Archive for the ‘Sports’ category

Belmont Day Late Pick 4 Analysis

June 7, 2018

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

May 4, 2018

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

May 3, 2018

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

March 15, 2018

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.

spartan-helmet-og

Bracketology

March 11, 2018
SOUTH EAST
1 VIRGINIA VILLANOVA
2 MICHIGAN North Carolina
3 West Virginia GONZAGA
4 Auburn Texas Tech
5 ARIZONA Florida
6 Miami Virginia Tech
7 Arkansas Kansas State
8 St. Mary’s Houston
9 Texas Oklahoma
10 Creighton Nevada
11 Alabama/ Providence Butler/ Baylor
12 DAVIDSON MARSHALL
13 UNC GREENSBORO BUCKNELL
14 GEORGIA STATE MONTANA
15 CS FULLERTON IONA
16 NC CENTRAL/ STEPHEN F AUSTIN LIU BROOKLYN/ TEXAS SOUTHERN

 

WEST MIDWEST
1 Xavier KANSAS
2 Purdue Duke
3 CINCINNATI Michigan State
4 Clemson Tennessee
5 KENTUCKY Witchita State
6 Texas A&M Ohio State
7 Florida State Tcu
8 NC State Seton Hall
9 Oklahoma State NEW MEXICO STATE
10 Rhode Island Louisville
11 Missouri LOYOLA CHICAGO
12 BUFFALO SAN DIEGO STATE
13 MURRAY STATE SOUTH DAKOTA ST
14 WRIGHT STATE CHARLESTON
15 HARVARD LIPSCOMB
16 RADFORD UMBC

INDIANA BASKETBALL MOMENTS- The Best and Worst Since The Last Championship

February 24, 2018

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THE MOST MEMORABLE WINS

#10: Indiana 87, San Diego State 83, 2006

Mike Davis was on his way out, but this one was quite sweet even as the program looked to restructure, blissfully unaware of what the future what hold only a ahort three years later after a disastrous hire. Nevertheless, after being outplayed for much of the game and trailing 83-82 with 40 seconds to go, Marshall Stickland made a great defensive play that resulted in an over-and-back call on the Aztecs. After the timeout, Robert Vaden drained a three to give the Hoosiers an 85-83 lead that they would not relinquish. Although they would go on to lose to Gonzaga two nights later, this win felt fantastic coming off of two consecutive tourney absences, the first time that had happened since the last championship. We would get our revenge on Gonzaga in the first round the following year, but it would be a painful five year wait until the next tournament win.

#9: Indiana 63, VCU 61, 2012

This was, for the most part, a wild, frustrating game against a tough defensive squad in VCU that created a season high 22 turnovers and led this game by 9 points on two separate occassions. Thanks to the tempo of the game going against the Hoosiers’ preferences, such a deficit seemed almost insurmountable. However, on the first occassion, near the end of the half, Christian Watford was able to rattle off two three pointers and convert on an and-one to bring us back, and later in the game, we were able to hang around just close enough. Trailing by 3 with under a minute and with VCU at the line, Victor Oladipo, in a moment that would foreshadow what was to come the following season, grabbed the rebound and went coast to coast, and converted on a tying three point play. VCU ran the shot clock down on the next possession but solid IU defense forced a contested three, which Oladipo again grabbed, pushed back up the floor and passed (or had his shot blocked, but whatever) to Will Sheehey, who spotted up and drained an easy 12 foot jumper with just under 13 seconds to play. VCU had an open look for the win, but another three point miss was hauled in by the Hoosiers, who were off to their first Sweet 16 in ten years, and were officially, once and for all, back.

#8: Indiana 59- Michigan State 58, 2001

This was the defining moment of Mike Davis’ first full year at the helm, as the Hoosiers knocked off the #1 ranked Michigan State Spartans. It was the first #1 ranked team Indiana had beaten since 1993 when they knocked off the hated Kentucky Wildcats. However, this game provided a brief sigh of relief for fans still enraged by Bob Knight’s firing. Trailing by two with the ball, Davis drew up a play to go for the win rather than send the game into overtime at home, a plan that could have easily backfired. Instead, junior Kirk Haston knocked down a three pointer at the buzzer and bedlam ensued as fans stormed the court. Probably the most memorable aspect of this moment, however, was Davis’ reaction, as he dropped to his knees in a combination of relief, disbelief, and probably thankful prayer.

#7: Indiana 76- Michigan 75, 1989

It is easy to forget what a great player Jay Edwards was in his brief time with the Hoosiers, but this was the defining moment of his career. Trailing by two against a Michigan team that would go on to win the National Championship that year, Edwards just barely beat the clock on a three pointer that was nothing but net, and Indiana walked away with a huge victory. This might be the only victory where Coach Knight showed so much genuine emotion at the moment the shot went in; it was a rare occasion indeed to see the General jumping up and down after a win. When I met Edwards a few years back at a bar in the South Loop, I immediately mentioned that this game was one of the high points of my entire childhood, and told him how upset I was when he decided to leave after his sophomore season. He admitted that he regretted that decision, and had nothing but good things to say about Knight.

#6: Indiana 73- Kentucky 67, 2016

Any time you beat Kentucky, it’s a big deal, but this time it was in the tournament, and it was a bigger deal. The hard fought win advanced the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 for the third time in five seasons under coach Tom Crean, and provided some revenge against the rival that put them out of the 2013 tournament in route to their own national title. It was a fitting final win for legendary point guard Yogi Ferrell, who would graduate with two big ten championships and two Sweet 16 appearances. My reaction after this win, several beers deep, could best de described as profanely taunting the television screen and Kentucky players before falling backwards into a table of unsuspecting bar-goers. There were no last second shot heroics necessary here, as the Hoosiers advanced behind a thoroughly solid performance from a team led by its senior point guard before falling to eventual national runner-up North Carolina the following weekend.

