Breeders’ Cup Saturday Picks and Analysis

Posted November 2, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

BREEDERS’ CUP 2018 SATURDAY PICKS

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

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

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

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

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

Longshot:

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

4- Turf Sprint, 5.5f, 11:38

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

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

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

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

Try to beat:

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

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

Longshots:

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

5- Dirt Mile, 8f, 12:16

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

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

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

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

Longshot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try to beat:

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

7- Sprint, 6f, 1:46

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

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

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

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

Try to Beat:

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

8- Mile, 8f, 2:36

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

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

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

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

Try to beat:

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

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

9- Distaff, 9f, 3:16

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

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

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

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

Try to Beat:

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

10- Turf, 12f, 3:56

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

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

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

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

Longshot:

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

11- Classic, 10f, 4:44

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

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

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

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

Try to beat:

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

Longshot:

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

Arlington Million 2018 Picks and Analysis

Posted August 10, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Uncategorized

9- Secretariat

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

California Wine Country Tasting Recap

Posted July 18, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Vino

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

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

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

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

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

REDS

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

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

WHITES

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

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

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

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

Belmont Day Late Pick 4 Analysis

Posted June 7, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

8- Just A Game, 8f, 3:02

1) On Leave (9-2): Exits a hard fought 2nd place finish when caught at the wire by today’s foe Proctor’s Ledge in the Distaff Turf Mile, but receives a six pound weight allowance from that one today and could benefit from firmer ground. She enters third off the lay, the same as Proctor’s Ledge was last time, and boasts a 5-4-0-1 career record over the Belmont turf course. Rail draw should allow for a ground saving trip in a race fairly devoid of speed as Manuel Franco picks up the mount.

2) Lull (5-1): Set torrid fractions on the lead and held on to win in her last at Gulfstream and now enters off similar rest. She also receives four to six pounds in weight from some of these and will be the one to catch with Jose Ortiz in the irons. She shows a win and a second place finish in her two starts at Belmont and Christophe Clement excels with runners making starts after over two months off.

3) Off Limits (7-2): Closer has had success on this course (5-3-1-0 career record) and looks to get back on track after two close losses in tough company this year. Javier Castellano picks up the mount and will have to time his move perfectly; has tables to turn against the top selection at this distance over this course and may prefer more ground but BRIS Prime Power selection does hold the best speed figure in the field at the distance.

4) Proctor’s Ledge (4-1): Impressive winner last out when third off the lay but seems to alternate good races with bad ones; carries more weight here as well. Checks out on paper but the feeling here is that last race was the time to side with her at double these odds, and it bears mention that her last two wins at this distance came over turf labeled good.

9- Met Mile, 8f, 3:45

1) Bee Jersey (5-1): Looks like lone speed in this spot and enters third off the lay following a Grade 3 win at the distance where he posted the field’s best last out speed figures (104 Beyer, 106 BRIS). Takes a step up in class but has improved with each race this year and finds himself in the right spot of the form cycle to take another step forward for Steve Asmussen while race shape figures to suit.

2) Mind Your Biscuits (5-2): Layed off since winning impressively at 6f in Dubai in late March, five-year old owns a 4-2-1-1 record over this track, including a closing win a year ago in the 7f Belmont Sprint over today’s foe Awesome Slew. He’s never won going this far but does tie for the field high BRIS figure at the distance (107) tracing back to his 2nd place finish in the Cigar Mile last fall and figures to relish the added ground racing more tactically from the rail; should get first run if the pace collapses.

3) Awesome Slew (6-1): One of only two graded winners at the distance, one-turn specialist is always a threat but hasn’t yet made the winner’s circle this year. BRIS Prime Power Selection will try to reverse that trend third off the lay and has back form to fall on, as his best speed at this distance (107) is tied for tops in the field. He will be coming on late and may appreciate the return to firm dirt after just missing the win by a neck in his last over the slop.

4) Bolt d’Oro (4-1): Placement on the cutback here merits a look after our Derby selection raced close to a fast pace that day and faded. On his best day he fits here from a speed standpoint but it’s hard to know what you are going to get with him and against older horses, this ML looks like an underlay for the top spot; should be in the mix underneath on talent alone, however.

10- Manhattan, 10f, 4:40

1) Robert Bruce (3-1): Chilean import was victorious in his stateside bow over this track, storming home and winning the 9f Fort Marcy, posting a 101 Beyer in the Grade 3 event in his first start after shipping.  He is now undefeated in all 7 career starts. In a race that Timeform US pegs as having a hot pace up front, his field topping BRIS Late Pace last race figure (112) is notable as he stretches back out to 10f for Chad Brown.

2) Sadler’s Joy (8-1): It’s true that he may be better suited to distances beyond 10f, although it bears mention that he ran on well to finish 3rd in this event last year after sitting well behind crawling fractions. With a hotter expected pace in this edition, the price looks right to take a shot on him with Javier Castellano in the saddle.

3) Beach Patrol (5-2): BRIS Prime Power selection is as consistent as they come and ready to fire in his second start off the layoff, where he may appreciate the added ground and firmer footing. He draws wide and will have to workout a trip near the likely fast pace, however.

4) Hi Happy (7-2): Demands respect off of his last two wins at longer distances, where he enjoyed fairly easy trips sitting just off a slow pace while easily dispatching the second choice and earning field high Beyer and BRIS Speed figures (106, 101). We wonder where exactly he fits in at this distance when the real racing begins, however. Todd Pletcher excels with his runners second off the lay but is not nearly as successful third off the lay.

11- Belmont, 12f, 5:46

justify

1) Vino Rosso (8-1): Son of Curlin boasts arguably the best pedigree for this distance, as that sire finished 2nd in this race before his son Palace Malice won it, and on bottom, his Street Cry mare Mythical Bride is a half-sister to Belmont runner-up Commissioner.  He enters well-rested after a 9th place finish in the Kentucky Derby where he wasn’t disgraced, racing very wide out of his 18 post for most of the way and making up some ground in the stretch. Todd Pletcher has owned this race of late and this colt fired a bullet 4f work over the track on 5/25. Our second choice in the Derby may find this trip a bit more to his liking as long as he can keep touch with the leaders, and the distance should hit him right between the eyes.

2) Hofburg (9-2): Sons of Tapit have won three of the last four runnings of this race, so he has that going for him on top of the fact that his damsire Touch Gold won this very race and played spoiler to Triple Crown bid himself. No colt made up more ground in the Derby stretch than he did, gobbling up 8 lengths after a brutal trip to finish a respectable 7th and posting a field high last race Late Pace figure of 99 in just his fourth career start. He enters with a bit of a wise guy feel but is well-rested and should take another step forward at a distance he should relish.

3) Justify (4-5): Clearly the horse to beat as he attempts to become just the second colt in 40 years to win the Triple Crown, but he doesn’t look unbeatable in this spot. The rail draw will force him to the lead early and they will all have to try to run him down, but there are many others who are better bred to handle this grueling distance. He’d certainly be pardoned for tiring down the stretch after a tough campaign that packed a lot of races into a short time period as his margins of victory and speed figures have slowly diminished. We won’t let him beat us in multis but at odds-on in a tough spot there is value in trying to keep him off the top line in exotics.

4) Tenfold (12-1): Another lightly raced colt with a lot of upside, son of Curlin galloped out impressively when 3rd in the Preakness in just his fourth career start, finishing with a 91 BRIS Late Pace figure which was the best in that race. It’s fair to wonder how much that race took out of him though, and we prefer the runners with a bit more rest for the top slots, but he should be one making up ground late to challenge for a piece.

5) Bravazo (8-1): The only other colt than Justify to contest all three legs of the Triple Crown has overachieved up to this point, holding on for 6th in the Kentucky Derby as a 67-1 shot and then closing from off the place in his runner-up Preakness effort. Both of those races came over sloppy tracks, however, and we have to wonder whether he isn’t set to regress as he stretches out to a distance that especially from the bottom of his pedigree would appear to be beyond his limits.

PICK 4 PLAY:

8- On Leave, Lull

9- Bee Jersey, Mind Your Biscuits

10- Robert Bruce, Sadler’s Joy, Beach Patrol

11- Vino Rosso, Hofburg, Justify

Kentucky Derby 2018 Undercard Picks

Posted May 4, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

CD

6- Humana Distaff, 12:13, 7f

1) #1 Finleysluckycharm (7-2)- 6 for 6 in the winner’s circle at CD and looks like potential lone speed on the rail, owns best BRIS at this distance (103) and has won twice at 7f, including her last where she drew widest of all, now gets ground-saving inside post.

