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Michael Tartaglia

Hambletonian Day 2020 Selections

The greatest day in harness racing is finally here! In a year unlike any other, it is such a relief to find a day that is so familiar – Hambletonian Day. While I won’t be on site for the race for the first time in five years, I’ll still be watching and betting from home with a nice bottle of whiskey.

Anyway, this Hambletonian card has 16 races – including 14 stakes – headlined by the 95th edition the Hambletonian, harness racing’s most famous race. One of the best races on tap may be the Sam McKee Memorial Free For All Pace – featuring Breeders’ Crown winners Dancin Lou and American History and the Graduate winner Hurrikane Hanover – which is a wide open championship pacing affair. Also we will see three phenomenal mares, Manchego, Atlanta, and Shartin N in their respective races, including Atlanta once again taking on the boys in the stacked John Cashman Memorial.

With that, let’s get to talking about the races:

Race 1 – N/W $20,000 L5 Pace
The opening race of the day is a nice group of ten going in this non-winners of 20k. Lots of open and preferred handicap horses drop into this spot to start our day off. I do think (5) Angers Bayama is a tough one to beat coming out of his back to back wins at the Meadowlands; Andrew McCarthy stays in the bike aboard a hot horse who truly has been getting better with each go. He is really taking to the big mile track and should be the one here going gate to wire. I’d also look at (4) Shamwow underneath for some value.

Race 2 – Shady Daisy Pace
Now we move into the stakes part of the card, although only five 3yo fillies go in this pacing affair. But no wonder it is short – trying to contend with the Breeders’ Crown and Mistletoe Shalee champ (3) Reflect With Me is no easy task. She has been on a tear since coming back this season and is getting better as the season gets longer. A definite single in this spot.

Race 3 – Dr. John R. Steele Memorial Trot
Our next race brings us to another fabulous female with Breeders’ Crown champion Manchego. We saw the fastest trotting mare ever brush off a similar field last year in the Allerage Farms Mare Trot at the Red Mile enroute to the world record time – and should be doing much the same. (5) Manchego is a freak on the front end, as she proved in the Spirit of Massachusetts last week, winning in world record time. She won this race in a 1:50 over Hannelore Hanover last year and looks to do the same once again. I’ve very much liked what (4) Felicityshagwell S has shown since coming to the US and is still improving. She has been finishing well in her last few and should be able to grab some pieces late.

Race 4 – Continentalvictory Trot
Named for the 1996 Hambletonian winner, this trot for 3yo fillies comes up with former Hambo Oaks hopefuls. The PA invader (6) Dip Me Hanover is who I lean towards here. She ended up facing some very salty PASS races in her last few, but has some great back form against similar that puts her in a good spot here. Another PA invader to watch is (7) Sweet Shirley Mae who comes in off two in the money efforts and looks to get back to a full mile track.

Race 5 – Muscle Hill Trot
Named for the 2009 Hambletonian winner, this Hambletonian prelude features a trotter that I really liked coming out of the NJSS action earlier this year in (9) Jula Trix Treasure. He just didn’t move all that well late against the company in the Tompkins-Geers and Hambo Elim last two out, but does get a lighter test in this start. The other two for me are (6) Beads and (8) Chestnut Hill coming out of Hambletonian eliminations. Beads finished up well in the Stanley Dancer Memorial behind Ready For Moni two back and should get a favorable trip here while Chestnut Hill has a lot of back form to look at as he tries to get back to his winning ways for Nifty Norman.

Race 6 – Jim Doherty Memorial Trot
Something I love about Hambletonian Day is getting to see the future stars of the sport shine in the 2yo stakes affairs. Hypnotic AM captured this race last year with Brian Sears enroute to a Breeders’ Crown third and a start in the Hambletonian Oaks later today. (5) Darlene Hanover pushed through late in the elimination last week and looks to be the one to beat here. She finally broke her maiden last out but was showing a lot of late closing kick in all her starts prior. She will get challenged by the talented (10) Altar, who won the NJSS division earlier this year, but was DQ’ed from 3rd last out in the elimination, ending her two race win streak. Meanwhile (4) Material Girl is knocking on the door and isn’t a trotter to leave off any ticket. And if you are looking for a price, watch out for the very expensive 2yo (9) Ineffable with Brian Sears – he saved a lot in the tank last start and should come out guns blazing.