#5: Indiana 73- Oklahoma 64, 2002

Does everyone remember how overmatched Indiana was coming into this game? I can’t think of a single analyst that picked them, and for good reason; Oklahoma was many people’s choice to win it all, and Indiana was coming in as a big underdog and seeded #5 in the South Regional. But those of us who believed knew that the Hoosiers had one last miracle left in them during their furious charge to the championship game in 2002. Worthy of note is the fact that Indiana actually trailed by four at the half, but went 8-13 from three point land on the game, a statistic that was key to their success throughout their tournament run. Over a decade later, it is still tough to believe we were heading to the National Championship for the sixth time in history following this unlikely upset. I found myself laying on top of a stranger’s car screaming “We’re in the Final Game!” and I don’t think they were even upset by it.

#4: Indiana 106- UCLA 79, 1992

Bob Knight didn’t know it at the time, but after winning this game, he would make his last trip to the Final Four. Only five years removed from a championship, this was still an incredibly difficult game for a young but talented Indiana team that was just hitting its stride. UCLA had easily beaten the Hoosiers in the preseason, but IU turned the tables this time, and blasted the Bruins 106-79 after putting up a whopping 62 points in the second half. I was in Orlando, Florida with my family visiting Disney World, and I couldn’t ever remember having more fun watching an IU game at any point in my life up to that point. The combination of the significance of the game, the decisiveness of the win, and the fact that I didn’t expect a win in the first place make this game one of the most memorable. It is worthy to note that in November of the same season, the Bruins crushed the Hoosiers, which made turning the tables in such decisive fashion with a trip to the Final Four on the line even more sweet.

#3: Indiana 72- Michigan 71, 2013

It was a very tough call to put this victory ahead of tournament wins that put us in the National Championship and Final Four respectively, but the circumstances of this game and the amount of years it had taken to realize what this win accomplished (20) places it higher on this list simply because of the two decade drought it watered. In 1992, Indiana had been to the Final Four just five years earlier, and the trip to the Final Game in 2002 broke a 15 year drought. But this improbable, heart-stopping win over Michigan clinched the Big Ten regular season title outright for the first time in 20 years, and was the ultimate coronation for a group of players and coaches that had been through hell and literally went from the bottom to the top in what was arguably the strongest edition of the Big Ten conference in its storied history. Trailing by five points with under a minute left, the Hoosiers took advantage of two front end misses at the line by the Wolverines, and played smart, efficient offense. Cody Zeller scored the final six points for the one point win as the team efficiently exploited the mismatch down low in the final minute. Zeller also hit two crucial free throws before hitting the shot that would be the eventual game winner. To add to the drama, Michigan had two very legitimate shots to win game, trailing by one with under ten seconds to play. All-American point guard Trey Burke’s runner missed long, but Jordan Morgan’s tip in rolled in and around the rim for what seemed like an eternity before sweet gravity finally overcame it and Christian Watford came up with the game-saving rebound. I haven’t reacted to a win this wildly, well, maybe ever. As the years pass, it will probably be forgotten that these Hoosiers had the chance to clinch the outright conference title on their home court on senior night against an Ohio State team they had beaten handily in Columbus just three weeks earlier. Indiana lost that game, but cut the nets down anyway. And it was only fitting that a group that stuck together and endured such misery in its first few years together would have to earn this the hard way on the road in Ann Arbor in the most unlikely fashion conceivable.

#2: Indiana 73- Kentucky 72, 2011

In terms of pure shock value, this should probably be number one. Coming off a ten win season, the unranked and overlooked Hoosiers battled the top-ranked and eventual National Champion Kentucky Wildcats in Assembly Hall. Behind a raucous, rejuvinated home crowd, the Hoosiers built a ten point lead midway through the second half behind hot shooting, smart passing and solid defense. Outmatched from a talent perspective, Indiana would give away that double digit lead late as they failed to get stops down the stretch and the offense turned cold. After hitting two free throws, Kentucky held a two point lead with under ten seconds to play, and had fouls to give. In a mental lapse, they failed to get that foul to stop the clock, and Verdell Jones split the defense before unselfishly dishing the ball to a trailing Christian Watford, who knocked down a three pointer at the buzzer for the win. Bedlam ensued  on the court, and Indiana was officially back. We would lose a hard fought offensive onslaught to this same rival in the Sweet 16 round of the tournament three months later, but there is no way to measure the impact that this win had on the program. It was a preseason game that should have had no real bearing on the future trajectory of the team, but instead, it instilled a confidence and left a legacy that will likely never be forgotten. The Hoosiers would go on to knock off another top ranked team at home in the weeks that followed, and carried its momentum into the tournament for its first Sweet 16 appearance in a decade.