2) #8 American Gal (7-2)- 4th by a neck when part of blanket finish last out in the Madison behind the top selection; looms the other main speed and stands to move forward second off the lay for Simon Callaghan, who wins with 22% of his runners in that stage of their form cycle.

3) #5 Skye Diamonds (5-1)- If pace is hotter than expected she looms the best closer; only entrant to duplicate back to back triple digit BRIS figures in her last two and also owns field high Beyer figure (98).

4) Ivy Bell (5-1) Solid form at CD and enters off a career best figure (90 Beyer, 100 BRIS); another off the pace type but beaten easily here last summer by the top selection.

Bets: 3 horse Exacta Box, use top 3 in multis

 7- Distaff Turf Mile, 12:55, 8f

1) #9 On Leave (8-1)- Rough trip off the lay in last and still missed by just a half length to loose on the lead filly, should be more forwardly placed here with that under her belt and back form tops the field on figures (107 BRIS, 97 Beyer at 8.5f).

2) #6 Proctor’s Ledge (12-1)-Bounced in last but now goes third off the lay and seems to alternate quality races, due for another big one on a well-timed cutback as figures stack up well with this group (109 RPR) at a juicy price.

3) #7 Res Ipsa (10-1)- Just missed along with the top selection in last after falling too far off the pace, should be closer here and looms large second off the lay with field’s best last out speed figure (95 BRIS, 95 Beyer).

4) #11 La Coronel (3-1) Draws wide here and hasn’t won in awhile but has kept classy company (110 RPR tops the field); BRIS Prime Power choice can’t be ignored as race shape figures to suit.

Bets: Place on #9, 3 horse Exacta Box, use all 4 in multis.

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

1) #1 Whitmore (6-1)- Never gone 7f but has duplicated 102 Beyers flying from off the pace in last two at 6f, should have plenty to run at here and looks to be begging for the added ground; may not have been all out against far inferior competition at Oaklawn and has been clearly targeted for this spot.

2) #10 Awesome Slew (5-2)- 2nd in this event last year, true one turn closer should get a better set up this time closer to the pace and does have an 8f win over the track to fall back on; enters off best Last Race BRIS figure (103) when 2nd in 7f Carter.

3) #3 Imperial Hint (9-5)- The clear horse to beat on figures, but 6f pace type could be vulnerable second off the lay going the extra furlong with cheap speed signed on either side of him. Does own best speed at the distance for Beyers and BRIS (105,106) and would be tough to ignore on the top line.

4) #7 Limousine Liberal (4-1)- Defending champ meets a saltier bunch in this edition and exits off a loss off the lay to a colt that the top pick just beat by 11 lengths; also lost to the top pick head to head at Keeneland last fall, loves CD but betting against a repeat.

Bets: Place on #1, Trifecta Part Wheel 2/3/4 and Key IH/2/3, use top 3 in multis

9- American Turf, 2:37, 8.5f

1) #1 Speed Franco (6-1)- Nothing is more dangerous than lone speed on the rail and speedy son of Declaration of War could have it all his own way on the lead here and hang on after missing by a neck in his last two. Enters off field high Beyer and BRIS Last Race figures (91, 91) and RPR (107) puts him right in the mix as well; consistent type well-aimed here.

2) #6 River Boyne (5-1) Winner of last three at Santa Anita ships east and could be the one to pick up the pieces if a faster than expected pace materializes; BRIS Prime Power Selection fits just behind the top selection on figures.

3) #10 Maraud (6-1)- Bounced in his last behind two of today’s foes but perhaps did not take to the yielding turf at Keeneland; defeated the top selection two back and Pletcher should have son of Blame ready to roll third off the lay. Owns best BRIS speed figure at the distance (95).

4) #3 Threeandfourpence (4-1)- Classy Aidan O’Brien trainee will attract attention as he switches back to turf following two races on dirt and synthetic where he finished behind Mendelssohn. We are unsure that simply running behind that one amounts to a win here (Rayya finished 13th on Friday) though and all of his prior turf races have come on softer ground and at shorter distances; this looks like a spot to stick with the home team on top.

Bets- Place on #1, 3 horse Exacta Box, use top 2 in limited multis (toughest race of the sequence).

10- Pat Day Mile, 3:28, 8f

1) #5 Mississippi (10-1)- 3rd place finisher in the Florida Derby is flying under the radar a bit here. Of the top three, he did all the dirty work in that race running close to hot fractions and should be more sensibly placed here and enjoy the cutback; shows a field high BRIS figure (102) from runner-up finish at 8.5f before that. Huge overlay at these odds.

2) #8 Mask (4-1) Lightly raced son of Tapit could be any kind for Chad Brown; comes off over a three month layoff but Brown wins in that spot with 29% of his runners and field high BRIS and Beyer figures at the distance (100,91) merit attention in third career start.

3) #1 National Flag (4-1)- Todd Pletcher trainee is preferred to the other colt stretching out here, Madison’s Luna, due to his ascending late pace figures in last two starts, and field high figure two back at 7f (104 BRIS, 100 Beyer).

4) #12 Restoring Hope (9-2) 3rd place finisher in the Wood Memorial gets some class relief combined with a cutback and blinkers added for Bob Baffert.

Bets- Place on #5, 3 horse Exacta Box, use top 3 in multis

11- Turf Classic, 4:25, 9f

1) #7 Synchrony (5-1)- With both short-priced favorites vulnerable due to completely opposite layoff-related concerns, we land on the hot horse here that enters third off the lay off of two straight wins at the distance and who has duplicated triple digit Beyers (103,102) that top the field at that distance. Any questions?

2) #1 Deauville (3-1)- Enters off a quick 17 day turnaround and a ship but appeared to regain the form he had lost in his last after a needed layoff, finishing 2nd in a Group 3 event at this distance and posting a best last out RPR of 113. He has won after a shorter layoff than this before, granted not after a Transatlantic ship, but held the lead at the 9f mark of the Arlington Million so could find this the ideal trip from a ground-saving post; the feeling here is that he will go off higher than his morning line and offers value in that scenario.

3) #10 Beach Patrol (5-2)- Deserving favorite got really good late last year winning at distances longer than this one; has over a six month layoff to contend with since then though and it’s worth wondering whether he will be fully cranked with other targets looming this summer.

4) #5 Channel Maker (10-1) Deep closer may not get quite as much pace as he needs to win this but should see more than he did when 5th two back behind today’s foe Kurilov; owns best BRIS figure at the distance from last November’s Hollywood Derby score (106) and must be taken seriously.

5) #3 Kurilov (6-1) Chad Brown trainee looks like the wise guy horse in this spot as the two horses he finished between last out at this distance, Heart To Heart and Hi Happy, came back to win huge races. With Shining Copper as a legitimate speed presence to his inside, he is unlikely to encounter such friendly fractions this time, however, and he hasn’t raced as exclusively on turf as the top contenders here, as his previous six before his last came on dirt. Can hang around for a piece.

Bets- Place on #7, Trifecta Key Synchrony/2/4 and 2/Synchrony/4, use top 3 in multis

Kentucky Derby 2018 Picks and Analysis

Posted May 3, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

PACE

#7 JUSTIFY (Scat Daddy/ Ghostzapper), 3-1 Morning Line Favorite

107 Beyer, 343 Tomlinson

Pros: Brilliant Bob Baffert trainee is undefeated in three career starts, showing triple digit Beyers in each. Coming off a 3 length win in the Santa Anita Derby in his first graded start where he vanquished the highly regarded Bolt d’Oro after that one eyeballed him in the stretch, it’s no surprise he will be heavily favored here. He owns the field’s highest Beyer speed figure (107), its highest Tomlinson Distance Rating (343) and its highest BRIS Late Pace figure (117) as he finished impressively in his last, coming home in :37.11 for the final 3/8 and :12.70 for the final 1/8. That’s quite the trio of accolades (no colt has ever entered the race leading the field in all three categories). He’s also the only colt in the field to run triple digit BRIS pace numbers for early, middle and late during his final prep, and his figures were escalating to boot.

Cons: The giant pink elephant in the room- Justify did not race as a two year old, and no colt has won this race without doing so since Apollo in 1882. It’s almost equally rare to see a colt win the Derby with only three starts; that’s only happened twice since 1915. Simply put, inexperience hasn’t exactly translated well to Derby success. If we are really playing devil’s advocate, it’s worth noting that he’s had it all his own way on the lead in his three career wins, and is likely to see a lot more company up front this time.

