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Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of September 21-23, 2017 September 19, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football.
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My picks last week were so wrong, so pathetic, so ultimately crappy…. I decided I needed to overhaul my methods.

As tempting as it was to continue picking the same way and then simply applying the George Costanza “just do the opposite!” theory, I instead went through EVERY lined game and crunched data on the spreads & outcomes.

My goal? To come up with a more automatic screening system, similar to stock screens.

I’ve tried lots of stock screens. Some of them have actually worked. And when they’ve worked, they’ve been pretty consistent, if I stuck to the rules and didn’t let emotions sway me. Let’s see if spotting weaknesses in what the oddsmakers post can work the same way.

Although if you’re paying attention, last week’s Duke game illustrated the contrarian rule I mentioned – when a spread seems WAY out of whack with what you think is reality, bet with it… the oddsmakers know more than you. Duke by 14 seemed high, but then they won by 14. ON THE FRICKIN’ NOSE.

I made the HUGE mistake of listening to too much sports radio and some podcasts about betting football lines. I let the discussions amongst the professionals influence me, especially in going with teams like Pitt, BYU and Louisville last week.

I’m tuning all of it out. Back to playing Count Basie and books on tape during my drives.

I will cleanse myself of outside influences.

First, I went through all the lined games from last week, all the stats and so forth. 59 games in total. Jeez.

I set up some screens, crunched some numbers, and came up with a set of screens that would have had solid results last week. So, let’s try an experiment and see if it works with week, with a bonus level added. I went through every lined game for this week…. 56 of ’em this time. Oy. But here’s what I came up with…

College Football Picks Passing ALL Screens:

Penn State by 12 1/2 over Iowa

Clemson by 34 over Boston College

VA Tech by 28 over Old Dominion

Navy by 11 1/2 over Cincinnati

UNLV plus 40 1/2 against Ohio State

Michigan State plus 4 against Notre Dame

Ball State plus 7 1/2 against Western Kentucky

College Football Leaners – Most Screens passed, but not all – for experimental purposes only:

S. Florida by 20 over Temple

Duke by 2 1/2 over North Carolina

Purdue plus 10 against Michigan

LA Tech plus 8 1/2 against South Carolina

Kentucky plus 2 1/2 against Florida

E. Michigan by 2 1/2 over Ohio U

Under 51 1/2 in the Georgia State/Charlotte game

Syracuse plus 23 1/2 against LSU

No NFL picks this week – the system I put together needs more data, and they haven’t played enough games yet.

My pathetic record thus far is 7-16-1 for a batting average of 30%. BUT THIS IS WHERE IT ALL TURNS AROUND!

Hopefully… the screens I’m using would have returned a 9-1 record last week with a bunch of different games I ignored. I’ll take a chance that doing that well above a 50% “control norm” is a big enough disparity to prove the worthiness of my screens. Let’s see what happens this week, and if I’m actually on to something here.

And a shanah tovah to y’all!

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Wagstaff’s Picks: Week of September 16, 2017 September 14, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football.
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I’m not going pro, not yet. Not after a mediocre record last week.

It wasn’t enough to watch the Patriots defense dissolve into melted butter. I also misread some teams that could not cover big spreads, and it looks like USC is for real. Well, so far, anyway.

I’ll swing for the fences this week with a dozen picks I have decent levels of confidence in, as well as discussing a couple of others where I’ll bow out and leave it up to you.

College Games:

I looked at a bunch of matchups with large spreads to see which ones I thought were overreactions to the first couple of weeks of games. We’re still in that phase of the early season in both college and pro, before the oddsmakers have more and more data to work with.

I like BYU plus 17 against Wisconsin. BYU has sucked so far, I’m going with the “they’re DUE!” factor since they are a better team than how they’ve played so far, and they’re at home. I don’t know if they’ll win, but I’m guessing it will be a low scoring game, and 17 points is a lot. I also like Pittsburgh plus 14 against Oklahoma State, banking on Pitt coming off a tougher game versus Penn State and Oklahoma State coming off playing Tulsa and S. Alabama.

For covering a big spread, I like the aforementioned USC to cover 15 1/2 over Texas as well as taking the Over 67 1/2 in that one, and Minnesota to cover 10 over Middle Tennessee State.

The game that jumps out of the odds board is Duke as 14 (!) point favorite over Baylor. Baylor was once a national power, but they have truly sucked so far this year, never mind all the problems they’ve had with their program off the field. Duke has played well, but are they really this good?? My number crunching puts Duke at maybe a 3-4 point edge, so part of me thinks this is a slam-dunk pick to go with Baylor. But in the back of my mind is an old contrarian angle when it comes to out-of-whack spreads like this, which is: the oddsmakers know more than you. They’re NOT that stupid… so while the number-cruncher says Baylor, my contrarian gut says to go against the crowd and pick Duke. Consequently, I am not making a pick here, but will instead merely observe to see what wins – my numbers, or the contrarian historic angle.

