Belmont Stakes 2020 Analysis & Selections

In a year unlike any other, the Triple Crown has been turned on its head with our historically longest and final race now the shortest and first leg of the trio of classics. While not unprecedented in the history of the Belmont Stakes (having had five difference distances in its history, much more than the two distances the Kentucky Derby has been run at, though short of the seven different distances of the Preakness), the Test of the Champion feels a bit less at nine furlongs compared to the tradition twelve. Due to Belmont Park’s unusual size, what is usually a lap around the track at most North American venues, this 1 1/8 mi race will be an elongated sprint, coming out of the chute, down the backstretch, and then around just one turn before turning down the long homestretch. Yet, do not plan on speed winning out – last year’s fall meet at Belmont had it even across running styles.

Turning to this year’s card, a field of ten lines up for the first leg of this year’s Triple Crown. Though not the full field that many suspected, after many defects of the top three year-olds over the last few weeks changed the face of this series, we do have a good field, headlined by the Florida Derby winner and morning line favorite Tiz the Law. Seventeen years ago, these same connections tried their hands at the Belmont Stakes (and the Triple Crown) with Funny Cide; now they look to win the race that eluded them on that day. But his test will not be easy – as last out winners Tap It to Win, Sole Volente, Max Player, Fore Left, and Dr Post will all be trying to make it back-to-back. Speaking of Tap It to Win, his trainer Mark Casse came away with this race just a year ago with Sir Winston – he looks to make it two straight, and his third American Classic in three years.

And with that, let us take a look at the contenders.


(1) Tap It to Win – Mark Casse/John Velazquez – 6/1
Coming out of a 1 1/16 mi allowance over the Belmont one-turn course, this lightly raced Casse trainee is one that loves to take the lead and never look back. A sharp runner, he took his prep just gate to wire without even being tested. A no doubt winner last out, Tap It to Win has grown well since his two-year-old season. After two well beaten races in Kentucky to finish up his inaugural season, his first start of the year going sprinting was just what he needed. Now he tries to wheel a Belmont Stakes win off no stakes starts in 2020, which is quite a difficult task. Nonetheless, John Velazquez stays aboard and looks to capture his third Belmont. His pedigree screams a Classic winner – sired by Tapit out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare – which gives him a big push up here.

(2) Sole Volante – Patrick Biancone/Luca Panici – 9/2
It is not often we see top class horses come back on ten-days rest any more in the US, but here we are with this son of Karakontie. Last out at Gulfstream Park, Sole Volante came from way back to catch the leaders, including early Derby choice Ete Indian, and closed with class and purpose. Between his starts in the Tampa Bay Derby and Sam F. Davis, both times needing a lot of urging to get going, he cruised through this one turn mile as if he just wanted to run. His step up a furlong could matter, but as long as it is around one-turn, he is going to be a major threat. Sticking with Luca Panici seems to bee the best option, as he always gets the top work out of him. His current form cycle puts him peaking in this race. He will be a major player here.

(3) Max Player – Linda Rice/Joel Rosario – 15/1
Sporting the colors of one of my favorite Belmont Stakes winners of all time – Ruler On Ice – this George & Lori Hall runner is coming off a long layoff to try and contend here. Last time out, Max Player was coming from behind to sweep by and capture the Withers on what looked to be a very testing from behind. While not at all a strong field, his win showed a lot of grit and determination. His figures put him in a decent spot, and he has been training sensationally in the mornings. A win here by him would not surprise me at all, but I do think he needs a race before this.

(4) Modernist – William Mott/Junior Alvarado – 15/1
Coming out of Louisiana, the Risen Star winner and 3rd place finisher in the Louisiana Derby is Bill Mott’s chance to win here. Possibly targeting the Ohio Derby, Mott changed course and decided to try his hand at Belmont Park. But perhaps the Thistledown feature might have been a better choice. He struggled to get on in the Risen Star and took over the lead and cleared a tiring group late. Then in the Louisiana Derby he never moved an inch down the lane, looking exhausted late. I am just not sure this race sets up for him. He does have a very sharp workout in his belt coming in, but I am not sold.