Conclusion: An absolute beast on paper, and he draws perfectly in the #7 post.  Those inclined to beat him in this spot are braver than we are. He’s quite simply the most likely winner by a large margin. He won’t offer much value for outright wagers (although the favorite has won an unprecedented five straight runnings), but is a must use on top of all multis and exotics.

justify

#3 PROMISES FULFILLED (Shackleford/ Marquetry), 30-1

96 Beyer, 213 Tomlinson

Pros: Looked impressive winning the 8.5f Fountain of Youth in wire to wire fashion two starts back, extending his advantage into the finish. He enjoyed a very easy lead that day, but it’s conceivable he could enjoy a similar trip in this spot, as the speed types aren’t as blazing here as they usually are. In any case, he will be the one they all have to catch and will save ground and send from his inside post.

Cons: The speed duel strategy employed by trainer Dale Romans backfired catastrophically in his last as he stretched out to 9f in the Florida Derby and faded to finish at the back of the field, 35 lengths behind the winner. His Tomlinson Distance Rating is the lowest in the field, which doesn’t bode well for him hanging on any more successfully as he tries to go further this time.

Conclusion: The crazy thing about how badly he faded in the Florida Derby is that the opening half was only run in :46.20, which is fast but certainly not suicidal, and very close to what he would likely see here in a field of 20 horses. Romans has already said that he will try to wire the field yet again, as apparently the lesson needs re-learned. The only way he’s a factor is if all the other jockeys decide he will fade regardless and let him steal the race on the lead with glacial fractions. That seems unlikely, and when you put the realistic pieces together, he would be our surest bet to finish last.

#4 FLAMEAWAY (Scat Daddy/ Fusaichi Pegasus), 30-1

93 Beyer, 306 Tomlinson

Pros: Hard knock colt is one of four sons of Scat Daddy entered in the race, and he’s finished no worse than 2nd in his four starts this year. What he lacks in flash he makes up for in consistency, as he always seems to be right there at the end. Distance shouldn’t be an issue in terms of his breeding.

Cons: There is nothing that stands out about him to elevate him above this field. His closing 3/8 of :38.49 when 2nd in the Blue Grass last out leaves a lot to be desired; only 3 of the last 26 Derby winners have finished their final 3/8 slower than :38.40. While his consistency is admirable, his last three Beyers have been 93-92-93, and that sort of consistency won’t hit the board in a field this deep.

Conclusion: The feeling here is that he’s a nice colt but a known quantity at this stage. What reason have we to believe that he can make the 10-point jump in figures that would be necessary to hit the board here? He’s also one of just two colts here who doesn’t show any attributes above the mean of an average Derby winner. Pass.

#13 BRAVAZO (Awesome Again/ Cee’s Tizzy), 50-1

93 Beyer, 328 Tomlinson

Pros: Upset the Risen Star at 21-1, sitting just off the pace the whole time and getting up by a nose in the final strides. He’s bred very well to appreciate the distance if he can avoid getting sucked into a pace duel early. He broke his maiden over the Churchill Downs track.

Cons: His Louisiana Derby was horrendous, as he faded throughout the race to finish a distant 8th, some 21 lengths behind the winner. No colt has won the Derby after finishing worse than 4th since 1957. As one might imagine, there was nothing to like about that race from a figures standpoint, and even his Risen Star win came back slower than what will be needed to be a factor here. Enters off a six week layoff, which is another historical hurdle.

Conclusion: The Risen Star looks like an outlier relative to his other form lines, and the field he beat that day wasn’t even that great to begin with. Only two colts since 1956 have won this race off a six week layoff. Toss.

#19 NOBLE INDY (Take Charge Indy/ Storm Boot), 30-1

95 Beyer, 317 Tomlinson

Pros: His win in the 9f Louisiana Derby was impressive as he lost the lead in the stretch but battled back for the win after contesting a sharp pace early. It’s interesting to note that he is the only colt in the field to finish his final 3/8 above :38 but also turn in a final 1/8 under :13. He was flattered when a colt he defeated in that race and will see here again, My Boy Jack, came back to win the Lexington Stakes in his next start. His Tomlinson Distance Rating is competitive among these, although that pedigree number is somewhat contradicted elsewhere.

Cons: Let’s start there- his AWD numbers (6.8/6.3) are the worst in the field, and on paper he looks a lot more like an 8f-9f horse than a 10f one. He enters this race off a six week layoff and is very lightly raced, with only four career starts. The 95 Beyer he earned in the Louisiana Derby is still well below the cut line for win contention here. He drew perhaps worst of all, and will have to risk getting hung wide in order to position himself near the pace.

Conclusion: Todd Pletcher is loaded this year, but this colt looks to be the black sheep of the bunch if there is one. Jockey John Velazquez agrees, as he will opt for another mount here, and it’s hard to find an angle to elevate him above the other trio of Pletchers. Since we are not playing the superfecta and only need to go three deep at most, that speaks for itself.

JUST OFF THE PACE

#16 MAGNUM MOON (Malibu Moon/ Unbridled’s Song), 6-1

98 Beyer, 244 Tomlinson

Pros: Undefeated in four career starts, Arkansas Derby winner gets the red hot Luis Saez in the saddle for team Pletcher. In a strangely run race, this strapping colt was allowed to set pretty easy fractions on the lead in that race but exploded down the stretch, coming home in :36.47 for the final 3/8 and :11.99 for the final 1/8. Easy early pace or not, finishing the last panel in sub :12.0 is indisputably eye-catching, and his BRIS Late Pace figure (115) would seem to confirm this. His upside seems potentially limitless.

Cons: Like Justify, he has Apollo to buck, and he hasn’t looked nearly as professional or eye-catching as that one in his wins, often drifting out greenly in the stretch, a tendency that could be destructive to his chances late in this race. His Tomlinson Distance Rating is surprisingly low despite what looks on paper to be a more than adequate pedigree for 10f, but it’s fair to wonder whether he will be able to duplicate his closing kick going longer if he’s close to what figure to be vastly quicker fractions than he set in Arkansas (1:13.40 for the ¾). His speed figures to date fit with this group but don’t exactly jump off the page. One would expect that improvement would be needed to factor for the win, and it’s fair to wonder how much can be expected from such an inexperienced colt on a sharp three-week turnaround after contesting the only four races of his career in such a short time span.

Conclusion: Given how strangely the Arkansas Derby was run and how lightly raced against true competition he is, it is difficult to get a true read on him. It would certainly be no surprise to see him freak here and win, or hang on to hit the board, or to finish off of it. But if we are only using one Apollo curse colt on top, this won’t be the one. The feeling here is that as third choice, he is a bit of an underlay off the quick turnaround, and there should be some concern about his wide post considering he will likely seek to be forwardly placed. Seeking better value, we will take a stand against him in exotics.

#5 AUDIBLE (Into Mischief/ Gilded Time), 8-1

99 Beyer, 252 Tomlinson

Pros: Dominant and versatile winner of his two starts this year, he stalked a fast pace in his easy Florida Derby win last out after having won the 8.5f Holy Bull before that while running closer to the pace. What’s notable is that he duplicated triple digit BRIS Late Pace figures winning in two completely different fashions, posting a 104 at 9f. His BRIS and Beyer speed figures earned in the Florida Derby (107, 99) are good for 3rd and 4th best in the field respectively.

Cons: There is only one, but it’s a big one, and that’s his pedigree. Progeny of Into Mischief like Goldencents, Vyjack and Practical Joke went on to be terrific dirt milers but found the Derby distance taxing, finishing 17th, 18th and a well-beaten 5th in their respective Derby runs. Audible is the only colt in the field to show both Tomlinson Distance Rating and AWD numbers that are more than one standard deviation from the mean below an average Derby winner, and that is highly concerning. It’s interesting that his usual jockey John Velazquez opts for stable mate Vino Rosso for Pletcher in this spot, and that has to mean he has questions of his own after having ridden both colts in their last. The fact that Javier Castellano jumps off Bolt d’Oro here likely has more to do with his loyalty to Pletcher.

Conclusion: We are of the firm opinion that a son of Into Mischief is not winning the Derby, and especially not out of a dam line that is quite laden with speed. But this colt is tough and talented and looks to be the type that figures to outrun his pedigree in this spot. He’s a professional type that seems to know where to put himself to best sustain his run. The bet is that he won’t be able to duplicate the same Late Pace figures at 10f that he has at 8.5f-9f, but that doesn’t mean he can’t hang on for a spot on the podium on talent and intelligence alone, and he draws well near the rail outside the main speed here. One could argue that he got a perfect set up in the Florida Derby but conversely it should be noted that he understood what to do when the fractions up front were too hot and changed tactics accordingly.

