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Wagstaff’s Picks: Kentucky Derby 2017 May 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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a-day-at-the-races_tootsie-fruitsey

This year’s Derby gives us one of the most open fields in years. Add to that the weather conditions – 3 straight days of likely rain – and we get the random factor of sloppy track conditions to make it all the more unpredictable.

So I’ll go ahead and make some predictions. It’s the rebel in me.

After going through the past performances, I looked at speed, condition, jockey and trainer records… the usual sort of thing. I looked at which horses like to close, which like to lead, and which ones like stouts and porters as opposed to pale ales.

Twenty horses running on a sloppy track means a lot of mud kicked up in the faces of the horses off the lead. The majority of the horses running have no racing experience with that. How will they react?

Some horses have run in the mud before. Some of ’em did pretty well, too. Some of ’em came from behind to win, telling us that the mud-in-the-face factor only makes ’em MAD!

When I put it all together, I’d lean towards the following. I don’t have a definite winner like I did with American Pharoah & The Belmont, or like I did with the pasta I made last night. But I think I’ve got some good prospects here with some good odds to use in various combo bets that might pay well.

#8 Hence at 15-1 (!) looks fast, well conditioned and ready to go. He closes well, and has closed well in sloppy track conditions.

#5 Always Dreaming at 5-1 hasn’t run in the mud, but his overall speed is near the top, and he’s in great shape right now. If (and it’s always a big if) he can handle the mud, he should do fine.

#14 Classic Empire is the current favorite at 4-1, and usually when an opening line favorite is that high, it means there’ll be a lot of changing of that particular status come post time. He’s got the best speed of the bunch, but the only time he ran in mud was for a 4 1/2 furlong low-level race…. but he came from behind and won. I wouldn’t count him out here, not at all.

#2 Thunder Snow at a big 20-1 is my wildcard. He’s only been races overseas, I have no fraction times for him… but he wins. And he wins at decent times, and at least from the reports, he comes from behind and closes. No mud, but he’s one of the few horses who have run on turf, and he’s run & won on soft turf. That tells me the feel of a muddy track won’t bother him at all – it’s only the mud-in-the-face factor that might come into play. Still, I’ll have him in my combo bets, and 50 cent trifecta combos might be the way I go overall.

I had two other horses as possibles before cutting them on a second go-round, and they were #16 Tapcrit and #18 Gormley. I just don’t think the speed is there in either case, and I think trainer Todd Pletcher has a better shot with Always Dreaming than he does with Tapcrit. Could they finish 3rd or 4th for a trifecta or superfecta? Maybe, but I’m thinking my top 4 picks will out run them.

Will I bet a lot under these conditions? Probably not. But with the odds where they are, the idea of hitting a trifecta could potentially mean a big payoff for a small bet, my favorite score at the track every time.

It’s also supposed to rain here in sunny southern California on Saturday, a rarity for May. Maybe I’ll take that as a sign to stay indoors & gamble.

And on other days, I’ll remind myself that it’s probably raining somewhere.

Reviews Are Starting To Appear May 2, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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So far, so good!

If you’ve read the new Wagstaff mystery, please post a review!

Big-time professional reviews forthcoming…. I gotta wait in line behind some other books for those.

Get your copy here & read an excerpt (the Kindle one is longer!)

It’s also part of Kindle Unlimited – so it’s FREE to check out if you’re on that service! The first Wagstaff book is too! Click here!

The current debate I’m having in my own li’l mind is whether or not to advertise the book in an upcoming Brown Alumni Monthly issue focusing on Brown authors.

I’m not sure how Brown will react to the book. Sure, I set it at an alumni weekend and offer all sorts of descriptions of Brown, Providence and its environs, with numerous episodes around town in restaurants, legendary RI food must-haves like Allie’s Donuts or Iggy’s Clamcakes.  An actual reunion I attended at Brown a few years ago inspired much of this one, ranging from the classmates I reconnected with to the changes in downtown Providence and the spectacle of WaterFire. I worked it all in, all within a story involving the special brand of Rhode Island mafia I grew up around.