(5) Farmington Road – Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano – 15/1
Pletcher’s first of two in this one, Farmington Road comes out of a very flat Arkansas Derby attempt. He was well beaten by Nadal and King Guillermo, showing almost no move. His prep in the Oaklawn Stakes was lost at the start but did show some promise rallying from way back. Nothing in his form is showing that he is a contender for this one.

(6) Fore Left – Doug O’Neill/Jose Ortiz – 30/1
I am somewhat shocked by the 30/1 figure on the Doug O’Neill trainee, who looked excellent in winning the UAE 2,000 Guineas. While we have no idea what he would have done in the UAE Derby, which looked to be his next target, he cruised on gate to wire in the one-turn mile affair. I was extremely impressed by his gate speed and his late cruising speed was one to remember. While he did get distracted down the stretch, I would not worry too much about that here. While the layoff may be too much to overcome, he is still worth a long look, at the very least for the exotics.

(7) Jungle Runner – Steven Asmussen/Reylu Gutierrez – 50/1
This is an intriguing starter for Asmussen. He has not shown much at all racing against lesser in most of his starts, outside of his maiden breaking Remington Park score and the Clever Trevor –  though neither race was overly impressive. Since stepping up, he has not been able to compete at the top level, beaten a combined 62 lengths in his last three. Pass.

(8) Tiz the Law – Barclay Tagg/Manuel Franco – 6/5
Now we get to the favorite – Tiz the Law. A son of Constitution, the Florida Derby winner comes in off great speed figures and back to back wins. His Florida Derby win was by far one of the best wins for a three-year-old this season. He can be a good breaker when he wants to and has the form cycle to take this. His worktab has been sub-optimal since that Florida Derby win, however, which does worry me. Nonetheless, the last time he was at Big Sandy, he took the one-turn Champagne Stakes with ease and looks to do so again. A deserving favorite off his last two efforts, he will be fighting down the stretch. One to watch the whole way around.

(9) Dr Post – Todd Pletcher/Irad Ortiz, Jr. – 5/1
Pletcher brings his second chance in off a big step up in company, coming out of the Unbridled Stakes at Gulfstream Park. A maiden breaker in his first start on the year, he poses a huge challenge for anyone in this group. Last out he sat patient the whole way around before fighting down the stretch, squeezing in between horses, and then finishing with a bump and run. Still young, he looks to have a lot of promise and is nothing to balk at. I do think he wants to go longer than this, but the long stretch at Belmont Park should aid him in the stretch out. Watch out!

(10) Pneumatic – Steven Asmussen/Ricardo Santana, Jr. – 8/1
The better of the two Asmussen runners, the third-place finisher in the Matt Winn looked to have the win down the stretch last out before coming up with just shorter strides than his foes Maxfield and Ny Traffic. Lucky for him, neither of them are here, but he still has nine others to contend with. For me, he seems better suited elsewhere, as his finishing ability is just a tad too short for this, but nonetheless one to watch. His current training cycle suits well for him, with a nice bullet workout earlier this month before a tuning just days before the race – the same thing Asmussen did prior to his last start.


Winner: (1) Tap It to Win
His last few have been building up to this race superbly. Casse waited till May to get a run under him on the year, which I thought was perfect for this. He came out of a live non-winners of one race down at Gulfstream Park before flashing early speed and never looking back last out at Belmont. Personally, I do not see another runner that can go with him early – and he is the type to grab the lead and not let go. I am ready for him to impress.

Hit The Board: (9) Dr Post
Maybe I am living too much on his last race, but his ability to battle and push away in the Unbridled Stakes last out showed me a toughness that I do not see in any other runner. He was able to catch an alright pace up front and push his way to the wire in a short stretch. He should relish the extra distance. He is progressing nicely in his last two and should be sitting on a big one.