Race 7 – Sam McKee Memorial Pace
The former US Pacing Championship that has since been renamed for the legendary announcer and all-around fantastic guy Sam McKee, who we lost much too soon, has come up as tough as usual. Multiple high level stakes winners come into this major pacing event ready to take home the ultimate prize. While most will lean on the Breeders’ Crown champ Dancin Lou, I head to (3) Hurrikane Emperor to take down this field again. He is in a similar form cycle as he had in his win in the Graduate last month against similar company and has had two good tuneups in the NJ Maturity legs. He shows his A+ game against top class company and absolutely thrives at the Meadowlands.

Race 8 – Peter Haughton Memorial Trot
Future Hambletonian hopefuls head to the track in this featured 2yo event. This is a pretty wide open affair and you could go in any direction here. I am sticking with (5) Locatelli who comes in off skipping over the eliminations. One of the fresh faces here, this 2yo just came up short closing late in the NJSS division but showed a lot of promise with his good closing kick. He was drawn on the far outside that day which got him shuffled back and out of place early. While Yannick chooses off for (4) Type A, who comes in out of PASS action and is a huge threat, I like Dexter Dunn in this spot trying to get Locatelli towards the front early – major threat here.

Race 9 – Hambletonian Oaks Trot
The first of our featured races of the day, the Hambletonian Oaks could go in just about any direction. (11) Panem gets the second tier draw here, although should be fine as the one she tracks should be trying for the lead early. She has been coming up just short in her last two (Reynolds and Del Miller) but has been showing a really quick turn of foot down the lane late and looks to show that here. She won’t have Ramona Hill to deal with which will be a huge plus for her. I do think that (7) Sorella and (2) Next Level Stuff could get the win here as well, as both have been in great form as of late, but their might be a bit too much jostling up front for me to be confident in either.

Race 10 – John Cashman Memorial Trot
Hambletonian winners Atlanta and Marion Marauder face off once again. Last time they squared off on the same track was at Scioto Downs last year in the Muscle Hill, with Atlanta getting the best of the field. Will we see that again today? I think so. (2) Atlanta is an absolute freak, especially when she gets an inside draw at the Big M. However, she never had to face someone like (7) Gimpanzee, who has been dominant thus far on the season, sweeping his three legs of the Graduate and winning the Hambletonian Maturity. It should be a good duel down the lane between these two champions. My upsetter here would have to be (6) Lindy The Great, who can truly toy with the best of them when he is hot; he can come from the clouds late and should be a threat if there is enough speed on the front end. (btw, don’t count out Jimmy Takter on Hambletonian Day – he finds a way back into the card he dominated for so many years as he drives Don’t Let’em)

Race 11 – Hambletonian
Finally time for the big one – the Hambletonian. The tremendous filly Ramona Hill showed she fits against the boys in her miraculous win from tough trip last week in the elim. Meanwhile, Stanley Dancer winners Ready For Moni and Back Of The Neck draw to the inside and try to take home the top prize. Not to be undone, Breeders’ Crown champion Amigo Volo got back to his winning ways when heading over to PA but wants to get a win here on the biggest of stages, something his sire Father Patrick was unable to do. And it wouldn’t be right without talking about the Ron Burke/Brian Sears entry in Sister Sledge, the other filly in the race, who showed her stuff two back in the Tompkins-Geers; she trotted real well to a solid fourth in the elim last out and looks primed to go. I have really liked (2) Back Of The Neck since the trainer switch from Marcus Melander to Ake Svanstedt. Scotty Z is in the bike and has been getting the most out of this son of Ready Cash; he looked to have put away the field last out in the elim only to find Ramona Hill surging late in style. That wasn’t his 100% and he should have a lot left in the tank for this one. His pace figures put him in really good position here and drawing to the inside should help him hit the front on what should be a speed favoring surface after the rain dries up from Friday night.

Race 12 – Vincennes Trot
An invitational preferred trot, this one is a staple of the Hambletonian undercard (or post card in this case). The ageless Jl Cruze ends up here against a good field of former stakes performers. For me, (1) Muscle M Up is the one to watch. He went up to Plainridge a few back to content against Manchego and Atlanta in the Spirit of Massachusetts, but didn’t get anything going there. Back to the Meadowlands he went and he just needed a race to cool down. He has been going against much tougher company but gets a spot and a draw that should favor him to get the lead and carry it away. Additionally, (2) Mission Accepted with Yannick Gingras in the bike is a dangerous one at a slight price. This is a much easier spot than what he has seen at the Big M and should like the trip he looks to get.