#14 MENDELSSOHN (Scat Daddy/ Tricky Creek), 5-1

106 Beyer, 318 Tomlinson

Pros: Versatile foreign shipper has now won on turf, synthetic and dirt tracks. He absolutely demolished the 9.5f UAE Derby field over the dirt course in Dubai, winning by 18 lengths in track record time, so it is clear his talent is abundant. The 106 Beyer he earned for that effort is 2nd best in the field. Out of the Tricky Creek mare Leslie’s Lady, that makes him a half-brother to the now legendary Beholder, who won four Eclipse Awards and beat the boys with ease in the 10f, Grade 1 Pacific Classic. None of the other runners have contested a distance beyond 9f, so he’s already proven that the added ground won’t bother him, if there was ever any doubt to begin with. Ryan Moore, who is widely considered the best jockey in the world, jumps off his 2000 Guineas mount to ride across the pond here for Aidan O’Brien.

Cons: The main one is obvious: a foreign shipper from Dubai (or anywhere else) has never won the Derby. Additionally, as impressive as his UAE Derby romp appeared visually, it bears mention that the Dubai track had been heavily favorable to the speed on the rail all the way through the meet. Out of 17 races on dirt, 16 were won gate to wire on the inside part of the track, so it is easy to make the argument that he benefited greatly from the bias. (Thunder Snow won the Dubai World Cup that day, for heaven’s sake, so clearly there were some fluke results). Mendelssohn will likely be sent again here to avoid kickback (which he’s never had to deal with before) and may not find the dirt at Churchill quite as favorable to that style or the lead as easy to make out of the #14 post. He’s a late May foal, and won’t even be truly three years old when he enters the gate.

Conclusion: For starters, it’s certainly a positive that he’s already proven an ability to ship and win, having made the journey west last fall to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf as a two-year-old. At the end of the day, he could simply be a freak athlete who wins for fun here, and he certainly looms the most imposing threat for top honors to ever ship from Dubai. However, that alone doesn’t make him the winner, and we can’t quite shake the feeling that he figures to encounter a lot of difficulty from a race shape standpoint. It would certainly be no surprise to see him win this, and Moore wouldn’t be here if he couldn’t, but we will take a stand against him on the top line, while playing him heavily underneath. (Can’t use two Scat Daddys on top, and the other is preferred).

#11 BOLT D’ORO (Medaglia d’Oro/ A.P. Indy), 8-1

102 Beyer, 305 Tomlinson

Pros: Seemed a cinch for Eclipse Award honors last year before a rough trip and 3rd place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile cost him. Draw a line through that race and you have to like what he’s done since, winning the 8.5f San Felipe via disqualification after a tough stretch duel with the now sidelined McKinzie, and then improving his Beyer when a non-threatening but not disgraced 2nd to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby. An early season injury got him off to a late start, but he has plenty of bottom from his two-year-old campaign, and he now enters in the right stage of his form cycle, as trainer Mick Ruis wins with 20% of his runners third off the lay. His BRIS Late Pace figure for the Santa Anita Derby (114) is highly competitive here, and he’s actually the only colt in the field to have posted at least three triple digit Late Pace figures around two turns (he has posted four, in fact). His AWD numbers top the field, so the added ground and faster expected pace should only help his chances to take another step forward. He’s one of just three colts in the field to run a triple digit Beyer, and he’s done so twice around two turns in his six career starts. A model of consistency, he’s never missed the board and has never delivered a bad performance.

Cons: Bolt d’Oro shows no historical red flags, but he’s also far from impenetrable. For one, he has shown a tendency to break slowly, which has gotten him into the sort of troublesome situations he endured at the Breeders’ Cup; a repeat of that could end his race early. While coming home in :37.41 for the last 3/8 and :13.00 for the last 1/8 is nothing to scoff at, we’d like to have seen him finish a bit more quickly. His connections aren’t quite as experienced as some here, and his works have been perplexing, as he recently turned in a 7f breeze where he showed decelerating splits. And of course, Justify just put him away by three lengths after essentially toying with him in the stretch.

Conclusion: He seems to be a bit of a forgotten and dismissed colt, having not truly won a race in his last three, but how quickly one forgets that he was the de facto favorite heading into the winter. While it’s tough to make a case for how he will turn the tables on Justify, we’ll try: Bolt d’Oro cut inside sharply in the stretch to a part of the track that had been playing poorly all day, and couldn’t have done so in a worse situation from a pace standpoint as Justify had walked the dog on the lead. That gives him some excuse for his come home time not jumping off the page. His final work looked a lot better than his penultimate one, so it’s possible he was just working on the break and getting some bottom that day. Three-time Derby winner Victor Espinoza picks up the mount and draws perfectly here right in the middle of the field. He looks like the biggest overlay in the field to us, and will be used heavily on top as well as in outright bets. The pick.

bolt.jpeg

#6 GOOD MAGIC (Curlin/ Hard Spun), 12-1

95 Beyer, 329 Tomlinson

Pros: The defending two-year-old and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion enters off a win in the Blue Grass in a much needed effort following a perplexingly flat 3rd place finish in his season debut in the Fountain of Youth. Perhaps he needed that race after the long layoff, and it bears mention that he won the Breeders’ Cup race at the same stage in his form cycle last year as that was his third race of the year. Trainer Chad Brown wins with 25% of his runners third off the lay which is tied for tops in the field for that statistic. Sired by a 3rd place finisher in this race and out of a dam whose sire finished 2nd, he is bred to run all day, showing highly competitive Tomlinson and AWD numbers. Being by Curlin, he comes from the Mr. Prospector sire line, which has won 14 of the last 26 Derby races and 11 of the last 18. His back class earns BRIS Prime Power Selection honors, although that hasn’t been a historically meaningful stat, with these colts finishing in the trifecta just 8 of the past 18 years for an average finish of 7th.

Cons: While his Blue Grass win looked on paper like a vital return to form, the field he beat there wasn’t very strong, and the Beyer he earned there (95) seems to reflect that reality, coming in as the weakest figure of the five major preps. More worrisome is that he did not finish very strongly at all despite sitting 4 lengths off a pretty sharp pace, coming home in :38.09 for the final 3/8 and :13.31 for the final 1/8. The 93 BRIS Late Pace figure that this equates to would be the lowest final prep figure ever for a Derby winner outside of Mine That Bird.

Conclusion: He’s an interesting case due to the fact that if we use his two-year-old form as a template, a couple of his main negatives disappear. The 102 Beyer and 109 BRIS Late Pace figure he earned in his Breeders’ Cup score look very competitive here. The question remains whether he is poised to return to that form or whether he has simply flattened out as a three-year-old. He doesn’t register as a win candidate here even with a return to that form; in our view, he would have to improve upon it, and therefore is difficult to support on the top line. However, he has the appearance of a horse who is sitting on another improved effort, and it would sure be a shame to rip up a trifecta ticket because he got up for 3rd.

STALKERS

#12 ENTICED (Medaglia D’Oro/ Mineshaft), 30-1

95 Beyer, 307 Tomlinson

Pros: Shows two graded wins at shorter distances (8f and 8.5f), most recently two starts back in the 8f Gotham. On paper, his pedigree seems suited to handle the 10f here. He does have a graded win over this track from last fall, his only win around two turns.

Cons: Despite his bloodlines, he has the look of a colt who doesn’t especially want to run this far, as he hasn’t been able to extend leads in the stretch and came home slowly in his 9f attempt. He was bumped in the stretch which offers some excuse, but numbers like :38.25 for the final 3/8 won’t get it done here.

Conclusion: With middling speed figures and a bit of a grinding running style, he’d have to have either a massive improvement or an ideal trip that saw the race completely disintegrate in front of him. He’s an honest colt that will have later successes in less hefty spots but in this field we are looking elsewhere.

#17 SOLOMINI (Curlin/ Storm Cat), 30-1

92 Beyer, 290 Tomlinson

Pros: Acquitted himself well as a two-year-old, posting runner-up efforts in the 8.5f Grade 1 Frontrunner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile races, finishing behind the highly regarded likes of Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic. He was part of the Arkansas Derby contingent that finished incredibly well after chasing slow fractions, closing to finish 3rd and covering the final 3/8 in :36.87 and the final 1/8 in :12.24, earning a 111 BRIS Late Pace figure. He is one of three sons of Curlin that complete the entirety of the presence of the Mr. Prospector line in this race and seems bred for the distance. Bob Baffert wins with 25% of his runners third off the lay, which is tied for the best in the field.

