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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Should Watson be in the MVP conversation? Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2020 NFL season has a lot going on. Even if we take the coronavirus out of it, there's still a lot to digest. There are so many great performances being put up, one can make an argument for several players to win league MVP. The quarterback position typically gets more credit than others. If I restrict the argument to quarterbacks only, we're looking at Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Derrick Henry are the leading contenders at running back. On defense, there really isn't a standout defender. The defense gets no love, but there are several guys in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Deshaun Watson has been putting up numbers that have matched or rivaled some of the top MVP candidates over his last seven games. That stretch has coincided with the firing of head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien. Coincidence? I think not. Taking the reigns off a wild horse can often lead to said horse running free and flourishing! So question: Should Watson be getting league MVP considerations? I think so.

For starters, he's been one of the best players in the league over the course of the last seven games. 18 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. The only quarterback with a better touchdown to interception ratio over that same span is Mahomes (19 and 2, as opposed to Watson's 18 & 2). Factoring in total season stats, of course Mahomes is doing much better. He's on a better team with a much better coach and general manager. The same could be said for Wilson and Rodgers. Put Watson on any of those teams and their records wouldn't be any worse than what they are now.

The Texans are 4-3 since firing O'Brien. While that isn't a great record, consider the fact they started the season 0-4 and looked like a total disaster. Watson looked like he was caged and couldn't wait to be freed. The team's record could be even better if the defense had a pulse. The proper supporting cast has a lot to do with a player's MVP candidate's chances. Now that one of his favorite weapons, Will Fuller, and the team's best corner, Bradley Roby, are both suspended for the rest of the season by the league for violating the substance abuse/PED policy, things will get much tougher for Watson.

If he continues to put up these cartoon like numbers, I don't see why he wouldn't be in the MVP conversation. He's currently fopurth in passing yards, sixth in completion percentage, tied for fifth in passing touchdowns, eighth in QBR, and third in quarterback rating. Watson is emerging as the star he was projected to be coming into the 2017 draft. I'm not saying Watson deserves to be the league MVP, but he deserves to be in the conversation. His MVP candidacy should be treated like the family gathering hierarchy: once you reach a certain age and/or status, you're no longer resigned to the kiddie table. Now you get to sit with all the adults, engage in their conversations, and gain access to things you couldn't previously. Watson won't win the MVP award, but I strongly believe he could finish top five. Especially if he keeps making lemonade with the lemons he's been given.

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