#1: Indiana 74- Duke 73, 2002

This was the game that I will always remember most of any game I have ever seen Indiana play. The win here catapulted the Hoosiers into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1993 in stunning fashion over the #1 team in the country. At the time, we were all happy just be back in the Sweet Sixteen, and didn’t hold much hope for a win, especially after falling behind 26-8 early. But what made this game so special was the way that we came back; slowly but surely, we chipped away at the lead with threes and smart inside play, and all of a sudden, we were only down by one point with five minutes to play, and then it hit me- we could actually steal this game! The very thought was almost too much to bear, but inched closer to reality when Tom Coverdale hit a layup to take a 72-70 lead with under a minute to play. It was almost happening too quickly to comprehend, but there it was, clear as day- if Duke didn’t score again, Indiana would win the game in an astonishing comeback. But I’d watched way too many IU games over the years to come anywhere near celebration mode quite yet, so instead I braced for the final seconds, which passed like an eternity.

The drama was at full throttle. After we got a huge defensive stop, a near over-and-back on the inbounds saved by Dane Fife resulted in a fortunate foul call on Duke. A.J. Moye knocked down two free throws, and with 11 seconds to play, IU led 74-70. Now, the celebration could begin, right? Not so fast. Any other coach would have essentially pulled his team off the court at this point, but not Davis- the team played defense way too aggressively after failing to retrieve the offensive rebound on Duke’s first missed three and fouled the nation’s best player, Jason Williams, as he drained a three with 4 seconds remaining. Williams, a 90% free throw shooter, needed only to make one free throw to send the game into overtime, which to me would have meant almost certain defeat for the Hoosiers. I was absolutely beside myself, sick to my stomach, but what happened next was nearly an even worse scenario. Somehow, Williams missed the free throw, but in a horrific development, Carlos Boozer out-rebounded Jared Jeffries and threw up a desperation shot that was well within the realm of his accuracy. Now instead of overtime, we were looking at losing the game outright in regulation!! The time that it took for the ball to leave Boozer’s hand until it banked out of the hoop must have taken a year, and Jeff Newton pulled down the rebound as time expired. Then, bedlam set in, as we realized that it was actually, finally, over, and the first of many celebrations on Kirkwood Avenue that spring was the most memorable moment of my senior year, and of the last 25 Indiana seasons. Ironically, it is the same score that gave Indiana their last national title in 1987 over Syracuse in an equally enthralling finish.

THE MOST GUTWRENCHING LOSSES (watch if you can bear)

#10: Ohio State 80, Indiana 78, 2018

In the grand scheme of things, this loss was meaningless. The Hoosiers were looking at an NIT berth at best without winning the Big Ten tournament, which was a highly unlikely proposition. But for this to happen on senior night, in double overtime, in a game where the suddenly scrappy Hoosiers had played so well, it was a real heartbreaker. Both overtimes were back and forth affairs that featured several lead changes. Indiana found itself with the ball, trailing by one with 15 seconds remaining. A smartly designed play featured leading scorer Juwan Morgan backing down to towards the hoop for an easy layup to take the lead. They left 7 seconds on the clock though, which was enough for C.J. Jackson to knock down a game-winning three from beyond NBA range. In a season where Indiana had held late second half leads against top ten teams like Duke, Purdue and Michigan State, this was just yet another instance where they came up just short. They missed a LOT of free throws (ten), too, which always hurts in double overtime.

#9: Charlotte 74 , Indiana 73, 2004

This is what we refer to as a “sky-is-falling” loss. Not only was the fact that the refs allowed this halfcourt shot to count utter and complete bullshit, but the shot effectively ended the season for the Hoosiers before it had even begun. Three days before Christmas, we were an unimaginable 2-6 and on a six game losing streak. Indiana would ultimately miss the tournament for the second straight year, which was an absolute abomination considering the prior year’s absence was the first since I had ever watched or cared about them. I still watch this replay in anger waiting for the officials to reverse the call all these years later. What ended up making this loss even worse is that the team rallied in the Big Ten season, going 10-6 to finish 4th, but it was too little too late. I have always argued that had this game been rightly awarded as a Hoosier victory, we would have made the tournament that year. The differences between a 15-13 and a 16-12 record are vast. (Don’t ask me why they only played 11 non-conference games, and a first round thrashing at the hands of Minnesota in the Big Ten Tourney didn’t help either.)

#8: Iowa 62, Indiana 60, 2002

Iowa v Indiana X

I had to do a bit of research to recall why exactly this was as painful as it was. The way I had remembered it, IU had lost to Iowa in the 2001 Big Ten Championship on a last second shot by Luke Recker. But that’s not how it happened. In 2001, (our only appearance in the Big Ten title game in 15 tries), we led most of the game but it gave way late, and it was actually Kirk Haston who had a potential game winning three point shot blocked. That’s what made this game so much infinitely worse, even though it was only a semifinal contest the second time around. Former Indiana Mr. Basketball Luke Recker, who had made the unprecedented move of transfering from the Hoosiers to an interconference rival, sank a three pointer at the buzzer. Not only did the Hawkeyes put us down for the second straight year, this time, they had done it with one of our own. Absolutely brutal. This one would rank much higher were it not for the fact that the loss apparently lit a fire in this team that made my senior year of college a pretty fun spring after all…

#7: Illinois 74, Indiana 72, 2013

Admittedly, at the time, this loss seemed to be more brutal than it actually was. In fact, one could argue the utterly brutal specifics of this loss lit a fire under this team that would lead to successive road wins against much tougher teams in Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. The team was on its way to a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and an outright Big Ten Championship despite the outcome here. But with the bitterness of the rivalry between these two schools still fresh despite Bruce Weber’s departure, this was an incredibly tough pill to swallow for die-hard fans. I for one didn’t sleep for at least a couple of days. While everyone wanted to talk about how utterly horrendous our defense was on the last play, that has never been a sticking point with me. We were going to get destroyed in overtime anyway with the way the momentum was shifting. But to control an entire game by double digits, and then to play as though we were trailing while up ten, throwing up quick, ill-advised shots and giving up easy jump shots on the other end, was particularly stomach-churning. The fact of the matter is, no one should have been talking about the last shot, because the last shot should have never  happened. Indiana had the ball with the shot clock turned off and a tie game. That should mean overtime in a worst case scenario. Instead, Victor Oladipo, in perhaps the only mistake he would make in his entire junior season, saw a lane and tried to go behind his back to get there, only to be picked by D.J. Richardson. To his credit, Oladipo made a tremendous play to get back after the steal and make what should have been a game saving block. Then, with under a second left, the above happened.

