only posted an 83 Brisnet Late Pace figure in his prior race when healthy. A colt that finished worse than 4th in its final prep hasn’t won this race since 1957, excuse or not. Draws the dreaded #1 post, a particularly tough spot this year with all of the speed nearby to his outside, which will force jockey Tyler Gaffalione’s hand early.

Conclusion: One of the early favorites in the future pools this winter, he appears to have a lot of catching up to do to make an impact here. Supporters who choose to stick with him will be well compensated by the price, but his talent never suggested that he is capable of overcoming a setback like this to pull the upset from the post of death. Passing.

#6 VEKOMA (Candy Ride/ Speightstown), 15-1

94 Beyer, 101 Brisnet, 313 Tomlinson

Pros: Scored a front-running win in the 9f Blue Grass, earning a competitive 101 Brisnet speed figure and 119 Timeform rating. Sire Candy Ride was a winner at 10f and a descendent of Mr. Prospector, a sire line that has won more than half of the last 27 editions of this race, and that side of the pedigree seems to account for the relatively strong Tomlinson Distance Rating. Holds BRIS Prime Power selection designation and if the track ends up sloppy, his 469 Wet Track Tomlinson tops the field.

Cons: Despite triple digit Brisnet E1 and E2 pace figures in his Blue Grass win, he didn’t close strongly, finishing his final 3/8 in only :39.33 and his final 1/8 in :13.45. Only one colt in the last 28 years has won this race after finishing the final 1/8 of his 9f dirt prep  more slowly than :13.07. The 84 Brisnet Late Pace figure he earned there is a huge cause for concern, as just one colt in the last 20 years has won this race with a figure below 95 in his 9f prep. This doesn’t appear to be an anomaly either, as he has never run a Brisnet Late Pace figure above 100. With only four career starts, he has seasoning questions to contend with. Out of a Speightstown mare (6.5 AWD, second lowest damsire number in the field), it’s worth wondering if he isn’t better suited to 8-9f races. The Beyer figure he earned in the Blue Grass (94) appears to disagree with the Brisnet (101) and Timeform (119) figures, and the strength of that race leaves something to be desired. He isn’t the prettiest mover, to put it mildly, and may have benefited from a speed-favoring track that day.

Conclusion: It’s hard to get past the combination of the speed-oriented bottom of the pedigree and the historically slow closing fractions. Trainer George Weaver doesn’t excel third off the lay either, winning with just 15% of his runners in that spot, and we like others better in that stage of their form cycle. Should be part of the early pace from an inside post and fade off the board.

#2 TAX (Arch/ Giant’s Causeway), 20-1

96 Beyer, 102 Brisnet, 338 Tomlinson

Pros: Boasts arguably the most well-rounded pedigree in the field as the only runner showing both sire and damsire AWD above 7.7, and combines this with a solid Tomlinson. He’s run three times at 9f, a rarity in this day in age for a Derby entrant, and earned three 100+ Brisnet Speed Figures each time at that distance, which no other runner can claim. Finished 2nd last out in the Wood Memorial off a two month layoff after briefly leading in the stretch, earning a solid 102 Brisnet speed figure; should be more fully cranked in this spot for trainer Danny Gargan, who wins with 22% of his starters second off the lay. Going back to last year, the 103 Brisnet Speed figure he ran in the 9f Remsen in defeat is equal to Game Winner’s number when victorious in the BC Juvenile, and is tied for the top figure here around two turns. The 121 Timeform speed figure (adjusted for trip) he earned when 2nd in the Wood Memorial is also the highest in the field.

Cons: He enjoyed a favorable trip in the Wood and still couldn’t get the job done late, earning just a 93 Brisnet Late Pace figure. He finished slightly better than that when winning the Withers (96), but still lost ground in the stretch as he has in all three 9f tries, and this tendency to hang late in races gives pause to the idea that he will relish the added ground here, despite the strong pedigree. Additionally, the Beyer folks don’t view his races quite as kindly, as he tops out at a 96 for his Withers win. Connections can’t be super thrilled by his post position, as he’s pinned down on the rail inside of most of the speed and will have to be involved early to avoid playing bumper cars.

Conclusion: Never off the board in five career starts, consistent type has the pedigree and the bottom to get a piece of this, and should benefit from being tactically placed potentially saving ground here in a race expected to have moderate fractions up front. Worth consideration for the underneath spots in exotics as a potential bomber; it’s not often one finds the colt tied for the highest Brisnet and Timeform speed figures sent off at these odds. Value play.