Race 13 – Cane Pace
The first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown brings us a future star of the sport, (6) Tall Dark Stranger. Go back and watch his Meadowlands Pace win and try to tell me that didn’t give you chills. He fought the whole way down the lane against Papi Rob Hanover and wouldn’t give an inch. He had a tune-up effort in the Tompkins-Geers last week to prep him for this start. I love him here and already think he is on to a magical season. A price in this somewhat short field may be (8) Chief Mate – who has been knocking on the door as of late and came up just short in the Adios last out.

Race 14 – Sam McKee Memorial Consolation
Lot’s of excellent pacers tried to get into the Sam McKee but will have to do with the consolation. This race is where I come with two of my biggest prices of the day: (4) Filibuster Hanover and (5) Donttellmeagain. While both are a bit past their prime, they had no chance against the top pacers last out. Yet, against similar company to what they find here, they have excelled as of late. I give them a huge leg up in this field, even at a price. Speed figures put them in a very well verse spot here.

Race 15 – Lady Liberty Pace
The Horse of the Year, Breeders’ Crown Champ, and two-time winner of the Lady Liberty looks to make it three in a row here. (5) Shartin N is by far the best pacing mare in training (if not the best pacer in training) and it isn’t even close. She had a rare defeat two back in the Dorothy Haughton (formerly known as the Golden Girls) but that isn’t anything to worry about. Let’s see if she can do it again.

Race 16 – N/W $10,000 L5 Pace
One last race to close out a tremendous day of harness racing and a very nice sixteen race card. For me, my close out of the day lies in the outside horse, (10) Lets Roll and Corey Callahan. Getting back to the Meadowlands should do this horse well, and the slight drop of class might be exactly what he needs to get back to his winning ways. Hoping to finish the day with a nice price.

Haskell/Meadowlands Pace Day 2020 Selections

It is a huge day in the Garden State! Two of the premier racing days of the year in the state fall together, with Monmouth Park starting the day with the Haskell (G1) and its undercard, including the United Nations (G1), Monmouth Cup (G3), Matchmaker Stakes (G3), Molly Pitcher (G3), and Wolf Hill, and the Meadowlands just up the state finishing with their premier pacing race, the Meadowlands Pace, which completes a huge card of Grand Circuit racing, including the William R. Haughton Memorial and Dorothy Haughton for older pacers and two divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial, which will give us a glimpse of our Hambletonian contenders.

With that, let’s go into my selections for all the stakes races on the day (and linked free PPs available as well, presented by Brisnet and Trackmaster/Meadowlands):

Monmouth Park Race 9WinStar Matchmaker (G3)
(2) Feel Glorious – was running on well late in the New York; should favor this course well and is eligible to improve in 2nd start since layoff
(4) Varenka – needed last race at CD to get back in form; has shown strong ability and finds a lighter spot here than last few
(8) Xenobia – posted a great figure in first start of the year against much tougher; has an excellent turn of foot late and should get an ideal trip

Monmouth Park Race 10Monmouth Cup (G3)
(7) Joevia – Suffered from too much pace pressure in last two starts, but has little early challengers this time; loves Monmouth Park and has been improving in his starts this year; will be tough but could pull the upset
(4) Harpers First Ride – Moving up in class here should be no problem; figures put him right in this field and is on the improve in form; strong finishing kick against super slow early paces makes him intriguing
(8) Just Whistle – Had too much to do last out but eligible to return well here; has some of the best figures in the race and gets Joe Bravo aboard.

Monmouth Park Race 11United Nations (G1)
(9) Paret – An absolute standout on form and figures here; has some of the best turf speed in the race and looked really good in his seasonal debut against better – a must use
(8) Corelli – eligible to improve off first domestic start; has good backform from time in GB and should improve with blinkers and lasix added – worth a shot at the price
(5) Aquaphobia – was closing in well in last two and improving on paper; put in good workouts leading up to this and gets Bravo aboard – contender

Monmouth Park Race 12TVG.com Haskell (G1)
(1) Dr Post – my single on the day; complete standout in this field and is coming into this race in really good condition off that :48 flat 4f workout; showed a lot of game talent finishing well in the Belmont Stakes behind Tiz The Law and will enjoy the two turn trip much better
(6) Ny Traffic – should be forwardly placed early and that will greatly improve his changes; hit two monster horses in last two while showing toughness in both races – sharp and gets Paco Lopez aboard for a second straight race
(2) Authentic – his Santa Anita Derby behind Honor A.P. put me off this horse; he has some green left in him and I’m not sold that going a route distance is really his thing, but his talent still towers over much of this field and needs to be considered