So, yeah, there’s plenty of local color to go around, but I HAD to include some episodes satirizing academic classes at Brown. While it was tempting to go after the truly low-hanging fruit of current day safe space grievance studies, I saved the biggest rant for a film class I actually took back in the day, a class that made me sit through pretentious anti-cinema for semiotic purposes & totally got Hitchcock wrong.

Well, I felt like I got some revenge with that small section of my story. But I’m not sure how Brown will react to it, since it’s the hook I’d use in the advertising.

The troublemaker in me says to do it.

And the cheapskate says only if it’s not too much money.

So, we’ll see.

I have nice things to say in the book about the Brown band and the art at the RISD museum. Some of it even figures into the mystery.

The real debate is whether or not it will increase or decrease the chances of that honorary doctorate, right?

Check it out for yourself! And don’t forget to add to the reviews! Thanks!

 

 

 

 

Being A Patriots Fan Means Not Caring About The NFL Draft April 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football, Uncategorized.
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bel

If only the last election had gone this way, eh?

The Pats have no first round picks. They have no second round picks. Traded ’em away for some strong talent, like wide receiver Brandon Cooks.

While most teams would view the loss of early picks a detriment, for the Pats, it really doesn’t matter. Tom Brady was a 4th rounder, 199 overall. Julian Edelman was a SEVENTH round pick, 299 overall.

Belichick will grab castoffs from other teams’ practice squads and have them out there as productive starters the following week.

I think he could go into a Wal-Mart, randomly grab a half dozen guys to bring to training camp, and turn most of them into NFL players.

Will I be interested in who the Pats draft? Well, of course. But missing out on the first two rounds only leads to a shrug. Compared to the level of hype over who the Rams or Chargers will pick out here in SoCal, or all the speculation over what poor bastards will get drafted and most likely ruined by the Browns…. well, it means nothing to this Pats fan.

I’ll follow up with my thoughts on the actual picks/trades the Pats make once the draft is over.

In the meantime, I think I’ll have a cup of tea.

A Heartwarming Saturday Tale April 22, 2017

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Every now and then, I’m in some public venue and become witness to some poor bastard’s domestic hell as it plays out in front of me and everyone else within earshot.

In the past, it’s been both wife and kids screaming and nagging dad that he’s buying the WRONG BRAND, DAMMIT!  at Target. Or perhaps the “Kill me, now!” face of some poor schmuck trying to control a genuine sue-that-condom-company brood of uncontrollable little bastards at a BBQ restaurant while his food got cold.

Today it was a mommy melt-down at a local deli.

A local deli? In Santa Clarita? The very heart of Goyville?

Yeah, there’s a local deli with two locations. Dink’s Deli. Their bagels have always been decent, their sandwiches okay, and since they came under new management some time back, their service and general demeanor have improved somewhat.

When I’m in the mood for some serious Jew-deli-ing, I’ll trek to Brent’s, but today I had to grocery shop as well.

And it’s Saturday.  I felt like some time out after going back to work this week, and after spending what seemed like too much time online at home (ahem) drumming up interest in my new book. (Reviews will be forthcoming on the Amazon page, but it’s taking FOREVER).

So I figured I’d have me a sammich while I did the crossword and took my time before hitting the supermarket. And as a bonus, they had the Blues/Wild game on with the sound off.

Then they entered, took the tables one down from mine. First mom, then the two kids. They took their places while dad ordered at the counter.

Then dad showed up at the table and the arguments started. Over nothing. Absolutely nothing. Over which kid would sit where, over which table to sit at, that sort of thing. It wasn’t the kids whining and bitching about it either, it was mom. Mom’s voice got louder, dad kept playing peacemaker inbetween guilting his kids over getting mom angry. One kid storms out. Other kid follows. Mom starts in on dad. Dad asks why this happens every weekend anytime they go someplace.  Mom snaps that the kids are mad at dad and that “everyone is looking at us!”