#6: Maryland 64- Indiana 52, 2002

In all honesty, this loss didn’t devastate me as much as it should have, because I had a feeling that my beloved Hoosiers were about to be exposed. But it was obviously a sad feeling when the ride of the 2002 tourney ended with a loss one game short of a championship. They just didn’t have enough depth to knock off another superior opponent once the threes stopped falling. However, this was the first time Indiana had ever lost in a title game in six tries, and it has to make the list just due to the sheer magnitude of the game. Also, we did have the ball when game was tied with just under ten minutes to play, so we had a real chance to pull the upset in this one.

#5: Wisconsin 68- Indiana 66, 2008

What made this game even worse than the outcome would suggest is that this was also the day that the Kelvin Sampson allegations hit. Indiana was coming off huge back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Purdue, and would be in control of the Big Ten with a victory. The game was tightly contested all the way through, with over a dozen lead changes. Sampson was still at the helm at this point, and the Hoosiers clung to a 66-65 lead with ten seconds left, Wisconsin ball. It seemed that the call would be to go inside for an easy two, but instead, Brian Butch, the only polar bear that I have ever disliked, threw up a deep three-pointer that somehow banked into the hoop. Indiana had a chance to go back ahead, but a hurried three rimmed out, and deflation set in. One could argue that it was the single turning point for that promising season, the moment when the music stopped on one of the most talented teams to ever put on the Candy Stripes.

#4: Illinois 70- Indiana 67, 1989

In 1989, the Big Ten boasted three of the nation’s top five teams throughout the season, and games like this one really were the true glory days of the conference. Trailing 67-65, Indiana went to its star, Jay Edwards, who hit an improbable jumper from behind the backboard, seemingly as time expired to put the game into overtime, and with the crowd and momentum on the Hoosiers’ side. But, before the days of replay or tenths of seconds on the scoreboard, the officials had to rely on their own judgment, and in this case, that meant giving Illinois the ball with one second left. For some reason, Knight chose not to defend the inbounds pass, which turned out to be a perfect one directly to Nick Anderson, who was still well behind the three point line. Anderson had a enough time to catch, plant his feet and throw up a perfect 30-plus foot jumpshot that hit nothing but net as time expired. Ugh.

#3: Minnesota 59- Indiana 58, 2008

As bad as the Wisconsin game had been earlier in the year, this was much worse, coming in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals. The Sampson fiasco had played itself out, and Dan Dakich was running a team that clearly didn’t want to play for him. I’ve seen many frustrating losses to the Golden Gophers over the years, mostly when we had ten point leads with under two minutes to play (that happened twice under Davis), but this one takes the cake because we played poorly and trailed the entire game. Until the last few seconds, that is. That’s when trailing by two with 3 seconds left after a made free throw, Eric Gordon intentionally missed the second in a manner so perfect that D.J. White went up and grabbed the rebound and put the ball back up to tie the game at 57. White was also fouled on the play, which meant that IU now had a chance to win the game! He missed the free throw, but recovered his own rebound and was fouled again. He drained one of the two free throws, and somehow, Indiana had a one point lead, and only needed to play good enough defense to stop Minnesota for 1.5 seconds. The ball flew like a laser beam through three Indiana defenders and through the only possible path to Blake Hoffarber’s wretched little hands. He threw the ball up so quickly that I could hardly even believe that he had caught it, much less believe that the ball was now making its way to the center of the rim and through the net for the Minnesota win. My Hoosiers, once a Final Four favorite in 2008, were then royally screwed by the selection committee and given a #8 seed despite their 25-7 record, and after all of that, lost without much of a fight in the first round to #9 seeded Arkansas. The mass exodus that followed would result in the never-to-be-mentioned 6-25 season next year, but this shot is the moment of that season that completely defined rock bottom. What could be worse than that?

#2: Syracuse 61- Indiana 50, 2013

Image result for indiana syracuse 2013

I neglected to even post a video for this game, as the above image pretty much explains it all, and it isn’t exactly the sort of game that features any watchable late game dramatics. Simply put, it was ugly, and the final score doesn’t even do true justice to how completely outplayed and out-coached we were here in this Sweet 16 exit. Tom Crean simply had no plan to adjust to the Syracuse zone, and on a night when the outside shots weren’t falling, partly due to senior guard Jordan Hulls’ hand injury, the best offense in the nation had no answers. Syracuse was like an anaconda that slowly squeezed the life out of a Hoosier team that picked the wrong night to put up its lowest offensive production of the entire season, a season they spent most of as the top ranked team in the land. It was as disappointing a loss since the last time an Indiana team had lost before the Final Four as a #1 seed 20 years prior…(see below)