#4 GRAY MAGICIAN (Graydar/ Johannesburg), 50-1

N/A Beyer, N/A Brisnet, 227 Tomlinson

Pros: Secured entry via a runner-up finish overseas in the UAE Derby after running wide most of the way in his first attempt beyond 8f and best career race to date. Forwardly placed type has tactical speed and some favorable pedigree on the top, descending from Mr. Prospector.

Cons: No colt has ever won this race after using the UAE Derby as a prep, and he didn’t even win a weaker than usual edition of that race. He took three tries to break his maiden and didn’t run competitive speed figures while contesting three straight races at 8f after doing so, topping out at 93 per Brisnet and 80 per Beyer (has no available speed figures beyond a mile). Finds a tough spot to seek his first graded stakes win and holds the lowest Tomlinson Distance Rating in the field.

Conclusion: Barring a transcendent improvement, he appears to be the poster child for limiting the points allocated to overseas races; many more talented runners are sitting on the sidelines as a result of his inclusion. He could have a say in the shape of the race, however, as connections could feel his only chance to be competitive is to be sent early from his inside post.

JUST OFF THE PACE:

#17 ROADSTER (Quality Road/ Silver Ghost), 5-1

98 Beyer, 98 Brisnet, 294 Tomlinson

Pros: The most lightly raced of an absolutely loaded Baffert contingent enters off a strong win in the Santa Anita Derby, where turned the tables on two-year old-champion stablemate Game Winner from off the pace. Runs third off the lay for a trainer that wins with 27% of his starters in that stage of their form cycle. Hot sire Quality Road descends from Mr. Prospector, and this is a colt with upside that may be ready to take another step forward, entering off ascending Beyers in each career start.

Cons: Despite winning his last from off the pace in a race that appeared to set up perfectly, finishing his final 3/8 in an impressive 38.13 considering the slow track at Santa Anita, the Brisnet Late Pace figure earned for that effort was only a 98. In fact, he has never run a Brisnet Late Pace figure above 100.​ While eligible to improve, he hasn’t crossed the triple digit speed figure threshold per Beyer or Brisnet, and the Timeform figure assigned to his win (113) is both well below the best here and slower than his beaten stablemate, who covered more ground while chasing a hot pace. With only four career starts, he will have seasoning questions to answer, and it bears mention that jockey Mike Smith had jumped off to ride Omaha Beach, although that is likely a greater reflection of that colt’s quality than anything else.

Conclusion: At a likely short price, we’d like to have seen something from him that stood out as above average relative to past Derby winners. As it stands, the lack of triple digit speed figures and late pace figures leave us with a somewhat middling feeling. Broadly speaking, he’s benefited from favorable trips in small fields in both of his wins this year and now draws a challenging wide post. While cautious of his upside, he’s the one Baffert we will try to beat on top and in the exacta, and use only underneath.

#5 IMPROBABLE (City Zip/ AP Indy), 5-1

 99 Beyer, 98 Brisnet, 306 Tomlinson

Pros: Runner-up in both his graded stakes starts this year, he now runs third off the lay for Baffert, who as mentioned wins with 27% of his starters in that stage of their form cycle. Interestingly, he is the only runner in the field to post three Brisnet Late Pace figures above 100 around two turns, including a 104 in his last at 9f where he covered the final 3/8 in an impressive :37.45 and final 1/8 in an even faster :12.38, which is the second fastest final 1/8 in the field. The heavy stamina breeding on the bottom of his pedigree out of an A.P. Indy mare (8.2 damsire AWD, second highest in the field) should help to balance out any questions on top. He won a stakes race over this track as a two-year-old, one of just three runners in the field with a win at Churchill, and has never been worse than second in five career starts. The 120 Timeform rating he earned in his last is tied for the second fastest here, as is his Beyer speed figure, and both are the fastest over a sloppy track. Eligible to move forward, as his Thoro-Graph pattern has shown a new top with each race, indicating he may be sitting on a career effort.

Cons: Son of the sprinter City Zip, whose AWD of 6.5 would be tied for the lowest ever for a Derby winner. Other than that he doesn’t have any historical red flags, but it does give pause that he was so difficult to load at the start of the Arkansas Derby, a race in which he made a move and was ridden hard, but was never getting past the winner, who would have been deservedly favored here. Goes blinkers off now after wearing them in that race; the equipment changes seem to imply some trainer tinkering that shows uncertainty, and no colt has ever won this race after such a change. He gets a new rider in Irad Ortiz, whose brother jumps off to ride Tacitus, and he’ll need to break more sharply this time from an inside post.