Monmouth Park Race 13Wolf Hill
(9) Shekky Shebaz – while I may want to give this runner a first start under the Clement barn, he does seem to be the highest rated horse here; his gate speed is truly spectacular and should give him an edge here on the Monmouth turf
(5) Dubini – needed the last race off the layoff, this one should get better now in second start of the year and the return to Monmouth Park; has the turning kick to catch anyone down the stretch and gets Paco aboard – lot to like on figures too
(2) Lonhtwist – last out was just way too tough for him, but the step down in class is just what he needs as he gets a group he can beat; big striding horse that should take to this turf better than Belmont, which he seems to just not like based on his past runs there – this could be the upsetter

Monmouth Park Race 14Molly Pitcher (G3)
(11) Horologist – heading to the Bill Mott barn might be the best move for this talented filly; she had troubled tips in the Apple Blossom (against much better) and in her runner up finish in the Nellie Morse, but this trip should favor her – and she is 4 for 4 at Monmouth against similar company
(9) Sweet Sami D – had a good return to the races in an OC at Delaware Park but now gets back against the stakes company she ran against last year; her tune-up looked like she still had more to give and should improve stepping here
(5) Vault – Mike Smith has a live runner here after she ran a huge second last month in the Obeah at Delaware Park, though making the decision to come here as opposed to last weekends Delaware Handicap is intriguing; still this looks to be a good spot for her as she continues to improve this year – a possible star in the making for the Brad Cox barn

Meadowlands Race 2 – Miss Versatility Trot Leg 3
(6) Manchego – winning the first leg of this series a few weeks ago over Atlanta before coming back to finish a second to her rival, the Breeders’ Crown Champion doesn’t need to worry about Atlanta here; should cruise to an easy victory in this one
(5) Felicityshagwell S – improved in both of her first PM starts in the US for Ake Svanstedt, this mare has shown promise – maybe this will be the chance she shows what she is worth
(1) Kenziesky Hanover – developing as a great trotter, the Cullipher trained daughter of Cantab Hall has been knocking on the door as of late; the switch to being more forwardly placed, and getting the one hole, should help her stay near the lead in the end

Meadowlands Race 3Del Miller Memorial Trot
(1) Sorella – the PA star made the switch over to NJ when Nancy Takter took over training this year; so far shes been the talk of the town – with three straight wins including a 1:50.2 (26.3 LQ) trotting mile in the Reynolds last out
(5) Panem – Dexter Dunn has had this one trotting fire as of late, keeping up with Sorella last out and winning just two back; this fits her well and if she can improve a bit, might get past her rival as they head towards the Hambletonian Oaks
(8) Hypnotic Am – last year’s Doherty winner came back with two warm up trots against lesser at Tioga and Vernon (and grab some of that NYSS money); she has been a force on the front end and should be dueling with Sorella throughout

Meadowlands Race 4Stanley Dancer Memorial Trot (Div. I)
(6) Back Of The Neck – a last out winner in the Reynolds and finished a good open trot behind Sorella two back (ahead of Synergy and Breeders’ Crown champ Amigo Volo), the Ake Svanstedt Hambletonian hopeful has a lot in the tank; his two straight :26 and change last quarters are eye opening for me and Scott Zeron has been driving very well this year
(5) Play Trix On Me – Linda Toscano brings in a tough NJ-bred trotter by Trixton; crushed through the NJSS company before making the step up in the Reynolds – needed that first trot but showed promise and should move up with Tim Tetrick in the bike
(1) Real Cool Sam – one of the favorite horses on the ground, as named for the late, great Sam McKee, won the Peter Haughton Memorial last year at the Meadowlands before a 4th place finish behind Amigo Volo in the Breeders’ Crown; now he makes his season debut after three straight qualifiers – I want to give him one start, but his talent keeps him up near the top for me

Meadowlands Race 5Stanley Dancer Memorial Trot (Div. II)
(9) Capricornus – the second division is where I find my upset on the day; tried to trot on the front end in the Reynolds last out before tiring like many that day, but just needed that race on the big mile – should step up a bit and take better to the track tonight
(7) El Ideal – last year’s Valley Victory champion returned in the same division of the Reynolds as Capricornus, but was spinning wheels last after being on the front end; I wasn’t a huge fan of how he finished, and looks like he might need on more race, but I don’t want to be the one who left him off my ticket if he trots by everyone
(3) Chestnut Hill – coming back to the big track off a tuneup on the short Pocono Downs course may be what the Nifty Norman trainee needs; he trotted alright two back, but looks to be showing more – improving and moving forward well in last three