#1: Kansas 83- Indiana 77, 1993

This was actually a tough call, but when I look back over the last 25 seasons, no loss was more painful to take than this one. Coming off a Final Four season in 1992, the 1993 Hoosiers returned all five starters and were ranked the #1 team in the nation heading into the tournament, something than even the 1987 champions could not say. Hopes for a national title were high after a 17-1 Big Ten campaign, but star power forward Alan Henderson’s knee injury prevented him from contributing in the regional final against a pesky Kansas team that had beaten the Hoosiers earlier in the year. Those Jayhawks once again proved too tough for the depleted but determined Big Red, and the most promising season since the last national title ended without even making an appearance in the Final Four. Looking back on that season, I’m not sure we would have won the championship anyway, as Kentucky had also beaten us already, Michigan had the fab five (although we beat them twice in Big Ten play) and North Carolina had it all. But still, it would have been nice to have a chance with a healthy, experienced team, especially considering that Kansas would lose to the eventual champion Tarheels in the semifinal. I still haven’t gotten over this one.

Breeders’ Cup 2017 Picks and Analysis

November 3, 2017

4- JUVENILE FILLIES, 8.5f, 3:00

The day begins with a nearly full field of two year old fillies which are always tough to separate. We’ll give the edge to Bris Prime Power selection SEPARATIONOFPOWERS, who holds the field high Bris and Beyer speed figures (104, 86) for her last out score in the 8f Frizette. That came over a dirt course labeled good and wasn’t a two turn race, so she’s not without questions drawing into the widest post of all for Chad Brown here. But the way she won that race driving through the finish combined with perhaps the strongest pedigree (by Candy Ride out of an Empire Maker mare) in the field leads us to conclude she will enjoy the added ground here. There isn’t a lot to knock about morning line favorite MOONSHINE MEMORIES, who is undefeated in three career starts, two of which came on this track and one of which was at this distance. She shows the fastest Beyer at the distance (86) and should a pretty clear trip from the center of the field. HEAVENLY LOVE is another winner at two turns as she exits a romp in the Alcibiades at Keeneland where she earned the field’s highest Brisnet figure at the distance (91). In a race where the pace often goes faster than expected, she’s worth using on top as she also boasts the best Late Pace figure at this distance on dirt. We will use these three in multis. WONDER GADOT looks like an interesting long shot after posting a solid figure winning her last. She’s never raced on dirt but is certainly bred for it and could conceivably move up here on the surface switch, and is another that could be moving late. ALLURING STAR may hang around for a piece as the likely pacesetter but fell back when beaten handily by the favorite in her last.

Picks:

1) Separationofpowers 4-1

2) Moonshine Memories 7-2

3) Heavenly Love 9-2

4) Wonder Gadot 8-1

5- TURF SPRINT, 5f, 3:37

Always one of the trickiest handicapping puzzles of the Breeders’ Cup event, this year’s turf sprint presents a unique paradox for bettors, as the two standout shippers most accomplished at the 5f distance are also the two least familiar with navigating races around a turn. Three year old filly LADY AURELIA looms large here off of two Group 1 wins at 5f and 6f in Britain over turf labeled good, and her towering field high Racing Post Rating (124) would seem to confirm her status as the one to beat here. Both of those races came over straight courses, but she does have a stateside win around a bend on firm ground to fall back on from April at 5.5f (101 Bris, 97 Beyer), which is good for the fastest Bris figure in the field at less than 6f in 2017. If you’re sold on her, then MARSHA deserves some respect as well considering she nosed her last out at this distance, although she wasn’t able to duplicate that performance in her last, and there’s some concern as to her ability to handle the turn here as she has never contested such a course. Still, her 122 RPR combined with her form lines and experience at the distance makes her a contender. She will receive first time Lasix here. PURE SENSATION figures to be the speed of the speed and this distance suits him, although he draws a tough outside post. He shows the highest Beyer this year at this distance (110) and a competitive RPR (118), and is probably the best pure 5f horse in the field. He held on well to be third in this race last year, and of course that race was run at 6.5f on a downhill course, so he should find this distance a bit more to his liking. He has won three of his last four at this distance, although all three have come at Parx and over turf with some give. DISCO PARTNER has been hot of late but has never raced a distance this short. Closing type will have to work out a trip from off the pace and may find this contest a bit too sharp. Bris Prime Power selection shows a 109 Beyer and 108 Bris figure at 6f and a 118 RPR so he isn’t without a shot; will need to stay in touch with the pacesetters as he did in his last, and that may be doable from the rail. HOLDING GOLD is another deep closer with competitive figs (107 Beyer, 107 Bris, 116 RPR) that may be overlooked off his last and offers value at his double digit morning line; could be the type to spice up the trifecta for those keying the favorite. For multi-race purposes, it feels like you either need to take a stand and single the favorite, or go at least five deep.