Naw, I’m just listening. Carry on.

Kids return.  Then mom storms out, says she’s going to the car. Dad doesn’t go after her.  The kids ask dad where mom is going. He says they’ll get her later. The kids follow outside, but return a moment later when the food arrives.

I kept thinking “Every weekend this guy deals with this? Jesus…”

It could not have been over where the kids were sitting, which was what it sounded like from the arguments going back and forth. Clearly, these people walked into the deli with the baggage of numerous previous arguments, or just plain bottled up anger/spite/whatever over something much bigger.

I couldn’t deduce any piece of a backstory from any possible clue. And to be honest, I didn’t really want to.

I’d like to think mom & dad were both having an affair with the same person. It’s the romantic in me.

Anyway, they finished eating and left. Mom never returned, so she either sat in a hot car in today’s near 100 degree heat, or she wandered somewhere else and maxed out the ol’ credit card.

I heard no gunshots.

So what does it all mean? Well, I’d like to thank them all for making me feel so good about not being married. That goes for the people in Target, at the BBQ place, and the countless other times I got to be juxtaposed with someone else’s tedious domestic squabbling.  It’s greatly outnumbered the times I witnessed someone’s marriage and/or family and fell into a deep depression because I felt like I was missing out on life by not having the same set up. It’s easy to outnumber zero.

I leisurely finished the crossword & my sandwich, and got in my car.

I had to go to the supermarket, but on a whim stopped at an estate sale to see if anything good was left. Nope. But it turned out that the estate was of someone who had owned race horses. Some memorabilia remained, but they told me the family had already claimed most of the good stuff, so I came up empty there. And all the books were lesser celebrity bios and chicklit. Meh. So I drove my car to the supermarket, bought whatever the hell I wanted without someone telling me otherwise, and came home to watch sports and pamper the cat.

I’ll cook up some wonderful pasta calamari later. Maybe I’ll read a little. Maybe I’ll work more on the beginning outline for Wagstaff book 3.

Sound boring? Beats hell out of what that dad deals with.

The New Wagstaff Book Is Here! Wagstaff & Meatballs available for order! April 3, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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The new Wagstaff mystery novel is now available on Amazon!!!

Order your paperback copy today! Both paperback & Kindle editions are ready to go.

This one was inspired by a Brown reunion I attended a few years back. I’ve attempted to encapsulate all aspects of the Rhode Island experience into an offbeat mystery story loaded with action and humor.

And by “all aspects of the Rhode Island experience” I mean breathtaking autumn foliage, amazing food ranging from clamcakes to Allie’s Donuts, entertainingly inept mobsters, eye-roll inducing classes at Brown, cops who bend the rules, and an action set-piece at Providence’s famed WaterFire.

Okay, that last one is only in the book.

I tried to get everything I missed about Rhode Island into the book somewhere. And since you’d want more than my mere memories to fill a good tale, there are plenty of clues, twists, shoot outs and stuff blow’d up real good  to keep you turning pages.

All told in the Professor Wagtaff/Groucho Marxist bedtime story voice! Who could ask for more?

Here’s the plot description from the back cover:

On his way back to Providence for a college reunion weekend, Wagstaff saves the life of an art professor who turns out to be the son of a longtime Rhode Island Mafia chief.  From there, our mix of Sherlock, Bond and Groucho concocts a trail through feuding mob factions, old college friends and rivals, a long lost Caravaggio masterpiece, and the ecstasies of Rhode Island cuisine. As bodies begin to pile up, Wagstaff realizes the stakes are higher than who will run the local bookmaking rackets, and the flirtations from the Don’s daughter might literally be playing with fire… which means, once again, it’s time for another edition of  “You Bet Your Life!”

Order Your Copy on Amazon Here!

Order your Kindle Edition here!

Want A Free Preview of the First 4 chapters? Click the link below!