Cons: He has the look of a colt who hasn’t quite figured it out yet. He has raced greenly, switching leads late and running in an unfocused manner. From a speed figure perspective, he has leveled off and hasn’t shown any improvement in his three starts this year, and actually shows decreasing figures over his last three races. Thanks to a disqualification in his 2018 debut, he owns just a maiden win to his name, so this looks like a big step up in class. He’s been defeated handily by Magnum Moon by a combined eight lengths in his last two races and it’s difficult to see how those tables get turned here.

Conclusion: One-paced type is our least favorite of the Curlin threesome. He seems to have the largest gap to close in terms of figures and we are still somewhat skeptical of the closing fractions in the Arkansas Derby, considering all four of the top finishers posted such similarly rapid come home times without any precedent in prior races. His lack of professionalism is the icing on the cake in this spot but like most Curlins, he should be one to watch as he develops into the fall.

#2 FREE DROP BILLY (Union Rags/ Giant’s Causeway), 30-1

89 Beyer, 229 Tomlinson

Pros: He broke his maiden over this track as a two-year-old and followed that up by winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland at 8.5f. His pedigree shows strong AWD numbers, especially underneath (8.1f). He looked to be making a strong stretch move in his 9f prep before a colt impeded his progress and was subsequently disqualified, so it’s hard to take his slow closing figures (:38.49 for the final 3/8) at face value. His running style and pedigree seem to indicate he will be moving late. He fired a bullet 5f work in :59.0 on 4/21, the best of 52 workers, so it’s safe to say he is feeling comfortable on the track.

Cons: What’s harder to give him a pass for are his speed figures, which rank as the second lowest in the field per both Beyer and BRIS. His Tomlinson Distance Rating is the second lowest number in the field, which is a bit puzzling on paper, but we don’t make the numbers. He’s been soundly beaten by many of these foes, including 4 lengths by Good Magic, 6.75 lengths by Enticed and 5.5 lengths by Audible. The draw didn’t do him any favors either, as he will likely be pinned down on the rail by his stablemate and the speed outside of him.

Conclusion: There’s somewhat of a pedigree contradiction here, as he’s one of only two colts in the field with above average AWD and below average Tomlinson. The head to head results seem to suggest he has too much ground to make up to be a serious contender for the trifecta. If you’re a superfecta player, crazier things have happened than a late moving type getting up in time to light up the board, however.

#20 COMBATANT (Scat Daddy/ Boundary), 50-1

92 Beyer, 318 Tomlinson

Pros: He wound up 4th in a three horse photo in the Arkansas Derby, but he covered the final 3/8 in :36.27, which is the fastest in the field. As mentioned several times already, the fractions in that race were slow enough up front that the true quality of finishing times is tough to gauge, but nevertheless, his figure stands out on the page. The folks at BRIS were plenty impressed, and awarded him a Late Pace figure of 116, which is the second highest in the field. His Tomlinson Distance Rating is above the average for a Derby winner, so the distance should be to his liking. He did break is maiden over this track.

Cons: Speaking of that maiden win, that came in his second start, and he hasn’t found the winner’s circle since. His speed figures are still on the low side and he hasn’t been able to hold off Solomini in his last two races, while also losing to the likes of Magnum Moon and My Boy Jack by over 4 lengths each. Drawing into the widest post of all, he doesn’t figure to get a trip that will benefit his already numerous limitations.

Conclusion: One of the last colts to draw in due to a defection, he seems an outsider here on figures. It would be easier to take his Arkansas Derby Late Pace figure at face value had he ever delivered a triple digit figure previously in his six career starts, but that isn’t the case. We lean towards faster and more consistent closers for the underneath spots.

#15 INSTILLED REGARD (Arch/ Forestry), 50-1

91 Beyer, 303 Tomlinson

Pros: Began the year with promise by winning the Grade 3 LeComte at 8f. Despite finishing 10 lengths from the winner in his last outing, the figures for the Santa Anita Derby came back strong, and he posted a 105 BRIS Late Pace figure, which looks competitive here.

Cons: Like so many of these, his speed figures seem stuck in a rut, and he’d need a massive leap forward to be a factor here. He doesn’t seem to be progressing. Two starts back, his Risen Star was a disaster, as he finished 4th against a weak field, and despite the strong Late Pace figure he finished his final 3/8 in just :38.26 in his last. The bottom side of his pedigree seems pretty speed favoring as well.

Conclusion: You can’t fault the connections for taking advantage of the defection and running him, but we prefer several others in this spot.

CLOSERS

#18 VINO ROSSO (Curlin/ Street Cry), 12-1

98 Beyer, 289 Tomlinson

Pros: Rapidly improving Pletcher trainee enters off winning the 9f Wood Memorial, where he stalked and overtook the leaders in a move similar to what is often used to win this very race. It was his second race with blinkers added and this time he appeared much more focused and settled than he did at Tampa Bay, where he seemed to not handle the track (wouldn’t be the first) and was only running in spots. He should be placed off the pace but doesn’t run like a deep closer, and keeping the blinkers on here should keep him in touch with the leaders enough to mount a powerful move, with strong breeding on top and bottom leaving no doubt that he will appreciate the added ground. He rounds out the Mr. Prospector contingent. It’s notable that John Velazquez chose to ride this colt over Audible, and the two worked a bullet 4f in :47.20 on 4/27 that was the sharpest of 75 that day.

Cons: He’s one of just two colts that shows no historical Red Flags. That would make him an easy pick for the win if his speed figures (98 Beyer, 102 BRIS) and BRIS Late Pace figure (98) had come back a touch higher. His Tomlinson Distance Rating is also in the middle of the group and it’s worth wondering if he is quite as talented as the best of these.

Conclusion: This looks like the classic colt that deserves attention more for his lack of negatives and potential upside than his accolades to date and may fly under the radar as a result. From a race shape standpoint he looks to be the type who will be in position to win, and he has the jockey to get him there. The wide post isn’t as big an issue considering he figures to take back early anyway. Any concerns about his last out Late Pace figure can be put somewhat at ease by the fact that he did run three straight triple digit numbers in the races before, two of those around two turns, which is something only two other colts in the field can claim. In the end he simply may not be fast enough but at these odds it is worth it to find out with a colt that doesn’t seem to have any knocks. It’s rare to see that for a colt with his credentials and he must be used on top of all wagers on general principle.

vinorossoeclipse

#10 MY BOY JACK (Creative Cause/ Mineshaft), 30-1

94 Beyer, 313 Tomlinson

Pros: Well-bred colt is the field’s most experienced runner, with ten races under his belt to date. He won the 8.5f Lexington just three weeks ago in his last in an attempt to earn a spot here, although we now know he would have made it into the field regardless. That may have been just the proper sharpening as otherwise he’d be coming off a six week layoff from his 3rd place finish in the Louisiana Derby, where he came home impressively in :36.81 for the final 3/8, the only runner outside of the Arkansas Derby to close in under :37. He earned a 106 BRIS Late Pace figure for the effort and shows a strong enough Tomlinson to suggest he will relish the extra distance here. So, call the cutback in the Lexington a glorified work for a colt who has plenty of mileage.

Cons: He is still well behind the top speed figures in this spot, and has tables to turn on fellow longshots Noble Indy and Lone Sailor here, who he couldn’t get past in the stretch of the Louisiana Derby as he appeared to hang. The three week layoff is a bit sharp, although it does bring us some comfort that he is heavily raced anyway.

Conclusion: Closers like Lookin’ At Lee last year and Golden Soul and Commanding Curve before him seem to keep wrecking Derby exactas and trifectas, so it’s always worth landing on one longshot closer that could light up the board at a big price. He looks like the type to do just that, with an explosive turn of foot that should have him in the mix late. In his last two races, he gobbled up 9 lengths and 5.5 lengths respectively between the second call and the stretch, which is easily the best in the field; now he just needs to sustain that energy. With experience under him the feeling here is that he can improve upon his relatively slow speed figures with some extra ground, we advise using him as the bomber option underneath in exactas and trifectas.

#8 LONE SAILOR (Majestic Warrior/ Mr. Greeley), 50-1

95 Beyer, 311 Tomlinson

Pros: He’s been working spectacularly, ripping off a rocket 5f work in :57.3 on 4/19 over the track.