Picks:

1) Lady Aurelia 5-2

2) Pure Sensation 10-1

3) Marsha 7-2

4) Disco Partner 9-2

Longshot: Holding Gold 15-1

6- FILLY AND MARE SPRINT, 7f, 4:14

All eyes will be focused on the highly acclaimed and accomplished UNIQUE BELLA in this race, and this three year old filly may go off as the biggest favorite of the day. She has fired a ridiculous seven consecutive bullet works, including two since winning her last at 6.5f over Grade 3 company. That came after a long layoff and she should be fully cranked for this off of the field high Brisnet Last Race figure she posted there (102). A three year old filly has never won this race but aside from that she is tough to knock on talent and is a must use on top; while she doesn’t hold a considerable edge on figures, the feeling is that she has room to improve and hasn’t yet shown her best. Those looking to beat her could do worse than to land on Bris Prime Power Selection FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM, who showed a new dimension when winning the TCA at 6f in her last (98 Beyer, 101 Bris) sitting off the pace and taking over through the stretch. That’s a tactic that could suit her well in this race, and while she’s been more successful at 6f than 7f over her career she does have a win at this distance to her credit this year over Grade 3 foes. It bears mention that the winners of 5 of the 10 renewals of this race have used the TCA as their last prep. The horse for the course is SKYE DIAMONDS, who enters off a 6.5f win here in her last (97 Beyer, 99 Bris) and is two for two at Del Mar. She has a three month layoff to contend with but has won five of six starts this year. She bested last year’s champion FINEST CITY two back, and that one also enters off a long layoff similar to the one she used to spring this upset last year. She threw up a bullet 4f work last week and the back class is there off the freshening; not impossible. CURLIN’S APPROVAL owns the field high speed figures at the distance (104 Beyer, 106 Brisnet) for her Princess Rooney score at Gulfstream three back in July, but hasn’t been able to reproduce that form away from her home track, losing to three of these two back in Grade 1 company. If she can run back to it, she could grab a piece at long odds. PAULASSILVERLINING (3rd in this race last year) and BY THE MOON must be considered contenders as well, but the feeling here is that both have done their best running on off courses and that both may be slightly past their prime.

Picks:

1) Finley’sluckycharm 6-1

2) Unique Bella 9-5

3) Skye Diamonds 5-1

4) Finest City 12-1

Longshot: Curlin’s Approval 20-1

7- FILLY AND MARE TURF, 9f, 5:00

Traditionally run at 10f, this race cuts back a full furlong this year over the Del Mar course, and that could have a significant impact on the outcome. It certainly sets things up well for the beloved favorite LADY ELI in her final career start. She’s won her last three starts, two at this distance, posting field high 9f speed figures in the process (104 Beyer, 101 Brisnet). She was just nosed at the wire in this event last year, and should appreciate the shorter distance combined with the relative lack of pace after a ten week layoff. The best shot to beat her may reside with foreign invader RHODODENDRON, who owns the field’s best Racing Post Rating (117) and enters off a Group 1 win in France at 10f for Aidan O’Brien on Arc Day where she bested three of today’s fellow shippers.  That win came over softer ground but she does show a Group 1 win at 8f in Britain last fall and a Group 1 runner up this year at 12f, both over good ground, so she’s versatile in terms of both surface and distance. She’s in the right spot of her form cycle as O’Brien wins with 33% of his runners third off the lay. First time Lasix could be just the boost she needs and this distance could suit her perfectly if she can navigate a wide post with Ryan Moore in the saddle. If we like that one then it’s hard to dismiss the chances of WUHEIDA at a nice price, considering she finished just a half length behind her in 4th last out, and has also won an 8f Group 1 in France over good ground and gets first time Lasix as well. Her Racing Post Rating (114) is equal to that of the favorite and she has worked well this week over the track. Defending champion QUEEN’S TRUST hasn’t won since this event last year, and let’s face it, she needed every inch of that 10f to get there, which she won’t get this time. Closer hasn’t been in the best form this year running over soft courses and could benefit from the surface switch but the race shape doesn’t exactly set up for and she is likely to desire more ground. The same can be said for Beverly D winner DACITA, who has won at 9f but does her best running over more ground, and WAR FLAG, who bested that one last out over 10f. Of the three, we prefer DACITA’s chances best to be flying for a piece. She has defeated GRAND JETE in her last two, and that one continues to attract more money than she should to our eyes. CAMBODIA earns horse for the course honors here and steps up in class off of back to back wins at Del Mar and five consecutive ascending speed figures; she’ll need another one to hit the board here. The most interesting shipper longshot is probably SENGA, who may be overlooked here after a poor showing in her last. That came over soft turf at a longer distance though, and a closer investigation reveals that all three of her career wins have come over firmer ground. Her high RPR of 112 won’t get it done here, but she stands to improve with first time Lasix, bombs away underneath.

Picks:

1) Rhododendron 8-1

2) Lady Eli 5-2

3) Wuheida 20-1

4) Dacita 8-1

Longshot: Senga 20-1

8- SPRINT, 6f, 5:37

Ten runners line up for a highly competitive edition of this race a year after a short, somewhat watered down field. Four runners figure to vie for the lead; they are difficult to separate and it is hard to see any of them backing up much at this distance. The strongest and most consistent has been ROY H, and the 111 Beyer he posted in June at Belmont tops the field at this distance. He’d be undefeated this year if not for fanning six wide two back due to having to avoid a riderless colt he’ll see today, and he still managed to hang on to 2nd. His position outside here should allow a favorable trip to rate just behind the speed and get first run in the stretch, and an old rule of thumb of ours in this race has been to simply key in on the fastest 6f speed figure; all else equal, that horse is often the winner. The aforementioned colt of course is defending champion and Bris Prime Power Selection DREFONG who will break from the #2 post just as he did last year and enters off a similar pattern, having been rested 10 weeks since a 7f win at Saratoga (107 Beyer, 106 Brisnet). He meets a far saltier group this year however and it’s hard to imagine him getting as easy a trip as he received last year, same post position or not, although he is fortunate to be drawn between mostly off-the-pace types. He’s clearly the one to beat but could be a bit more vulnerable than his odds suggest. Perhaps more intriguing in terms of upside is IMPERIAL HINT, who steps up in class here following a Grade 3 win at this distance where he won in an absolutely absurd 1:07.2 (109 Beyer, 111 Brisnet), good for the best last race figures in the field and his fifth consecutive triple digit numbers. He’s been working gangbusters since, posting two bullets and could really be any kind. We like his draw outside the speed as well. TAKAFUL figures to be the one most likely to hook up with the favorite on the early lead based on his field high Early Pace numbers as he lines up in the middle of the field. Talented three year old holds the field high Brisnet speed figure at this distance (114) and has found his niche sprinting in the second part of the year, but it’s fair to wonder whether engaging the defending Sprint champion in an all out speed duel bodes well for his win chances. Closers like MIND YOUR BISCUITS (3rd last year), CALCULATOR and WHITMORE seem better suited to 7f races, especially in a spot such is this where the speed isn’t cheap and feels unlikely to collapse.