Wagtaff And Meatballs Sample (PDF)

The New Wagstaff Book Is Imminent! March 6, 2017

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In the proofing stages now after finally settling on a cover concept I liked. Look for availability on Amazon and elsewhere in a few weeks!

Here’s an excerpt from the back cover blurb:

On his way back to Providence for a college reunion weekend, Wagstaff saves the life of an art professor who turns out to be the son of a longtime Rhode Island Mafia chief.  From there, our Professor concocts a trail though feuding mob factions, old college friends and rivals, a long lost Caravaggio masterpiece, and the ecstasies of Rhode Island cuisine. As the bodies begin to pile up, Wagstaff realizes the stakes are a lot higher than who will run the local bookmaking rackets, and the flirtations from the Don’s daughter might be literally playing with fire… which means, once again, its time to play “You Bet Your Life!”

Coming Soon!

Oscar Predictions 2017 February 22, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies.
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oscar-falls-alseepI don’t think there’s been a year where I’ve cared less about the Oscars, but then there’ll always be next year.

When Hollywood was HOLLYWOOD! we’d have a bunch of films we loved contending for an award during the one evening of the year where awards were given out. Legendary stars like Humphrey Bogart, Myrna Loy, John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Liz Taylor, Bette Davis and so forth would either win, be nominated or present in festivities hosted by Bob Hope.

What do we have now? An endless award season where overpaid entertainment-biz royalty continually stroke each other’s egos over largely forgettable fare, with a few diamonds in the rough. I’m always reminded of that when I cull through the screeners I’m lent by bona-fide academy members to see what I actually want to watch. It’s usually pretty thin.

Much the way NFL ratings dropped like a rock this year partly due to overexposure of mediocre product (like having last-place teams play week after week on Thursday night primetime games), the Oscars now blur into the year-long promotional fest of Hollywood telling us how great it is. It used to be a rarity to see our favorite actors & actresses as themselves, commenting on their work. Now, it’s everywhere, every day. Why, then, would Oscar night be a big deal? It’s just another day at the self-congratulatory office now.

Whatever.

Did I mention the show itself is most often a colossal bore? A funny joke here and there, usually depending on the host… but mostly it’s like watching factory gears turning. Every year at the end, I’d find myself saying “I don’t think I can sit through another one of these” and this year, I am keeping that promise.

I will not be watching.

I’ll check winners online, yeah, I’d like to see how well I call the winners, but I can’t sit through the broadcast. Through the boring production numbers. Through behind-the-scenes people who’d have great things to say being played off stage to make time for…. more production numbers. Through painfully unfunny contrived comedy bits like Neil Patrick Harris’ “psychic” act from a few years ago. Through this year’s memorial reel, filled with far too many wonderful people who died this year, and inevitably sitting there annoyed at who they left out. One year they left out DeForest Kelly. Another year, they skipped over Patrick McGoohan. Who will get dissed this year?

And then, this of all years, will be the politics. Movies are a nice escape from real life, or a window onto reality by way of creative fiction. If actors broke character and the 4th wall and speechified during their films, most people would walk out.

Hence, my reaction to the show. I’ll be watching the Columbo rerun, prolly. I have no idea what Peter Falk’s politics were, and I don’t care. They don’t matter.

Anyway, here are my predictions:

Best Picture: La La Land (they love movies about themselves)

Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor: Even though Denzel Washington won the SAG award, I’ll go with Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea.

Best Actress: All signs point to Emma Stone for La La Land, but a dark horse upset would be an interesting barometer: voting on this took place just after Meryl Streep‘s highly publicized political speech after winning a Golden Globe for Florence Foster Jenkins, not exactly one of Streep’s “major” career roles, but if everyone who agreed with her speech voted for her on account of it, AND rationalized the vote since, after all, she’s Meryl-fucking-Streep-fer-godsakes…. well, don’t be too surprised if her name is announced.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress: Rhode Island’s Viola Davis, Fences

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

Best Animated Short: Piper

Best Original Screenplay: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Arrival

Best Cinematography: Greig Fraser, Lion

Best Documentary Feature: OJ, Made In America

Best Documentary Short: The White Helmets

Best Live Action Short: Enemies Within

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman

Best Editing: La La Land

Best Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Mixing: Hacksaw Ridge Swinging for the fences here… Kevin O’Connell finally winning after going 0 for 21!