Conclusion: He is starting to seem like the forgotten Baffert, which is great news considering we prefer him of that bunch. In the Rebel, he had excuse as he likely needed the race after a long layoff, and was arguably best when racing wide the whole way before being caught by today’s foe Long Range Toddy. The Arkansas Derby was quite simply the strongest prep in our eyes and this notion is supported by Beyer, Timeform, Thoro-Graph and Racing Post figures, and he’s appealing in general for his lack of statistical drawbacks. While many will be turned off by his pedigree, we’ve seen nothing in his races to suggest he can’t get the distance, and are encouraged by the fact that he ran the final eighth in his last faster than the two that preceded it. Recall that Collected, a Grade 1 winner at 10f, also shares the same sire, and that his female family (out of a Johannesburg mare) is not nearly as accomplished in terms of stamina influence. Additionally, City Zip also sired Dayatthespa, who won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at 10f. For those concerned about the equipment changes, perhaps there’s a method to the madness, as over the last five years in graded stakes, Baffert is 5/15 winners and 12/15 in the money when removing blinkers. A colt racing third off the lay has won 8 of the last 12 editions of this race, and at likely higher odds than both his stablemates in that same stage, this one looms potentially the best overall value in the field. The pick.

#19 SPINOFF (Hard Spun/ Gone West), 30-1

 95 Beyer, 102 Brisnet, 372 Tomlinson

Pros: Has posted ascending Beyer and Brisnet Speed Figures in each of his four career starts, and earned a competitive 102 Brisnet figure for his runner up finish in the Louisiana Derby after a wide trip. Pletcher trainee is eligible to improve third off the lay, as his trainer wins with 24% of his runners in that spot. Owns the highest Tomlinson Distance Figure in the field.

Cons: Enters the race off a six week layoff since the Louisiana Derby, which is a historical obstacle, as only two horses in 90 years have won this race after such a long rest. Also, has only four career starts. 2nd place finish in the Louisiana Derby was solid enough, but that was a race he probably should have won after leading in the stretch, giving cause for concern that he may be better suited to 9f races. Speed type faces the strong possibility of another wide trip from post #19.

Conclusion: With the Pletcher connection, lightly raced campaign and long layoff, he looks awfully similar to Noble Indy last year, who finished 17th. Velazquez spurns both Pletcher colts in this spot to ride a pace dependent 15-1 shot. Has upside, but we’ll pass and look towards the summer races for this one.

#18 LONG RANGE TODDY (Take Charge Indy/ AP Indy), 30-1

95 Beyer, 97 Brisnet, 293 Tomlinson

Pros: Upset winner of the Rebel over today’s foe Improbable posted a 104 Brisnet Late Pace figure for that effort.

Cons: Disappointed when 6th over the slop in the Arkansas Derby, backing up an ugly 8 lengths in the stretch and coming home in a dismal 40.00 for the final 3/8 and an even worse 14.13 for the final 1/8. Remember that a colt that finished worse than 4th in its final prep hasn’t won this race since 1957. From a speed figure standpoint, even his Rebel score came back on the weak side.

Conclusion: Maybe he didn’t like the mud at Oaklawn, but this pedigree screams 8-9f and the closing fractions seem to agree with that notion. He will be left off our tickets.

#21 BODEXPRESS (Bodemeister/ City Zip), 30-1

96 Beyer, 98 Brisnet, 289 Tomlinson

Pros: Tracked the leader in the Florida Derby to finish 2nd, coming home impressively in :36.46 for the final 3/8 and earning a 118 Brisnet Late Pace figure, the second highest in the field. His sire nearly won this race after contesting a torrid pace, and descends from Mr. Prospector.

Cons: Let’s address the giant pink elephant in the room- he’s a maiden. That’s technically his only statistical drawback, but it’s an enormous one, as no maiden has won this race since 1933. Moreover, only one colt of the last 92 colts to hit the superfecta since 1996 had even contested a maiden race two starts before trying their luck in Derby. He sat behind a slow pace in the Florida Derby when 2nd and earned the points to draw in here after the incredibly unfortunate scratch of Omaha Beach, but was never a real threat to the winner. The waters get deeper here out of the field’s widest post, and he may find the distance a bit beyond his scope, as he doesn’t have much route experience. It bears mention that his worst career race came over a sloppy track.