Picks:

1) Roy H 7-2

2) Imperial Hint 9-2

3) Drefong 5-2

4) Takaful 5-1

 9- MILE, 8f, 6:19

Speed on the rail! The two main speeds in the race drew posts one and two, which virtually ensures a wicked pace. We’ll toss MIDNIGHT STORM and HEART TO HEART, both talented six year olds that figure to lock up early and expend too much energy in this spot. WORLD APPROVAL has really found his niche at this distance and this race has treated the home team well in recent California editions. Winner of his last two at 8f including a decisive score over today’s foe LANCASTER BOMBER, grey owns the best speed figures at that distance (duplicate 108 Beyers, 103 Brisnet) and a competitive RPR relative to the Euro shippers (123). What we really like is his ability to rate off the likely torrid pace with a target to run at and time his move forcefully as he owns the best Average Late Pace figures in a field loaded with speed; he will take a lot of beating with John Velazquez aboard. Of the shippers, our preference is the French-based ZELZAL, who gets first time Lasix and has done his best running over firmer courses, showing a Group 1 win at this distance over good turf last summer. His career high RPR of 122 fits here and if he can move up a bit from that number on the firm turf with the Lasix addition, he’s a win contender at a giant price. On paper, British shipper and morning line favorite RIBCHESTER looms the horse to beat in his final career start off his field high 127 RPR and four career Group 1 wins at the distance. Something feels a bit off here though, with his subpar performance in his last, defeated by a colt who had just lost to today’s foe ROLY POLY, combined with a quick turnaround of just two weeks (space between races this year has consistently been five weeks). We’ll use him on top defensively in multis but will maintain that the value in this race may lie in keeping him off the top line in exactas and trifecta. Bris Prime Power Selection SUEDOIS deserves a look off his closing win in the 8f Shadwell (Beyer, 100 Brisnet). He’s one of the few Euro shippers to have won in the US this year but will need to improve on that number. The aforementioned ROLY POLY (RPR 116) and LANCASTER BOMBER (RPR 119) round out the Euro threats and deserve a look as well based on their class lines. The latter seems more likely to benefit from the race shape despite a quick two week turnaround, while the former may be better suited to a straight course than a wide draw around a turn.

Picks:

1) World Approval 9-2

2) Zelzal 20-1

3) Ribchester 7-2

4) Suedois 6-1

Longshot: Lancaster Bomber 20-1

10- JUVENILE 6:58, 8.5f

At least on paper, this is the race on the card that offers the most glaring mismatch. Therefore, to single or not single BOLT D’ORO becomes the biggest decision of the Late Pick 4 sequence. He holds a towering speed figure advantage over this field, having posted a 100 Beyer (revised down from 113) for his Front Runner win at this distance, a 10 point advantage relative to his closest foe. Before that, he won two races over this track. Drawing into Post #11 should allow him to allow him to stalk the pace setters and get a great trip near the lead. Simply put, if he runs back to his Front Runner, he wins by open lengths. The argument against singling him is that everyone else will be doing it, so in the event he loses, having another horse could provide payoffs much higher than it would in the regular win pool. FREE DROP BILLY looks to have the most upside off his two turn win the Breeders’ Futurity (79 Beyer). That figure equates to a double digit length gap to make up against the favorite, but the ease with which he won that race might indicate that he wasn’t asked for his best. Strong pedigree is there (by Union Rags out of a Giant’s Causeway made) and he’s been working brilliantly, posting a bullet on 10/21 that was the best of 70. A couple of Curlin progeny round out our picks as both figure to improve. SOLOMINI was 2nd in the Frontrunner behind the favorite, but that was good enough for an 86 Beyer, the 2nd best two turn figure here. He had previously broken his maiden over this track. GOOD MAGIC was a hard luck 2nd in the Champagne, posting an 89 Beyer after leading in the stretch. We’ll give him a shot to turn the tables on the horse that beat him there, FIRENZE FIRE, who hasn’t looked great over the track this week. British turfer US NAVY FLAG strangely lands in this spot instead of the Turf race where he would have been favored Friday, and while he deserves a look based on his connections, he’s never contested a dirt race or a route race.

