TRIPLE CROWN THREAT

Fred Faour: Picks and plays for Saturday's Belmont Stakes

Can Justify win the Triple Crown? We are betting against it. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Saturday’s Belmont Stakes will feature Justify attempting to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. He will face nine other mostly mediocre runners as he attempts to make history. A perfect 5-for-5 in his career, he will face a tough test trying to go a mile and a half.

The positives

He looks like the controlling pace of the race, and with that in mind he will be able to dictate to the others. That is a huge advantage. Unless a horse like Noble Indy pushes him early, he will have an easy trip.

He is still the most talented horse in the field. He regressed significantly in the Preakness, and still posted a 97 Beyer Speed figure. The only other horse to better that in any of his races is Vino Rosso, who posted a career-best 98 when he won the Wood Memorial. If Justify runs back to his prior numbers -- 103, 107, 101 and 104 -- he will be next to impossible to beat.

We might not have seen his best race yet. If that happens, he should roll.

His trainer, Bob Baffert, knows what it takes to win the Triple Crown, having done it with American Pharoah in 2015 after several near-misses.

The negatives

His Preakness regression might be a sign that he is wearing down. He has had a lot of races in a short time, and the distance of the Belmont might prove to be too much.

While he has solid breeding, it does not scream a mile and a half. Several others might be better suited.

Favorites do not do well in this race. In the last 15 runnings, only two favorites have won the race -- Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015) and Afleet Alex (2005).

The picks

With all that in mind, we will be taking a shot at beating Justify. We could still cash if he wins, but if he runs out of the money, we will clean up.

The horse I like to upset the field is Hofburg, who was a decent 7th in the Derby despite trouble. He is bred to get the distance, his trainer knows how to win big races and he should be well rested. He also is lightly raced and has every right to improve. He will need to in order to win this, but he should be sitting on a big effort. We will be playing him across the board and keyed in exactas with the key contenders.

  1. Hofburg

  2. Justify

  3. Bravazo

  4. Vino Rosso

  5. Tenfold

The plays

Here are our trifecta plays. We will box the top five picks ($30 based on a .50 cent ticket). So a .50 trifecta box 1-3-4-7-8.

We will also key Hofburg and Bravazo 1-2 in the trifectas. If Justify runs out of the mix, we are looking at a nice score. So a .50 tri 3-4 with 1-3-4-7-8 with ALL, and 1-3-4-7-8 with 3-4 with ALL. That will be $32 per bet or $64 total.

Good luck on your wagers!


 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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