Longshot: (3) Max Player
While probably needs another run before being a contender, that does not mean that he cannot be prominently finishing. He is primed to be gaining ground throughout and tracking the stalkers – positioning himself for a one run to the finish. While probably not on the pace of the winner, he should be able to pick off some horses to grab a spot.

Of course, I would not ignore Tiz the Law or Sole Volante in any bets – both pose a challenge in this field. But I am not quite on board with either as a win contender and I do think that Dr Post offers a bit more value and better chance of hitting the board behind Tap It to Win (or possibly even winning the race as well).

The Belmont Stakes is always a race where anything can happen, even when its shorter and much earlier than its other Classic counterparts. Even with the changes, it is still the Test of Champions and the start to the much awaited (and delayed) 2020 Triple Crown.

NFL Draft 2020 Round 1 Picks

It is finally time of the NFL Draft! In a time when sports is almost completely stopped, getting to spend a few days watching the NFL Draft is a great sigh of relief – a sense of normalcy. This year is an interesting one, with a lot of high end talent trying to flood into the top ten picks. We also have a wealth of wide-receivers, a nice change from previous years. With that, here are my Round 1 Selections:

Tagline FBS Top 25 2019 Week 2

Week Two has come to a close – Here is the Updated Tagline Top 25.

Note, the first few weeks will see teams fluctuate heavily – by Week 5, the algorithm part of this is balanced out.

Rank Team Record Points Prev. Rank
1 Alabama 1993 1
2 Clemson 1903 2
3 Wisconsin 1865 5
4 Ohio State 1810 6
5 Georgia 1804 3
6 Oregon 1780 14
7 LSU 1764 4
8 Auburn 1676 8
9 Maryland 1671 30
10 Notre Dame 1649 11
11 Washington State 1643 18
12 Penn State 1641 7
13 Texas A&M 1639 16
14 UCF 1619 17
15 Oklahoma 1598 10
16 Michigan State 1587 20
17 Utah 1565 13
18 Florida 1562 9
19 Iowa 1550 25
20 USC 1532 28
21 Michigan 1515 12
22 Texas 1504 19
23 Mississippi State 1481 23
24 Baylor 1476 60
25 North Carolina State 1464 45

Others on the Bubble: Miami (FL), Kansas State, Virginia, South Carolina, Missouri, Boise State, North Carolina

Dropped from Rankings: Miami (FL), Boise State, Stanford, Virginia

College Football 2019 – Week 2 Underdog Picks

Record On the Season: 2-3 (1 Outright Win)

Last week was not the most excellent start to the year, but Week One is never easy for the underdogs.  For those that picked Georgia State against Tennessee, I applaud you – I was not one of them.  Nonetheless, onward to Week Two, headlined by two huge out of conference matchups: Texas A&M at Clemson and LSU at Texas.  I will be taking the Tigers in both games; while the Aggies look improved, going into Death Valley is a challenge this group has yet to face and Trevor Lawrence looks on a new level for 2019, and LSU was ferocious last weekend – Texas won’t have the players to stop the purple and gold.

As for my Week Two underdog plays:

  • Ohio (+4.0) at Pittsburgh
    • The Panthers did not look good in their opener against Virginia. They couldn’t move the ball and looked stunted at every drive.  Meanwhile the Bobcats offense under Nathan Rouke put away Rhode Island in the first half, accounting for three TDs.
  • Texas A&M (+16.5) at Clemson
    • The Tigers should win pretty handily against the Aggies, but a line this large is too tempting to pass up. Last year’s matchup was a close one in the fourth and I do expect much the same.  Cannot fathom Clemson winning by more than two touchdowns, and even that is high.
  • Colorado (+4.0) v Nebraska
    • The Buffaloes stunned the Huskers last year in Lincoln. Now with the rivalry renewed, and Nebraska coming into town, Colorado will look to get back to back wins over hated competition to start the Mel Tucker era.  They looked great against Colorado State in Denver last weekend while Nebraska created a lot more questions than they answered.  Steven Montez shined last weekend and could be a Pac-12 star in the making.
  • Nevada (+24.5) at Oregon
    • The Zoo will be rocking Saturday when the Wolfpack come to town. After a heartbreaking loss to Auburn, the Quack Attack will want to show they are still on top of the west.  But a 24.5 point margin is tough to overcome against a Nevada team that is always a scoring threat.  And to put that 24.5 point margin, Oregon has just 1 win in their last 12 games in which they covered that many points, while Nevada has stayed within the 24.5 point margin in all but 1 of their last 14 games.
  • Arkansas (+4.0) at Ole Miss
    • A matchup of SEC bottom feeders is where we will finish this week out. Ole Miss could not move the ball last week in Memphis, accounting for only 173 yards of offense in the loss.  Meanwhile, Arkansas had the offense moving against FCS Portland State, but failed to capitalize.  Still, they should have no problem dealing with the Rebels, who haven’t won since they went into Little Rock last year and beat the Razorbacks.

Tagline Sports FBS Top 25 2019 Week 1

With Week One in the Books, Here is the Updated Tagline Top 25.

Note, the first few weeks will see teams fluctuate heavily – by Week 5, the algorithm part of this is balanced out.

Rank Team Record Points Prev. Rank
1 Alabama 1-0 1930 2
2 Clemson 1-0 1897 1
3 Georgia 1-0 1793 3
4 LSU 1-0 1728 7
5 Wisconsin 1-0 1675 19
6 Ohio State 1-0 1648 5
7 Penn State 1-0 1646 13
8 Auburn 1-0 1633 9
9 Florida 1-0 1625 8
10 Oklahoma 1-0 1619 10
11 Notre Dame 1-0 1606 6
12 Michigan 1-0 1605 4
13 Utah 1-0 1571 18
14 Oregon 0-1 1537 17
15 Miami (FL) 0-1 1534 24
16 Texas A&M 1-0 1502 11
17 UCF 1-0 1499 23
18 Washington State 1-0 1494 22
19 Texas 1-0 1479 20
20 Michigan State 1-0 1478 15
21 Boise State 1-0 1472 31
22 Stanford 1-0 1462 25
23 Mississippi State 1-0 1460 14
24 Virginia 1-0 1454 37
25 Iowa 1-0 1453 16

 

College Football 2019 – Week 1 Underdog Picks

A new college football season is among us! After a teaser Saturday last weekend with the Battle of the Sunshine State between Florida and Miami, we have a full slate of games to enjoy this weekend.  While I’ll be trekking back to Happy Valley to watch Penn State take on the Idaho Vandals, so many other college football fans will be cheering on their squad for the first time since 2018.  With the start of another season, it is time for my underdog selections:

  • Boise State (+6.5) at Florida State
    • Originally slated to be in Jacksonville, this game has been moved to Doak Campbell Stadium due to Hurricane Dorian.  That does give Florida State an edge, but by how much.  Boise State has a good bit of talent to replace, especially on the offensive side, but they return a solid slate on defense that was already ferocious last year.  Meanwhile Florida State is still figuring out the keys to winning – lots of problems plagued their team last year and it didn’t seem like there were big moves made to improve such.  Boise State fights tough and while they may not have the size to contend, they have the talent and should put up a fight against a Seminoles team that needs help.
  • James Madison (+6.0) at West Virginia
    • This is as much of a rebuilding year as ever for West Virginia, as they lose almost all the keys to last year, including their head coach.  Neal Brown helped to rebuild Troy, but it still took him a year to get there; meanwhile one of the top schools in the FCS is coming in riding high and ready to pounce – this is a tough out for the Mountaineers and they have a huge chance of falling to the Dukes at home.
  • Holy Cross (+21.5) at Navy
    • One of the hottest teams to end the FCS season last year in the Crusaders comes into this battle with the Midshipman with a lot of talent remaining.  They are a high scoring team that loves to play on the road and will spell a challenge for a Navy team that is in rebuild mode.
  • Oregon (+3.5) v Auburn
    • Honestly, I’m surprised that Oregon is the underdog here – they are a pre-season favorite to win the Pac-12 and make it to the College Football Playoff, have perhaps the No. 1 Overall Pick at QB, and return a ton of talent.  Meanwhile, Auburn needs to find their identity after an up & down year in 2018 – starting freshman Bo Nix as their QB into what will be a tough environment at Jerry’s World.  In this rematch of the 2011 National Championship, I’ll be going with the Ducks to pull off the upset.
  • Fresno State (+13.5) at USC
    • Much like Florida State, USC is coming in off a year where they couldn’t put anything together.  Now they start the year with a tough Fresno State team that will test USC up and down the field.  This will be a low-scoring affair, especially with the Bulldogs defense, giving them the edge in the spread and possibly and edge to pull off the outright upset.

Tagline Sports 2019 College Football Predictions

Once again, it is the dawn of a new college football season.  With the memory of Clemson’s route of Alabama in the National Championship still fresh in everyone’s mind, it is time to move towards crowning out next champion.  Unlike the previous few seasons, there was a lot of turnover of the previous leaders; many went to the NFL, while graduated onto the next stages of their careers.  The ferocious Clemson defensive line have gone on to Sundays while the Big Ten’s best QBs found themselves new locations to start under center.  Nonetheless, it is a time to recruit, regroup, and refocus on the task at hand.

With that, yesterday you saw the first ever Tagline Sports Top 25.  Today its time for predictions for the 2019 season.  This spans from conference placings and champions to playoff predictions and bold statements.  And with that here we go!


ACC

Championship Game: Clemson (10-2) over Virginia (9-3)

Biggest Riser: Duke (9-3)

Biggest Dropper: Syracuse (6-6)

Bold Prediction: Clemson will go 0-2 in games inside the state of North Carolina.


American

Championship Game: Houston (9-3) over UCF (10-2)

Biggest Mover: Houston (9-3)

Biggest Dropper: Cincinnati (6-6)

Bold Prediction: UConn will win two in-conference road games.


Big Ten

Championship Game: Penn State (11-1) over Purdue (10-2)

Biggest Mover: Purdue (10-2)

Biggest Dropper: Michigan (7-5)

Bold Prediction: Michigan will fall to Penn State, Notre Dame, and Maryland in consecutive weeks, but will beat Ohio State.


Big 12

Championship Game: Oklahoma (10-2) over TCU (10-2)

Biggest Mover: TCU (10-2)

Biggest Dropper: West Virginia (2-10)

Bold Prediction: Jalen Hurts will make it to NY and capture Oklahoma’s third straight Heisman Trophy, but will not make it three in around 1st-overall draft picks.


C-USA

Championship Game: North Texas (12-0) over Marshall (10-2)

Biggest Mover: Florida Atlantic (9-3)

Biggest Dropper: Louisiana Tech (3-9)

Bold Prediction: North Texas will be the Group of 5 representative in the New Year’s Six.


MAC

Championship Game: Toledo (11-1) over Miami OH (8-4)

Biggest Mover: Bowling Green (8-4)

Biggest Dropper: Buffalo (5-7)

Bold Prediction: The MAC will go 2-0 in their games against Kentucky (Toledo 8/31 and Eastern Michigan 9/7).


Mountain West

Championship Game: Boise State (11-1) over San Diego State (10-2)

Biggest Mover: San Jose State (7-5)

Biggest Dropper: Utah State (7-5)

Bold Prediction: Fresno State will stun USC and Minnesota to open the season.