Cons: Just a maiden winner after eight starts, he took the lead in the stretch of his last, the 9f Louisiana Derby, only to be passed again before the wire. The six week layoff between that race and this one has historically been tough to overcome.

Conclusion: He’s clearly sharp at the moment based on his lightning fast work, although we are not sure that’s exactly the sort of training you want to see from a horse that is supposed to be an off-the-pace type. He would seem to need to improve quite a bit from a figure standpoint to factor here and we are not sure that the breeding screams for more ground. Pass.

#1 FIRENZE FIRE (Poseidon’s Warrior/ Langfuhr), 50-1

83 Beyer, 281 Tomlinson

Pros: Was regarded highly as a two year old after winning the Grade 1 Champagne at 8f at Belmont.

Cons: Longer distances have not been to his liking, however, and his form seems to have trailed off as well. Between his slow come home times (:39.64, 78 BRIS Late Pace) and field low Beyer, there isn’t a lot to like here. He draws the dreaded #1 post to top it off.

Conclusion: We remain surprised that one-turn specialist is actually going to contest this race, and while we expect success from him at shorter distances going forward, this is, respectfully, the easiest toss in the field. And it seems just that the most toss-able horse lands in the most toss-able post.

#9 HOFBURG (Tapit/ Touch Gold), 20-1

94 Beyer, 282 Tomlinson

Pros: Trainer Bill Mott took a confident shot running this inexperienced colt in the Florida Derby off just two career starts and it paid off with a runner up finish, earning a spot in the starting gate. His BRIS figure (104) is actually the fourth best in the field although it somewhat contradicts his low Beyer for that effort, but the two publications disagreed on the quality of that race in general. Sitting back off a fast pace, he was able to come home in :37.70 for the final 3/8 and earned a 101 BRIS Late Pace figure. His BRIS figures have ascended rapidly in his short career (79-96-104) and a similar leap forward would put him squarely in the mix.

Cons: With only three career starts and being only a maiden winner, he is easily the least experienced colt in the field. Mott wins with just 15% of his runners third off the lay, the lowest win percentage here for the colts in that stage of their form cycle. He’s also never hit the board in the Derby in seven tries. Looking more closely at the Florida Derby, Hofburg actually lost ground in the stretch to the winner Audible after sitting further off the pace than that one did.

Conclusion: The combination of his off-the-pace running style and potential for upside is appealing, but the overall sense here is that this may be too much too soon in a Derby as deep as this one appears to be. It would be advisable, though, to keep an eye on the performance of Mississippi (3rd in the Florida Derby, 7.75 lengths behind Hofburg) in the Pat Day Mile. If he were to run well or win that race, it would certainly flatter the Florida Derby form.

 

 

Picks Summary:

  1. Bolt d’Oro
  2. Justify
  3. Vino Rosso
  4. Mendelssohn
  5. My Boy Jack
  6. Audible
  7. Good Magic
  8. Magnum Moon
  9. Hofburg
  10. Solomini
  11. Combatant
  12. Free Drop Billy
  13. Enticed
  14. Noble Indy
  15. Lone Sailor
  16. Instilled Regard
  17. Flameaway
  18. Bravazo
  19. Firenze Fire
  20. Promises Fulfilled

HOW TO BET $101 ON THE KENTUCKY DERBY

$10 Win, $20 Place- Bolt D’Oro

$20 Place- Vino Rosso

$3 Exacta Box- Bolt d’Oro, Justify, Vino Rosso

$1 Exacta Key- Bolt d’Oro, Justify, Vino Rosso/ My Boy Jack

$0.50 Trifecta Part Wheel- Bolt d’Oro, Justify, Vino Rosso/ Bolt d’Oro, Vino Rosso, Justify, Mendelssohn, My Boy Jack/ Bolt d’Oro, Vino Rosso, Justify, Mendelssohn, My Boy Jack, Audible, Good Magic

NCAA Tournament Bracket Picks and Analysis

Posted March 15, 2018 by The Enthusiast
Categories: Sports

SOUTH

#1 Virginia over #16 UMBC: To refresh, a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed, and it’s not happening here to the Cavaliers, who boast the nation’s strongest overall resume by a landslide.

#8 Creighton over #9 Kansas State: We like picking standout transfer Marcus Foster’s new school over his old school. The Blue Jays also enjoy a 2.5 point efficiency advantage.

#5 Kentucky over #12 Davidson: While this is the most likely 12 over 5 upset from a probability standpoint, this is a really bad matchup for Davidson, who ranks 27th nationally in three point field goal percentage and scores 42% of its points from beyond the arc (6th highest in the country). Kentucky’s three point defense is 3rd in the nation and will likely shut this down completely.

#4 Arizona over #13 Buffalo: This won’t be a blowout but the Wildcats are far too talented to let this one slip away and have shown defensive improvement over the last month.

#11 Loyola-Chicago over #6 Miami: This is by far the most likely 11 over 6 upset from an efficiency standpoint as Miami holds just a 0.5 point advantage. The Hurricanes will be without standout guard and future pro Bruce Brown here and figure to struggle against the Rambler defense, which is ranked 25th nationally. Loyola is also a 40% three point shooting team, has a win over Florida in Gainsville and hasn’t lost since January.

#3 Tennessee over #14 Wright State: This looks like by far the least likely 14 over 3 upset, with Wright State perplexingly overseeded.

#7 Nevada over #10 Texas: Nevada holds a 2.7 point efficiency advantage over the talented but inconsistent Longhorns but should pull this out behind the strength of their ball care, as they turn the ball over on a national low 13.6% of possessions.

#2 Cincinnati over #15 Georgia State: Ron Hunter has played Cinderella before, beating Baylor as a 14 seed two years ago. Expect them to give the offensively-challenged Bearcats all they can handle here before falling just short.

 

#1 Virginia over #8 Creighton: Creighton’s 22nd ranked offense would be a challenging second round draw for most teams, but the Blue Jays don’t guard well enough to keep pace against the best defensive squad of the modern era.

#5 Arizona over #4 Kentucky: This feels more like a National Championship game than a second round game. While the analytics point towards Kentucky here, Arizona seems the safer bet based on talent, and while their defensive efficiency numbers appear to be a red flag, they’ve improved massively over the last month.

#3 Tennessee over #11 Loyola-Chicago: The dream ends here for the upset-minded Ramblers against the nation’s 4th ranked defense and SEC player of the year Grant Williams.

#2 Cincinnati over #7 Nevada: To be clear, this is not the team that Cincinnati wants to see in this spot, as the 11th ranked Nevada offense figures to make some headway against the 2nd ranked defense of the Bearcats. It’s a risky upset pick due to the toss-up nature of Nevada’s first game, but a good reason to take Cincy out in the next round from a probability standpoint.

 

#1 Virginia over #4 Arizona: This could be the last team Virginia wants to see here, as the Wildcats have them beat on talent. But despite recent improvement, a defensive ranking in the 70s is a historical eliminator for picking a team much past this point, and something tells us that the pack-line defense of the Cavaliers will find an answer for the absolute monster that is DeAndre Ayton.

#3 Tennessee over #2 Cincinnati: While Cincinnati seems to be a bit of an analytics darling, we are undersold on their entire body of work. Matching up with a team that plays equally tough defense but scores more effectively will be their undoing.

 

#1 Virginia over #3 Tennessee: It’s finally time for Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers, who ride their stout defense and surgically efficient offense past a worn down Volunteer team who would be on the heels of having to face the nation’s top two defenses.

WEST

#1 Xavier over #16 Texas Southern: This isn’t impossible, as Xavier is overseeded from an efficiency standpoint and Mike Davis has plenty of tournament experience. But again, it’s never happened before and there is a 16 vs. 1 game that we believe has even more upset potential…and aren’t predicting that one either.

#9 Florida State over #8 Missouri: We’ll play contrarian here as the rest of the nation seems to swoon over the return of Michael Porter Jr in a game that is a total toss up in terms of the math. But Missouri will be without its second leading scorer and looked out of sync in Porter’s return at the SEC tourney.

#5 Ohio State over #12 South Dakota State: This will be a trendy upset pick and one well worth avoiding. The Buckeyes have been too solid defensively all year long to succumb to the one-dimensional South Dakota State attack. Look for Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop to neutralize Jackrabbit superstar Mike Daum on the interior as Ohio State wins this fairly easily.

#4 Gonzaga over UNC Greensboro: Disespected no more. Gonzaga is underseeded and dangerous in this tournament, and should cruise here behind their length and experience.