Conclusion: Depending on how one feels about the somewhat enigmatic nature of the Florida Derby in combination with the chance that this pace is slower than expected, he is endorsable on some levels. However, it would take quite the leap of faith to use him on any tickets and it is simply hard to justify including him in this spot, as he certainly benefited from the slow pace that day and will likely find this test a different animal altogether. The class leap simply looms to a monolithic degree. Would need to take a massive leap forward in terms of figures, as he earned just a 112 Timeform rating in his last.

STALKERS:

#16 GAME WINNER (Candy Ride/ AP Indy), 9-2

97 Beyer, 98 Brisnet, 323 Tomlinson

Pros: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and two-year-old champion runs third off the lay for Baffert, a trainer that wins with 27% of his starters in that stage of their form cycle, off of what have to be considered two very solid preps despite losing them. ​Undefeated in 2018, including the BC win at Churchill, he’s lost both of his 2019 races after racing wide in each attempt, being caught late by his stablemate in his last when he was arguably best after receiving a bit too eager of a ride from Rosario (Timeform and Thoro-Graph figures agree), and failing to run down Omaha Beach, losing by a whisker in his debut. From a pedigree perspective, there is no better-bred runner in the field for this distance; sire Candy Ride holds the track record at this distance at Santa Anita, and damsire A.P. Indy needs no introduction.

Cons: Final 3/8 come home time of :39.08 and resulting 89 Brisnet Late Pace figure jump off the page, and not in a good way, as only two colts have ever won the Derby after posting a final 3/8 above :39 or a Late Pace figure below 95 in their 9f prep. It would be easy to point to the 102 Late Pace figure he posted in his shorter previous race at 8.5f, which came at Oaklawn over a faster surface than the tiring Santa Anita track, except for the fact that he only received an 88 for his BC win here at that same distance. He hasn’t shown much improvement figure wise from his two-year-old campaign and actually shows declining Brisnet speed figures since his BC score. (Beyers disagree and are slightly ascending over his last three).

Conclusion: It’s hard to get past the idea that what you see is what you get with him and that he has already reached his ceiling. It’s difficult to isolate what his particular strength is- it isn’t his speed or his turn of foot, but consistent type always seems to run his race, having never finished worse than 2nd in six career starts. Perhaps duplicating his two-year-old form will simply be enough to get the job done here. After all, no runner in 2019 has been able to top the Brisnet figure he earned as a two-year-old (103), and only two have matched it. The slow come home time seems somewhat forgivable considering the condition of the track, and the fact is that he did run his final 1/8 in :12.94, faster than the two before it, despite contesting the pace. We liked Omaha Beach to win this race before the scratch, so we have to like Game Winner at least a little bit considering all the ground he lost against Omaha Beach in such a narrow defeat. Likely favorite seems to be sitting on a big one and looms a contender for the win, and a must-use in the second and third spots at the very least. It’s worth noting that the favorite has won this race in every edition since the initiation of the points system in 2013, and he figures to offer a better relative price, as the last six favorites have averaged 3.45-1 on the tote.

#13 CODE OF HONOR (Noble Mission/ Dixie Union), 15-1

95 Beyer, 95 Brisnet, 267 Tomlinson

Pros: Pletcher’s preferred jockey John Velazquez maintains this mount for Claude McGaughey, which seems meaningful at least relative to the two Pletcher starters. Fountain of Youth winner had a perfect setup to close into in that race but won with authority and owns the field high Equibase speed figure (111) for that effort. He never had much of a chance when 3rd in the Florida Derby based on the speed-favoring fractions that ensued in that race.

Cons: Benefited from a complete pace meltdown while winning the Fountain of Youth, and the strong closing fractions and Brisnet Late Pace figure (115) for the Florida Derby he owns arose in large part from the opposite scenario (he earned only a 91 Late Pace figure when winning the Fountain of Youth). Outside of the Equibase number, his speed figures lag beneath the fastest here. The pedigree looks more like a miler-9f profile to our eyes and the low Tomlinson Distance Rating and AWD numbers (7.2/6.9) appear to confirm that notion.

Conclusion: With a moderate pace expected, he seems like a middle of the pack type that may find this extra furlong a bit further than he wants to go to maximize the impact of his closing kick.