Meadowlands Race 6 Mistletoe Shalee Pace
(1) Jk First Lady – the Three Diamonds winner makes her return to stakes company in the fillies version of the Pace; her closing kick is one of the best in the field and her pacing miles turn some heads – in really great condition after the 1:49.4 qualifier and should return to her form she had to end 2019
(2) Peaky Sneaky – right to Jk First Lady’s outside is a Nancy Takter trainee that isn’t one to forget; right there in pacing times, she has been getting better with every start and seems to love the Meadowlands; should be the dueling late
(6) Rocknificent – taking a step back down in class off a win against a bit tougher in the PASS at The Meadows, the daughter of Captaintreacherous returns to the big mile in good form; her figures pose a big challenge for anyone and Zeron in the bike makes her a tough out any time

Meadowlands Race 7William R. Haughton Memorial Pace
(6) Dancin Lou – older pacers take over the card here, although misses some of our leaders from the Graduate series; but we do get 3rd place finisher in the Graduate, Dancin Lou, who has been spinning wheels very quickly in his last few – gets a big lighter test here and should be the one pacing home in fron tat the end
(5) Backstreet Shadow – Tetrick takes the Roll With Joe winner back to the Meadowlands after a qualifier tune up; when given the front lead, he isn’t one to give him up, and although he is going against much tougher here, his figures put him right in the mix
(1) This Is The Plan – the Hoosier Pacing Derby winner is looking to return to the top of open company again, and has the chance here; he showed good promise in the Roll With Joe, but needs the longer track to get going – Meadowlands switch is exactly what he needs

Meadowlands Race 8Hambletonian Maturity Trot
(1) Forbidden Trade – last year’s Hambletonian winner comes back to the site of his biggest success after a pretty good finish to 2019 at Woodbine Mohawk; Zeron give him a good tuneup here last week, trotting clear ahead of Jl Cruze, but now gets his usual stakes company to contend with – lots to like with him
(7) Reign Of Honor – 2020 has been kind to this son of Father Patrick, as he has been trotting well in his three starts and getting better each time; solid post should put him in good position and the elongated 1 1/8 mi should favor his style and late kick
(13) Gimpanzee – would be higher up here if he wan’t coming from behind here; the easy winner of the Graduate series – sweeping two legs and the finals, he is trotting in great form and is one to watch; not sure he will appreciate the added distance and starting from behind against a really great field might not be the best – but one to watch nonetheless

Meadowlands Race 9Meadowlands Pace Final
(5) Tall Dark Stranger – Gingras and Takter team up with one that wowed everyone last year up at Woodbine Mohawk and even moreso last week in the Pace Elim, pacing clear on the front end the whole way without giving an inch; he towers over the field and is the big one to beat tonight
(3) Captain Barbossa – just did what he needed to do in the Elim last week, the Tony Alagna trainee has been improving this year off what was a very nice 2yo season; saw a lot to like in the last three and should be pacing home strong down the stretch
(9) Papi Rob Hanover – the only one to have beaten Tall Dark Stranger in the Breeders’ Crown Elim (and in the final before being DQ’ed to 2nd), this pacer is getting back into form with two good starts to the season; while might be better suited to the small track, the outside post has giving him the ability to keep clear and pace home fast late

Meadowlands Race 10Dorothy Haughton Pace
(4) Kissin In The Sand – beating the 2019 Dan Patch Horse of the Year, Shartin N, won’t be an easy task, but I’ve been far more impressed with the miles that Kissin In The Sand has been pacing to start the year; she looks like she developed into a monster pacing mare and excited to see how she does a year older
(2) Shartin N – winner of this race (as the Golden Girls last year) helped her on her Horse of the Year campaign, but that was last year; her early starts this year have just been easy cruises against lesser (much like she did to start last year), which may mean she is beatable; if she is on – she will be dominant, but that scratch out of last time gives me enough to not put her on top, but still a must use in this spot
(3) Trillions Hanover – pacing behind Kissin In The Sand last out, she had a great tune-up for this major race; she is growing up well as a 4yo now and I think she might be the best of the rest here

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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