#6 Houston over San Diego State: This is likely to be another tempting upset pick after the Aztecs steamrolled their way to a Mountain West tournament championship. But don’t be fooled, Houston holds a 6.4 point efficiency advantage, played second seeded Cincinnati down to the last possession in their conference tourney championship and looks underseeded here by the metrics.

#3 Michigan over #14 Montana: This is a pretty tough draw for the red hot Wolverines, who face by far the toughest 14 seed and are coming off a two week break, and as a reward for winning could face an underseeded 6 seed in the next round. We’ll give them the edge based on their ability to take care of the basketball and maximize clean possessions, while discounting their chances to advance much further as a result of the draw.

#7 Texas A&M over #10 Providence: The Friars have the look of a “wise guy” team coming off a tough effort in the Big East tournament, beating Xavier in overtime and losing to Villanova in overtime in the championship. But their efficiency numbers would seem to indicate that they would have missed the tournament if things like RPI didn’t exist (one can dream.) As it stands, at 64th overall per KenPom, they are the lowest ranked at-large team in the dance that didn’t have a play-in game, and with an offense ranked outside the top 100, could struggle to score against the Aggies’ 12th ranked defense.

#2 North Carolina over #15 Lipscomb: The defending champions deal Lipscomb, who once beat Indiana at Assembly Hall, a brutal introduction in their first tournament appearance.

 

#1 Xavier over #9 Florida State: The Musketeers appear the most vulnerable 1 seed, but still hold a 6 point efficiency advantage over a Seminole squad that has been shaky against top competition.

#4 Gonzaga over #5 Ohio State: They played this game back in November, and Gonzaga won 86-59. Have the Buckeyes closed the gap that much since then? Playing this game in Boise won’t help their chances, and the Bulldogs carry a 3.8 point advantage in efficiency.

#3 Michigan over #6 Houston: This is actually the closest of the potential 3 vs. 6 matchups, with Michigan owning a relatively narrow 2.6 point efficiency advantage. But, using the same schedule strength argument we used against Cincinnati, we still wonder whether teams from the American Athletic are battle tested enough to knock off a top foe like this in the tournament.

#2 North Carolina over #2 Texas A&M: The balanced scoring attack of the Tarheels should be able to make headway here against a stout Aggie defense. It was impressive the way the defending champs spaced out the floor against the Duke zone and knocked down jump shots.

 

#4 Gonzaga over #1 Xavier: In a battle of previous mid-major programs, the experience and efficiency edge goes to Gonzaga, who amazingly gets to play this game closer to home than the top seeded team in the region. Xavier’s 60th ranked defense is a historical eliminator for a final four contender and it will struggle to contain Gonzaga’s balanced scoring attack that boasts an entire starting five averaging in double figures. All-name team contender Killian Tillie is a stretch four that can really light it up from outside (50.0% three point shooting percentage) and do some damage against a highly penetrable Xavier defense.

#2 North Carolina over #3 Michigan: In another rematch game, North Carolina is able to repeat the 86-71 drubbing it delivered in November. In all seriousness, Michigan’s improvement on defense likely makes this a much closer contest this time around, but a more experienced UNC backcourt makes the difference here. And again, Michigan’s likelihood of advancing this far are greatly less than the Tarheels, making this the correct pick from a probability standpoint.

 

#2 North Carolina over #4 Gonzaga: What a cool Elite 8 contest this would be in a rematch of last year’s National Championship. The teams look fairly evenly matched so we will side with the team that has the easier path to arrive here and expect a game that comes down to the wire. The Tarheels’ ability to crash the offensive glass (3rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage) versus the Bulldogs’ defensive rebounding ability (6th nationally) will be the battle that determines the game. Theo Pinson, Luke Maye and Joel Berry all played large roles in last year’s championship run and are beginning to gel at the right time; UNC looks poised to take advantage of the tournament’s weakest region in route to their third straight trip to the Final Four.

EAST

#1 Villanova over Radford: Let’s not be ridiculous. With an explosive offense firing on all cylinders currently, this is not a #1 seed that you want to fade.

#8 Virginia Tech over Alabama: Alabama’s impressive run in the SEC conference tournament brought many aboard the Collin Sexton bandwagon. The lottery pick is the type of player that can take over a game and will his team to win. But the feeling here is that the love is a touch overblown and we will side with a Hokie squad that has wins against Duke, North Carolina and at Virginia, and owns a 2.8 point efficiency advantage in this contest, the largest of the 8-9 matchups that are usually closer to a toss up.

#5 West Virginia over #12 Murray State: The Racers have been hot lately, winning their last 13 games, but get a tough matchup here with the underseeded and defensive minded Mountaineers. This is probably our least favorite of the 5/12 upset possibilities.

#4 Witchita State over #13 Marshall: The Thundering Herd stands a real chance here against a Shocker defense that ranks outside the top 100 in efficiency. Witchita State has underachieved in a season that many believed would be their best ever, but has the talent to pull this one out. Expect it to be a bit too close for comfort, however.

#6 Florida over #11 St. Bonaventure: We are HARD sellers of this trendy upset pick. St. Bonaventure holds the honor of being the lowest ranked at-large team in the tournament in terms of efficiency, and wasn’t included in the field when our Bracketology was finalized based on their subpar body of work profile. Meanwhile, Florida looks underseeded in this spot, showing two wins over Kentucky, a win over Cincinnati and a win over Gonzaga in December. In fact, the 7.1 point efficiency edge that the Gators hold here is the largest of any 11/6 matchup.

#3 Texas Tech over Stephen F. Austin: The Red Raiders were one of the most surprising stories of the year. Despite struggling down the stretch as injuries lagged, they finished with the 3rd strongest defense in the country in terms of efficiency. Stephen F. Austin plays a rugged style and leads the nation in opponent turnovers per possession (25.6%!) by a wide margin and could make this interesting late, but we don’t see Texas Tech dropping this one. This should be a fun game between state opponents as the game is being played in Dallas.

#10 Butler over #7 Arkansas: This just seems like the type of game that Butler wins, weighting mental toughness above athleticism, and the efficiency stats give the Bulldogs a 2.2 point advantage. With a victory over Villanova to their credit, they’ve shown the ability to knock off the best when playing at full capacity.

#2 Purdue over #15 Cal State Fullerton: Senior leaders won’t let the Boilers drop this game, as they are poised for a deep run.

 

#1 Villanova over #8 Virginia Tech: This is a tough matchup for Villanova, as the Hokies have proven the ability to beat anyone on their best day. But Villanova is loaded with experienced players including likely player of the year Jalen Brunson, and boast the greatest offense in terms of efficiency in the modern era heading into the tournament. Virginia Tech struggles to contain opponents from the perimeter, ranking 142nd nationally, and may have met their match against the heavily perimeter oriented Wildcats.

#5 West Virginia over #4 Witchita State: West Virginia’s 39th ranked defense hasn’t been as stout as years past, but that’s nothing compared to the disappointment of the Witchita State defense this season. Just two years ago, the Shockers held the nation’s very best defense, and coming into this tournament, it ranks 109th. That’s quite a tumble! The more balanced Mountaineers have been challenged offensively at times this season but still rank 13th in offensive efficiency and should be able to score with ease in this one.

#6 Florida over #3 Texas Tech: The widespread hate for Florida is difficult to understand considering their resume. Texas Tech holds just a 3.2 point efficiency advantage in this one, one of the smallest of the potential 3 vs. 6 matchups, and comes limping into this tournament. The Red Raiders have lost five of their last seven and health questions abound regarding star All-American guard Keenan Evans. Florida is more than capable of beating the nation’s best on their day and we will give them a shot to pull the upset here. It’s worth nothing that preseason rankings, often one of the better tournament success predictors, had the Gators ranked 8th, and Texas Tech unranked.

#2 Purdue over #10 Butler: A very fun matchup in the Midwest town of Detroit features another early season rematch in which the Boilers prevailed 82-67 in Indianapolis. The stat that stands out here is that the Boilers own the best three point percentage in the tournament field, while the Bulldogs rank 295th nationally in three point percentage defense. Purdue should have a field day from deep.

 

#1 Villanova over #5 West Virginia: Villanova’s three point rate, or the percentage of their three point attempts relative to their total field goal attempts, has been high to a worrisome level for the past several seasons. However, they bucked that trend in winning the 2016 championship while relying heavily on the three. This year’s team is far more accurate than that team was (39.8% vs. 36.2%) and West Virginia’s three point defense ranks 296th nationally. Against a West Virginia team that likes to press, Villanova’s ability to take care of the basketball (7th nationally on a per possession basis) is a huge difference maker here.