#3 BY MY STANDARDS (Goldencents/ Muqtarib), 20-1

97 Beyer, 102 Brisnet, 252 Tomlinson

Pros: Won the Louisiana Derby impressively from off the pace, coming home in :37.79 for the final 3/8 and :12.49 for the final 1/8, earning a 102 Brisnet Late Pace figure and a 102 Brisnet Speed Figure. Has been working sharply at Churchill.

Cons: Like the other Louisiana Derby runners, he enters off a six week layoff up to the race. A bit of a late bloomer, he didn’t break his maiden until this year in his fourth career race, and given the questionable quality of the Louisiana Derby as a prep, takes a bit of a class leap here. The AWD numbers and pedigree are by far the worst in the field for 10f; Damsire AWD of 5.9 would be the lowest ever for a Derby winner by a considerable margin.

Conclusion: He has developed a bit of a wise guy feel after working so well over the track and coming on so suddenly, but as pedigree plays a big part in our handicapping process, we can’t advocate playing him here as a likely underlay with that female family and weak Tomlinson in combination with exiting a prep that hasn’t historically been productive.

#10 CUTTING HUMOR (First Samurai/ Pulpit), 30-1

95 Beyer, 99 Brisnet, 244 Tomlinson

Pros: Came flying home to win the Sunland Derby over a wickedly fast track, finishing his final 3/8 in :37.01 and his final 1/8 in :12.18, the latter of which is the fastest in the field.

Cons: Jockey John Velazquez jumps off him here to ride Code of Honor, which has to speak volumes. The Sunland Park closing times can tend to be misleading as that surface usually plays like a race course, and the middling Brisnet Late Pace figure of 101 he received for those fractions relative to the raw time appears to bear that out. The Beyer and Brisnet speed figures also came back low considering the record breaking raw time of 1:46.4. That race was run six weeks ago, so there are seasoning concerns and historical hurdles to account for as well. He took three tries to break his maiden, and head to head losses to today’s third tier foes Plus Que Parfait and Long Range Toddy don’t inspire much confidence. The weak Tomlinson Distance Rating indicates that he may be better suited to shorter distances.

Conclusion: We are inclined to toss that final 1/8 fraction altogether based on the track condition. After doing so, there isn’t a whole lot that stands out about this one and there are several reasons to knock him. Seems to have the least upside of a weaker-than-usual Pletcher contingent.

#9 PLUS QUE PARFAIT (Point of Entry/ Awesome Again), 30-1

58 Beyer, 72 Brisnet, 329 Tomlinson

Pros: Owns a head to head win over today’s foe Cutting Humor when breaking his maiden last year in his third career start. By virtue of winning the UAE Derby, he’s the only runner in the field to win beyond 9f, and his pedigree should suit him well to get this trip. Ran a hard closing 2nd over this track in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Cup as a two-year-old, and that came over the slop.

Cons: A UAE Derby winner has never won this race, and this was an even weaker edition of that race than usual—perhaps the weakest ever. To put that idea into perspective, the Timeform and Racing Post figures earned for that race are the lowest of any of the final preps (111/110; Beyer and Brisnet did not calculate figures for Dubai.) Took three starts to break his maiden and has been beaten handily by today’s foes War of Will and Country House.

Conclusion: If colts like Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn couldn’t make an impact in the superfecta traveling over from Dubai, it’s hard to endorse one coming out of a far weaker edition of the UAE Derby that has head to head losses to colts we aren’t high on for the win. Someday, one these shippers may indeed crack the exotics, but until one does, they won’t be on our tickets.

CLOSERS:

#8 TACITUS (Tapit/ First Defence), 8-1

97 Beyer, 103 Brisnet, 289 Tomlinson

Pros: Notably, he is the only colt in the field to post a 100+ Brisnet Late Pace Figure after running a 90+ E1 Pace Figure. Owns the highest 2019 Brisnet Speed Figure in the field for his Wood Memorial score, and the Timeform rating he earned there (120) also stacks up well here, tied for the second highest in the field. He drew well and figures to work out a good trip as Jose Ortiz retains the mount.

Cons: Improving rapidly for Bill Mott but relatively inexperienced with only four career starts. ​As impressive as his closing move in the Wood looked visually, it doesn’t bear out in the numbers, as he finished the final 3/8 in just :38.37, and the final 1/8 in an even slower :13.42, which would be the second slowest closing prep dirt fraction for a winner in nearly 30 years. In terms of speed, Beyer did not look on that performance as favorably as Brisnet and Timeform did. It’s also possible that last race was the time to be on him, as Mott wins with only 13% of his runners third off the lay, and has never won the Derby.