Picks:

1) Bolt D’Oro 9-5

2) Free Drop Billy 5-1

3) Solomini 6-1

4) Good Magic 6-1

11- TURF, 12f, 7:37

A very deep field of turfers are led by the defending champion globetrotter HIGHLAND REEL, who slips into a cozy spot along the rail with Ryan Moore in the saddle. It’s unlikely he will go off anywhere near his morning line odds, especially considering he went off at 4-1 last year, but he may be overlooked enough off his recent form to still offer value. He switches back to firm turf after two well beaten starts over softer going. He had won two Group 1 events prior to that over ground labeled good (123 RPR, highest in the field at this distance over firmer turf), beating two of today’s fellow shippers, and a repeat of last year’s performance (112 Beyer, 114 Brisnet) would likely earn a repeat trip to the winner’s circle; none of these runners have equaled those figures on a firm turf course since then. He may see a bit more pace in this spot than he did a year ago, but he doesn’t have to have the lead and doesn’t figure to expend too much energy early. This is one of our strongest win choices on the day. Morning line favorite ULYSSES returns after a 4th place finish in last year’s event, boasting a field high 127 RPR off his Group 1 win in the 10.5f Juddmonte International over soft ground two back and a respectable 3rd in the 12f Arc de Triomphe in his last. He’s improved massively in his four year old season and beat the top selection three back at this distance, again over softer ground. His record over firmer surfaces leads us to lean another direction here but he would certainly be no surprise and must be used on top. These two appear a cut above the American contingent, but in the event that a pace meltdown does in fact materialize, SADLER’S JOY might be the most likely to capitalize from off the pace. Winner of the 12f Sword Dancer two back at this distance (105 Beyer, 104 Brisnet) closed into a slow pace in that race and never really got moving in his last when 6th. With a bit more pace to run at, he could be flying late. Bris Prime Power Selection BEACH PATROL, who beat him in has last, has gone from a horse whose limit was once believed to be 9f into the top turf threat in America following wins in back to back Grade 1 races run at 10f and 12f (109 Beyer, 111 Brisnet, 117 RPR). Whether he can withstand added pace pressure against this kind of quality remains to be seen but he is certainly eligible to be around at the end. He seems far more potentially impactful than OSCAR PERFORMANCE, who has put together a nice year as a beneficiary of easy leads the likes of which he isn’t likely to see here. BULLARD’S ALLEY freaked in his last and enters with the highest speed figures in the field at this distance (114 Beyer, 120 Brisnet) but those numbers are such massive outliers to his prior form over a long career that they certainly have to be attributed to the soft turf that day. A few more shippers enter with longshot potential. DECORATED KNIGHT won the Group 1 Irish Champion at 10f (121 RPR) in his last and actually finished ahead of the favorite at that distance and over good ground  in the Group 1 Prince of Wales. He may not want to run quite this far and never has, but he’s run well at shorter distances against classy company. The opposite may be true for SEVENTH HEAVEN, who takes on the boys having finished a closing 4th in last year’s Filly and Mare Turf; that race is too short for her this year. She is a Group 2 winner at 12f this year (120 RPR) over firmer ground and had won two Group 1 events at that distance as a three year old over turf labeled good. She should appreciate both the distance and surface in this spot.

Picks:

1) Highland Reel 5-1

2) Ulysses 7-2

3) Sadler’s Joy 12-1

4) Beach Patrol 4-1

Longshot: Seventh Heaven 20-1

12- CLASSIC, 10f, 8:35

It’s hard to believe that Bob Baffert has won the last three editions of this race with three-year old colts. Enter WEST COAST, who looks poised to continue that trend as the value of this year’s event. Winner of five straight is proven at the distance, having impressively wired and drawn away from the Travers field (108 Beyer, 112 Brisnet) in his lone 10f try. He absolutely destroyed the Pennsylvania Derby field in his last and has been firing bullets since. Drawn in Post #8, he should be able to work out a nice tactical ride outside the main speed. Javier Castellano picks up the mount from Mike Smith, who jumps off to ride ARROGATE, and one can hardly blame him. Defending champion is clearly the horse to beat on paper if he can return to his early year form and 2-1 will look like an absolute gift if he does. He posted the highest number of the year when winning the 9f Pegasus in January (119 Beyer) and overcame a ton of adversity when running against his style to close and win the 10f Dubai World Cup in March. He fired a bullet work on 10/30, will be sent early from the rail where he started for two of his greatest victories, and should be expected to turn the tables on today’s foe COLLECTED, who hung on to pull the upset last out over this track at 10f. Amazingly a colt that couldn’t even make last year’s Kentucky Derby field finds himself in position for Horse of the Year honors coming off an upset of what was once widely considered the world’s greatest horse. COLLECTED will see a bit more pace pressure here and doesn’t appear to be bred for 10f but the proof is in the pudding. He’s never lost in seven starts on a dry dirt surface and he must be considered a candidate for the win. Morning line favorite GUN RUNNER has done absolutely nothing wrong and seems to be getting better with every race. His ten length romp in the 9f Woodward in his last produced career high figures (115 Beyer, 114 Brisnet), and he’s earned nothing but rave reviews working over the track. The main concern with him at these odds is that while he has never turned in a bad effort, he is 0/3 in 10f attempts, beaten twice by ARROGATE. Those two figure to go at it early and we won’t let him kill our Late Pick 4 ticket, but all else equal we prefer the champ for the top of vertical wagers. Our Triple Crown favorite GUNNEVERA comes in off a career best in his last when 2nd in the Travers. He’d be a surprise for the win but has the kind of push button speed that could make an impact in exotics if timed correctly. He improved 24 Brisnet figure between his last two starts; if he can improve even half that many, who knows? Euro shippers CHURCHILL and WAR DECREE find themselves in ambitious spots here in terms of distance and surface compared to this competition. We feel confident that out five will cover the superfecta.

Picks:

1) West Coast 6-1

2) Arrogate 2-1

3) Collected 6-1

4) Gun Runner 9-5

Longshot: Gunnevera 30-1