Playing the Ponies

5 keys to betting on the Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes will cap off this year's Triple Crown, which will go down as one of the most controversial and eventually disappointing three races in a long time. But there is still money to be made, so here are five ways to approach the race. My horse-by-horse analysis is here. My premium plays are available at pregame.com. Historically the Belmont is where we do our best work in the Triple Crown. It is the longest of the Triple Crown races, and it takes a good combination of stamina and speed. Most of these horses will never run this far again.

1) Hard to get around the favorites

Tacitus, one of our Derby horses, will be the favorite after finishing fourth in that race on a track he hated. He has classic distance breeding, a good running style for the distance and has all the qualities you look for in a Belmont winner. He is also 9-5. War of Will, who dominated the Preakness and is very tough at his best, is 2-1. Both horses should be significant factors. That makes it more difficult to put together a decent score. However, when faced with this scenario, you look for long shots in the trifectas, and that is how we will approach the race.

2) About those long shots...

There are three that are intriguing. Master Fencer was seventh in the Derby, but the Japanese horse was beaten just four lengths and was finishing very strongly. His style should suit Belmont, and Japanese horses tend to run well everywhere. He was not elite in Japan, but let's face it, this field isn't either. He could surprise at a big price. We were all-in on Bourbon War in the Preakness and he took us all out by finishing eighth. He really had no excuse that day other than maybe the long layoff got to him. We will give him one more chance to reward our faith. Sir Winston already has a nice effort over the surface and always seems to show up at a big price.

3) The next tier

Everfast was second in the Preakness, but that effort came out of nowhere and horses that don't run in the Derby, then run well in the Preakness tend to falter in the Belmont. Intrepid Heart is a regally bred, lightly raced colt who could improve. Joevia should be the pace setter, and that is a big advantage in longer races, because he will likely get the lead all to himself and could last a long time. All of these could be bottom factors in the trifectas.

4) So how do we play it? 

I like exacta and trifecta boxes with the two favorites plus Master Fencer and Bourbon War. I also like the idea of keying the two favorites on top and in second with the long shots we like and as many horses as possible in third.

I also like the idea of playing the two long shots - Bourbon War and Master Fencer, across the board.

On the undercard, I like some long shots to throw in your wagers:

Race 8: No. 8 Hog Creek Hustle

Race 9: No. 5 Tale of Silence

Race 10: No 4 Qurban.

5) Keep an eye on the surface

As of today, they are expecting nice weather at Belmont so everything is handicapped for a fast track. Should that prove wrong, check back on Twitter as I will likely change some plays. Good luck and let's finish this year strong.

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UH is off to a great start! Photo courtesy of UH athletics.

After what seemed to be an eternity, the University of Houston Men's Basketball program finally returned to the hardwood on Wednesday, November 25th. The Cougars started this season as the 17th ranked team in the country and looked to carry over their winning ways from lasts year's COVID-19 shorted season.

The Cougars ignited their season with a home victory against Lamar University on Wednesday. This was also the Cougars' first game since securing a victory over Memphis at the Fertitta Center on March 8 to clinch the American Athletic Conference regular-season title. Sophomore Marcus Sasser scored 25 points, and freshman forward Tramon Mark added 22 points and eight rebounds to push the Cougars to a blowout victory of 89-45 over the Lamar Cardinals. Although this game wasn't close, it showcased Houston's three best attributes: defending, rebounding and taking care of the ball. This game turned out to be a good tune-up in preparation for the Cougar's next two opponents, and showed just how dominant this team could be on the defensive end.

Their next game proved to a little more challenging against the Boise State Broncos. The Cougars led 11-9 midway through the first half before going on a 21-5 run resulting in a 34-19 lead at halftime. This run was a result of the Cougars once again showcasing their best attribute, defense. One example was DeJon Jarreau, a 6-5 senior guard, who shut down last year's Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Boise State's Derrick Alston Jr. Alston, who was held scoreless the entire game. Coach Kelvin Sampson said Jarreau's defense set the tone for the Cougars.

"He wanted that assignment," Sampson said. "He embraced that challenge. You could tell he was ready to go. DeJon is a competitor and a tough kid."

It wasn't an entire defensive showcase, for Quinton Grimes (last years second leading scorer for the Cougars) scored a game high 25 points for the Cougars, and once again, the Cougars had a 20 point lead in two consecutive games.

Boise State did make things interesting down the stretch. The Broncos went on an 18-5 run to cut a 20- point deficit to seven points with 2:26 left to go in the second half. But, Houston made nine straight free throws (15-of-17 for the game) down the stretch to secure a 68-58 victory over the Broncos.

The Cougars headed up to Fort Worth to play their most anticipated matchup so far against the 14th ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders.

This was the first meeting between the two schools in six years, and is the third straight neutral-site meeting between the former Southwest Conference opponents. There was a red and black-heavy presence of a pandemic-limited crowd at Dickies Arena, which provided a good ambience for a pseudo Texas Tech home game. It didn't seem to affect the Cougars, they got off to a fast start and took a big lead.

Houston went on a 21-4 run in the first half and Texas Tech went more than six minutes without a single field goal during that stretch. The Cougars' stifling defense was once again the best part of their game (sensing a trend?). Houston limited the Red Raiders' to 33.3 percent shooting and forced 12 turnovers in the first half. Sasser, for the second time in three games, was the leading scorer for the Cougars. He hit a big time 3 that gave the Cougars a 20 point lead with 12:27 left in the game.

Texas Tech wouldn't go away quietly though. They went on an 11-0 run in the second half and brought the Red Raiders back to within 55-48. Their comeback was short-lived, for Tech never got closer than seven points behind the Cougars and couldn't take advantage of some Cougar offensive mishaps. Houston's offensive woes continued throughout the second half, but they established such a commanding lead early on that Texas Tech didn't have enough time to overcome this deficit.

It is worth mentioning that the last 12 1/2 minutes of the game was atrocious for the Cougar's offense. They went 1-12 from the field, but timely free throws was their key to keeping the lead manageable. The Cougars scored their last 11 points on free throws, going 11 of 14 from the line over the final 6:43 of the game.

The final score was 64-53 and the Cougars are 3-0 to start the season. After this victory, the Cougars are now ranked number 10 in the latest AP College basketball poll.

Key to all 3 victories

One Thing To Note: In all three games this season, Houston held their opponents scoring to under 20 points in the first half. Lamar, Boise State, and Texas Tech have all combined to shot 27.4 percent and Houston has committed 31 turnovers.
Offense wins games, and defense wins championships. If that motto is true, the Cougars have a bright future ahead of them this season.

The Cougars have a few days off before their next game at home against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday, December 5th.

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