Conclusion: Strangely, the Brisnet Late Pace figure for the Wood came back somewhat strong at 101, seeming to contradict the raw fractions, likely an indication of how tiring the Aqueduct surface was playing that day. We are drawn to the idea that he is able to run fast early and late, and cognizant of his upside, admitting that years ago he would have been the type of colt we’d have fallen head over heels for. But the dynamic has changed in the points era, and he has the feeling of a colt with a lot of steam on him in a race that doesn’t figure to be kind to off-the-pace types, and could wind up an underlay. Regardless, he should be expected to be in the mix late for a piece. A Tapit progeny has never won the Derby and his female family doesn’t scream distance, but there will be room for him underneath on exotic tickets.

#20 COUNTRY HOUSE (Lookin At Lucky/ War Chant), 30-1

91 Beyer, 95 Brisnet, 360 Tomlinson

Pros: This colt is bred to run all day. He descends from the Mr. Prospector sire line and possesses a combination of robust AWD numbers (7.5/7.6) and a top three Tomlinson Distance Rating. While no match for the top two when 3rd last out in the Arkansas Derby, he came home well in that race, finishing the final 3/8 in :37.60 and the final 1/8 in :12.68, earning a 103 Brisnet Late Pace figure.

Cons: Consistently breaks poorly and loses a lot of ground early, which shouldn’t be a substantial drawback in a field this large and out of a wide post. Still, his speed figures lag well below the best here, and he hasn’t yet won a graded race. He took three tries to break his maiden and has only one career win.

Conclusion: Grinding sort has a bit more going for him than the average 30-1 shot and appeals as the “other Mott”, especially given his pedigree. He’d need a complete pace meltdown to actually win this but it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see him hang around to gobble up the bottom spot of the trifecta or superfecta and light up the board. It’s interesting to note the massive diversion between his published speed figures depending on who you trust- the weakness illustrated by Beyer and Brisnet is somewhat offset by a 115 from Timeform for his Arkansas Derby behind the top selection, which is equal to the number assigned to the favorite in his last. Not impossible underneath.

#14 WIN WIN WIN (Hat Trick/ Smarty Jones), 15-1

89 Beyer, 97 Brisnet, 291 Tomlinson

Pros: Gets bonus points for closing into a slow pace for 2nd after a rough trip in the Blue Grass to earn a trip to the starting gate, finishing his final 1/8 in an impressive :12.55 and gaining 4.5 lengths in the stretch on the winner Vekoma after steadying hard.

Cons: Seems to always find trouble in smaller fields than this one, and speed figures have declined as distances have increased- he remains winless beyond 7f and hasn’t topped the 90 Beyer threshold beyond that distance in two attempts. Despite what appeared to be a powerful finish in the Blue Grass, he earned just a 90 Brisnet Late Pace figure for the effort, and his Beyer top around two turns is the lowest in the field outside of the Dubai and Japan shippers.

Conclusion: Another that fits the mold as a closing sprinter, and won’t be in an advantageous spot loading next to the auxiliary gate based on the combination of the expected pace and his tendency to encounter trouble in traffic. Hard pass for us.

PICKS SUMMARY:

  1. Improbable
  2. Maximum Security
  3. Game Winner
  4. Tax
  5. Tacitus
  6. Roadster
  7. Country House
  8. Code of Honor
  9. Spinoff
  10. By My Standards
  11. War of Will
  12. Vekoma
  13. Bodexpress
  14. Plus Que Parfait
  15. Long Range Toddy
  16. Win Win Win
  17. Cutting Humor
  18. Gray Magician
  19. Master Fencer

HOW TO BET $100 ON THE KENTUCKY DERBY:

$0.50 Trifecta ($30):

Improbable, Maximum Security, Game Winner/

Improbable, Maximum Security, Game Winner, Tax, Tacitus/

Improbable, Maximum Security, Game Winner, Tax, Tacitus, Roadster, Country House

Exactas ($30):

$4 Box: Improbable, Maximum Security, Game Winner

$1 Key: Improbable, Maximum Security, Game Winner/ Tax, Tacitus

$20 WIN, $20 PLACE: Improbable

 

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