Best Production Design: La La Land  

Best Score: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land this is getting monotonous….

Best Original Song: I’ll go for an upset here… “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana

Best Makeup: It’s always the one with he MOST makeup, so… Star Trek Beyond

Best Costume Design: La La Land

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Well, there. My guiding principles in picking these was to pick movies that make Hollywood feel good about itself, either aesthetically (La La Land) or politically (the shorts, foreign film & documentary). We’ll see how I do.

 

Three NFL Playoff Bets January 21, 2017

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I never bet for or against a team I root for (meaning the Patriots in this case), but nevertheless I have three picks relating to this weekend’s conference championship games that I’m very confident with.

While the Patriots are 6 point favorites over the visiting Steelers, the Steelers were the LAST team I wanted to come to Foxboro for the title game since they’ll be the toughest foe the Pats could face. While the Patriots played great down the stretch, the only time they faced a quarterback at the top tier was Wilson & the Seahawks, and they lost. And while they beat the Texans by a sizable point margin last week, they played poorly in nearly every aspect of the game. And the Steelers are 7-0 when Rothelsberger, Brown and Bell all play. And I’m a worry-wart.

In any case, it’ll be a great matchup, and I don’t think Pittsburgh will be held to nothing but field goals by what can often be an erratic Patriot secondary. And Brady should be able to slice through the Pittsburgh secondary. So why is the over/under only 50 1/2??

So while not picking a winner, I would definitely take the OVER 50.5 in the Steelers/Patriots game.

Over in the NFC,  with the whoever-has-the-ball-last wins likelihood scenario of another high-scoring shootout between the high powered offenses & quarterbacks involved, the historically high 60.5 over/under figure seems low to me. Again, take the OVER 60.5 in the NFC game, and while once again I can’t be sure of a winner, I can be fairly confident in the game being decided by a narrow margin, so the 5 1/2 point spread seems excessive. Take the Packers plus the 5 1/2 since I think they’d beat that spread even if they lose.

Any one of these four teams could make sense as a Superbowl winner this year. I hope it’s my team, and even for you Pats haters and non-fans…. you KNOW you also hate Roger Goodell, and you KNOW how great it would be for him to have to totally eat shit and hand Kraft, Belichick & Brady that trophy.

I’d like to see it go down like this (except with the Pats winning, of course….)

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of December 2,2016 December 2, 2016

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0085A special Friday edition, since I want to pick a Friday night game.

And that game is the PAC12 championship between Colorado & Washington, where the stakes for Washington are very high indeed – win, and they are most certainly in to the 4 team playoff. Lose, and they are sent on the one-way road to Palookabowl, whichever lesser bowl it turns out to be.

A great matchup, and certainly tops on my Friday night TV schedule while I make my szechuan chicken. It’s also a big spread – Washington is favored by 9, and as much as I think they’ll win, Colorado is a really good team with a lot of experienced players, and I think they’ll keep it close. So, I’ll go with Colorado plus 9 against Washington.

In a few of tomorrow’s big match-ups, I have mixed feelings, but here’s a shot:

In the big SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida, I fully expect Alabama to win, since they’re probably the best college team out there. Florida’s offense leaves a lot to be desired – does that justify a 21 point spread in favor of ‘Bama? Well, I think it does.  Not only because Alabama COULD score that much more than them, but I think that, even in a conference championship game, that assistant Lane Kiffin will want to run up the score to demonstrate his offensive props while he’s out interviewing for head coaching jobs next year, most notably at Houston. So, my “Lane Kiffin’s audition” factor outweighs other stuff, and I’ll take Alabama to cover 21 over Florida.