Pac-12

Championship Game: Arizona State (10-2) over Oregon (9-3)

Biggest Mover: UCLA (8-4)

Biggest Dropper: Utah (6-6)

Bold Prediction: Herm Edwards will win Coach of the Year.


SEC

Championship Game: Alabama (10-2) over Georgia (10-2)

Biggest Mover: Arkansas (6-6)

Biggest Dropper: Florida (6-6)

Bold Prediction: Alabama will lose a big first half lead in the SEC Championship Game, only to win the game on the last drive thanks to an untimely Georgia fumble as they try to close out the game.


Sun Belt

Championship Game: Appalachian State (11-1) over Arkansas State (8-4)

Biggest Mover: Appalachian State (11-1)

Biggest Dropper: Georgia Southern (6-6)

Bold Prediction: App State QB Zac Thomas will be a finalist for the Maxwell Award.



College Football Playoff & New Year’s Six

Fiesta Bowl (Semifinal): (1) Clemson over (4) Oklahoma, 27-10

Peach Bowl (Semifinal): (2) Alabama over (3) Penn State, 28-13

Cotton Bowl:  Oregon over North Texas, 24-19

Orange Bowl: Notre Dame over Virginia, 32-0

Rose Bowl: Arizona State over Purdue, 34-28

Sugar Bowl: Georgia over TCU, 38-7

 

National Championship: Alabama over Clemson, 45-13


And with that, we are on to the 2019 College Football Season. First up – Florida & Miami this Saturday. College football is back!

Tagline Sports FBS Top 25 Preseason 2019

Just as quick as the sun set on Santa Clara for the Alabama Crimson Tide, the sun rises on another College Football Season, with defending champion Clemson looking to to once again show why they deserve to be on top.  But with an ever changing landscape, college football never has a dull moment.  Perhaps the biggest change will come near the top, with Ohio State needing to fill the holes left by Urban Meyer and Dwayne Haskins; will Ryan Day and Justin Fields be the answer in Columbus?  Meanwhile, in Norman, the Sooners will once again have a transfer quarterback at the helm, with Jalen Hurts swapping one crimson jersey for another.  Can Lincoln Riley make another star in the center of the country as he did with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray?  As for their rivals one state south, Texas put a statement finish on their season with a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl – now its Sam Ehlinger’s time to put up and push the Longhorns forward.

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Belmont Stakes 2019 – Selections

As we turn the calendar to June, we find ourselves at the final leg of the Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes.  A field of ten line up to show the world what they can do, here in the Test of Champions.  For these horses, they will do something they may never do again in their careers, race at a mile and a half on the dirt.  Both speed and stamina is tested as the field takes a trip around the famed New York oval, Big Sandy.

While most of the top horses that we saw on the Road to the Kentucky Derby will be sitting at home, we do get the Preakness winner, War of Will, to show up, competing in all three legs of the Triple Crown.  A good case can be made the he could have been the winner of the Kentucky Derby, had it not been for Maximum Security.  And yet, here we are – no Derby winner in the field (neither of them) and a race far from filled with star talent – but this may be one of the toughest Belmont Stakes in recent memory.  With favorites drawn wide and many with the pedigree to go long, its hard to land on just one horse to win here – there is no clear favorite, unlike many of the previous years, and rather a collection of talent that outlasted the spring grind.  With that, let’s go through the field.

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Preakness 2019 – Selections

As the Black-Eyed Susans bloom and the racing world shifts to Baltimore, a different vibe comes upon this year’s Preakness Stakes. Horse racing has been in the public eye these past two weeks – just moments after a historic disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby the world has been abuzz about what will happen next. Controversy surrounded the sport, this time for good headlines, while everyone carried an opinion. No longer was horse racing talked about by its loyal fans – now everyone, from the paperboy to the janitor had something to say. As the sun sets on the Twin Spires and the mist rolls in at Old Hilltop, its time to move on to the Second Jewel of the Triple Crown, just without a Triple Crown.

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