#2 Purdue over #6 Florida: The balance and experience of the Boilermakers, not to mention their 2nd ranked offense, figures to get the best of the Gators here. This is yet another opponent that doesn’t match up well against Purdue’s ability to knock down threes; Florida ranks 216th nationally in three point defense.

 

#1 Villanova over #2 Purdue: We’ve been looking for an angle all week to justify picking Purdue to win here, but just simply cannot see it happening. In a matchup showcasing the nation’s two best offenses, Villanova’s seems so much more explosive and athletic, and while both defenses have struggled against higher quality opponents, Purdue really seemed to play down to their competition late in the season. They may not know what hits them here, and Villanova is the rare team that can match up with Purdue’s experience and defend their three point attack (45th nationally in three point percentage defense).

MIDWEST

#1 Kansas over #16 Pennsylvania: We’re not going to go out on a very risky limb and predict the impossible here. We’ll just point out that this matchup is a total nightmare for Kansas. Aside from facing perhaps the strongest 16 seed in recent memory (128th in KenPom which is ahead of 14th seeded Wright State), the Jayhawks also face one that takes away their strengths. Kansas scores 37% of their points from three point range, and Penn is the single best team in the tournament at defending the three. Add in the fact that the Kansas interior is likely depleted due to injury to starting center Udoka Azubuike, which means they will be even more dependent on perimeter shooting than usual, and….let’s just say you will want to tune in for this one.

#8 Seton Hall over #9 NC State: Seton Hall is the highest rated 8 seed in terms of efficiency (27th) and holds a 2.2 point edge in this game. All of these evenly matched 8-9 games start to become exhausting to try to predict so in this case, that’s good enough for us.

#12 New Mexico State over #5 Clemson: Here it is! The lone 12 over 5 upset… because, ya know, there has to be at least one and it’s no fun at all to pick a bracket without trying to guess it. The reasons for this pick are three fold. For one, Clemson finds a matchup here against a similarly defensive-minded team (8th vs. 15th nationally in defensive efficiency). Also, importantly, the Tigers have struggled down the stretch, losing four of their last seven after losing second leading scorer and rebounder Donte Grantham. Finally, the banged up Tigers have to travel to San Diego an play a virtual road game here.

#4 Auburn over #13 Charleston: According to the numbers, this is the most likely 13 over 4 upset, and Auburn has certainly struggled down the stretch, dealing with injuries after overachieving for much of the season. We’ll hedge this possibility by taking out the Tigers next round but don’t want to go too crazy with side by side upsets.

#6 TCU over #11 Syracuse: TCU really isn’t getting enough credit. Ranked 22nd nationally in overall efficiency, this is a team that can really light it up from three (40.0%, 13th nationally). Syracuse shouldn’t be playing in this game (they shouldn’t have even been in the last four out of the tournament) and Jamie Dixon has seen the Syracuse zone many times in his years at Pittsburgh and had success against it. The Horned Frogs shoot it well enough to roll here.

#3 Michigan State over #14 Bucknell: Don’t look for a repeat of the Middle Tennessee upset here. The Spartans are back, and they are loaded, and possibly even better than the team that lost in the first round inexplicably two years ago as the tournament favorite.

#10 Oklahoma over #7 Rhode Island: First thing’s first- Oklahoma absolutely deserves to be in this tournament based on their wins and collective body of work. In fact, we’d even argue they are underseeded, so there! The bottom line is that Trae Young is the best scorer and passer in the tournament and now this team has a chip on its shoulder and faces an overseeded Rhode Island team that lost to some really bad opponents late in the year. End of rant.

#2 Duke over #15 Iona: Duke has the #3 offense in the nation. Iona has the #214 defense in the nation. Any questions?

 

#1 Kansas over #8 Seton Hall: We really wish we liked any of the other teams in the upper quadrant of this region enough to take Kansas out early. The truth is that if the Jayhawks emerge victorious from a very tough first round game they are liable to walk into the Elite 8. Seton Hall poses a formidable inside presence but won’t be able to contain the Kansas backcourt.

#12 New Mexico State over #4 Auburn: New Mexico State got a really great draw here to get to play two injury-ridden squads so close to home, and there’s always a double digit seed in the Sweet 16, so it might as well be this one. Auburn hasn’t been the same since losing center Anfernee McLemore to a dislocated ankle, dropping four of their last six. Auburn was already 163rd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage before the injury and would face a team ranked 11th in offensive rebounding percentage. That’s a horrible matchup.

#3 Michigan State over #6 TCU: This should actually be a closer game than most expect, as the Spartans would hold just a 7.3 point advantage in terms of efficiency. However, that’s still good for the largest advantage amongst potential 3 vs 6 games, and TCU’s ranking outside the top 100 in defense doesn’t exactly lend heavily towards upset potential against the nation’s 9th best effective field goal percentage.

#2 Duke over #10 Oklahoma: Trae Young may cut up the Duke zone here a bit and put on the show everyone wants to see, but the Sooners simply don’t have the horses around him to keep up with the nation’s most talented team. The ride ends here for Oklahoma.

 

#1 Kansas over #12 New Mexico State: See what we mean about Kansas? If they get this far, you can’t possibly pick them to lose. It’s either lose first round, or pencil them in to the Elite Eight. But no further…

#3 Michigan State over #2 Duke: Full disclosure- before the bracket was announced, this was our choice for the National Championship game. If it seems ridiculous to create a bracket with the potential of the nation’s two most talented teams meeting before the Elite Eight, then you aren’t giving enough credit to the most perennially incompetent individuals assembled annually as the NCAA Selection Committee. Nevertheless, if this happens, this is the game of the tournament, and the winner takes the whole thing. So, this is an important pick. It’s another rematch game, as Duke defeated Michigan State back in November by a score 0f 88-82. Amazingly, Tom Izzo is now a shocking 1-11 in games against Duke and Coach K, but we feel this is the spot for the tables to turn. Duke’s defense has improved massively since switching to zone, but Michigan State is not a team that you want to play a zone against. The Spartans are 4th nationally in three point field goal percentage and 24th nationally in two point field goal percentage. Simply put, this isn’t a team that misses open shots, and even when they do, they corral 35.0% of their misses, which is good for 4th in the nation. Duke actually leads in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (37.9%) but Big Ten defensive player of the year Jaren Jackson Jr. may be able to frustrate the manchild Marvin Bagley Jr. on both sides of the ball and take him out of his game a bit. Spartan shooting guard Cassius Winston is the sharpest three point shooter in the tournament, finishing the season at an insane 52.6% from beyond the arc. If Duke tries to go zone here they are liable to be torn apart, and switching defenses may create rhythm issues. This could go either way but Sparty has a slim edge here from a matchup perspective.

 

#3 MICHIGAN STATE over #1 Kansas: This should be a great backcourt battle but if Kansas gets this far, their time is up. Defensively, the Jayhawks sit dangerously close to the dreaded 50 line in efficiency, while Michigan State is one of two teams to be top 10 on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The other is Duke. Again, what was the committee thinking even making that game a possibility so early in the tournament?

FINAL FOUR

#1 VIRGINIA over #2 North Carolina: These teams have played twice already this season, and Virginia has won handily both times. It’s difficult to beat a team three times in one year, but Virginia simply seems to have North Carolina’s number here. It will be ironic indeed to see a Virginia team that on paper doesn’t look nearly as strong as the Malcolm Brogdon or Justin Anderson teams did make it this far. But this is a team that doesn’t turn the ball over and dictates the pace in a style that has been perfected. The Anaconda marches on.

#3 MICHIGAN STATE over #1 Villanova: For as much as we have discussed three point defense, a more important statistic in terms of championship teams has historically been two point defense. Michigan State leads the nation in that category by a wide margin, surrendering only an astonishing 38.4% mark to its opponents over an entire season. (No other team is below 40%). Defense makes the difference here against an admittedly formidable offense. Villanova, on the other hand, has struggled at times defensively, and ranks just 151st nationally in this same statistic.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

#3 MICHIGAN STATE over #1 Virginia: Redemption for the Big Ten and Tom Izzo here, in a game that will be low scoring and defensive. Michigan State simply has more playmakers, and that will be the difference in a game that features the nation’s 1st and 3rd ranked two point defenses. Another stat that jumps out here is that as strong as Virginia is defensively, they aren’t exactly dominant on the boards, ranking just 54th in offensive rebounding percentage. The Spartans prevail 60-53 with late free throws and a few very big second chance put backs and scoring opportunities.

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