In the Big 10 championship, it’s an interesting set-up, where we have a red-hot Wisconsin team playing an equally hot Penn State team, even if fellow conference members Ohio State & Michigan are the ones either in or flirting with making the playoff. But, if Washington does lose, there’s a good chance that the winner of this game gets in there, especially if Clemson loses to Virginia Tech (which they won’t).  The spread is Wisconsin by 2. I think it’ll be close, and I think Wisconsin is the better team. I’d take Wisconsin to cover 2 over Penn State.

As mentioned above, I like Clemson by 11 in the ACC championship over Virginia Tech. VT has been weaker against the spread than Clemson, though not by much…. but Clemson has been playing better lately, and can taste the playoff. I think they can win by 2 touchdowns.

In another great matchup, Oklahoma is favored by 11 over Oklahoma State. I think these teams are far more evenly matched than that, and despite Oklahoma looking like a better team, I think this will be closer. So, I’ll go with Oklahoma State plus the 11 points.

In the pros, I like the Chiefs plus 5 1/2 against the Falcons, the Eagles plus 1 1/2 against the Bengals, the Raiders by 3 over the Bills, and the Redskins plus 1 1/2 against the Cardinals.

I went 4-3 last week overall, bringing the college totals to 25-16-1 & the pros to 17-12, for a grand total of 42-28-1. That winning percentage needs to go up, pronto!

And Gronk is out for the season. There is no joy in Patriotland for your humble prognosticator.

 

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of November 26, 2016 November 25, 2016

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mattel-footballboxIs anyone making money following my advice?  You could be, I guess.  Especially last week, where I was a mere half point away from running the table and going 8-0.  Perfection eluded me, but I improved my totals: 22-15-1 in college, 16-10 in the pros, for a grand total of 38-25-1.

I’m taking a bigger chance this week, picking favorites to cover only. I’d like to think the push for better bowl bids will drive a lot of the college picks, but who the hell knows? I’m going with teams I think will want to score big in the college games, and teams I think will simply win outright in the pros. It’s not an exact science.

The idea of “exact science” in sports handicapping always fascinates me, however. It’s what attracts me to the horse races as well. And in a BIG THRIFT STORE SCORE this week, it turned out that some fellow degenerate gambler donated a stock of horse handicapping books to Goodwill, just waiting for me to find them.

Well, three out of the four, anyway. I already had a copy of Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing

But I did not have On Track/Off Track by James Quinn, a collection of short pieces on various aspects of horse betting that, perfect for me, focuses mostly on Santa Anita racetrack. I also picked up a copy of Steven Davidowitz’ Betting Thoroughbreds, and a copy of Thoroughbred Handicapping, State of the Art by William Quirin.

Well, state of the art for the mid 1990s, when all these books were published, which makes them a little out of date in terms of what sorts of information is readily available nowadays as opposed to calculating stuff on your own (like pace figures and such), but the general advice & strategies are still sound.

Each book was only two bucks!

I love poring through outdated sports betting books from the days of scratch sheets and people programming their Bowmar calculators to figure point spreads. There’s something about digging through all the outdated technical and computer instructions to get at the fundamental algorithms in making the picks, and then applying them to the current technologies and data available.  This is what I did when reading the long out of print Sports Betting by Jim Jasper. You have to wade through all sorts of instructions about what numbers to punch into the pocket calculator to figure baseball and football odds, but once translated into modern available data, a lot of Jasper’s overriding ideas are good ones.

Whatever. It provided me some nice reading material during my week off.

Oh yeah, my picks….

In the college games, I’ll stick with Temple to cover 21 over East Carolina, Penn State by 11 over Michigan State, Colorado by 9 over Utah, and USC to cover 17 1/2 over Notre Dame.

In the NFL, I like the Chargers coming off a bye by 1 over the Texans, the surging Dolphins by 7 1/2 over the Forty Niners, and the strengthening Seahawks by 6 over the Buccaneers.

And now, back to goofing off….