Another game that’s a close call but ultimately a pass for me is Miami OH by 5 over Cincinnati. I’m fairly confident in Miami OH to win, just not sure about the 5 points. Meh.

Rounding out the college picks: In the big Saturday night game, I like the at-home-revenge angle and will go with Louisville plus 3 1/2 against Clemson. Clemson got by them last year, but it was close, and Jackson has improved as QB. It’ll be a good game that I think Louisville can win outright. I also like California at home plus 3 1/2 against Ole Miss, and I’ll go with the Over 49 1/2 in the Tennessee/Florida matchup.

NFL:

After watching Kansas City beat the crap out of my team last week, I am TOTALLY UNEMOTIONAL as I pick against them this week.

No, really!

I like the Eagles plus 6 against the Chiefs, as well as the Over 48 in the game. Philly looked decent against Washington last week, and the Chiefs lost their best defensive player.

I like betting Overs. Especially when the total is topped earlier in the game, and I can kick back and watch the rest of it play out with no stress and a drink in my hand, knowing I’ve won. Betting unders mean staying nervous until the final tick.

I also like the Vikings plus 5 1/2 against the Steelers, and the Packers plus 3 against the Falcons, even if it’s the Falcons in their spiffy new stadium. The Falcons squeaked by the Bears last week, and the Packers are way more dangerous.

So there you are, 12 picks. I went 3-5 last week to bring the season totals to 5-6-1.

THIS IS WHERE IT ALL TURNS AROUND!

Wagstaff’s Picks: Belmont Stakes 2017 June 8, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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The house feels weird without my cat around. It seems bigger. It’s definitely quieter. And making some chicken salad yesterday without her pestering and bullying me for some felt very lonely.

So I’ve been keeping busy. I’m refining the story outlines for two more books and preparing another for publication in the next few months. Watch this blog for updates! This new book will be the start of a second series, a scifi adventure series for older kids, but certainly one that adults could also enjoy. As much as I bitch about living in the age of terminal adolescence, I may as well try to cash in on it.

And speaking of cashing in, I’ve gone through the lineup and past performances of this year’s Belmont Stakes entries, and have the following thoughts. (more…)

Wagstaff’s Picks: Preakness 2017 May 18, 2017

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Picking the Preakness is my least favorite part of the Triple Crown sequence, to be honest. The field is smaller (so much for big exotics pools) and the did-they-run-in-earlier-legs factor isn’t as strong (so much for nailing some Johnny-come-lately longshot).

I’m not sure if I’ll bet on this one, since I’d have to pick the 4/5 morning line favorite along with everyone else, Derby winner #4 Always Dreaming.

BUT – there are other horses that might sneak in there, so here are some brief thoughts on what I see.

I like #1 Multiplier, with solid speeds and closing, a well rested non-Derby runner stuck with the rail, but with Joel Rosario riding, that might not factor in as much. Multiplier won the G3 Illinois Derby and has never competed at the G1 level, but the works look great. Always Dreaming will want to set the pace for this thing and go gate to wire, but I could see Multiplier dueling from the start. And with a morning line of 30-1, an across-the-board bet might pay off here.

At the other end of the field, #10 Conquest Mo Money, should also get in on an early speed duel, and could have lasting power to the end. Works look good, and the horse can compete at this level, even if the trainer and jockey stats look weak. And he’s got a morning line of 50-1!

Wild card factor? I’d have to go with #2 Cloud Computing. This one’s a total jockey/trainer angle. Castellano and Brown are very often winners together, and the horse has the potential to hit the speeds necessary, although I’m questionable about his ability to close out over the speed duelers mentioned above. He’s at 12-1, I’d probably throw him into a trifecta or superfecta if I went in that direction. We’ll have to see how much I drink that afternoon. With 50 cent trifectas and 10 cent supers, I might not need much to take some chances here.

That sound you hear is the Wagstaff Retirement Fund going down the drain….

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.

Some Breeder’s Cup Picks (A Pick 6 Sequence) For November 5, 2016 November 4, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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marxbroraceWell, I don’t mean to brag…. but I’m ahead FOUR DOLLARS after making two bets on two different Breeder’s Cup races today (Friday). With that amazing amount of confidence on hand, I went ahead and handicapped the Pick 6 sequence in Saturday’s line up, culminating with the big 6 million dollar Breeder’s Cup Classic.

And the Pick 6 will be worth taking a shot at. There’s a half million dollar two day carryover going into it, which pretty much translates to a Pick 6 pool of at least 2 million dollars. And with all those pick 6 players (like me) also playing the late pick 4, the pick 4 pool ought to be north of a million, at least.

In these picks, I’ve listed the horse I most think will most likely win first, and second the horse I think will win if Horse #1 messes up. In one race, I’ve picked 3 for reasons I’ll go into.

Race 7: Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint (2pm PDT): 2 Obviously, 13 Holy Lute

Race 8: BC Juvenile (2:43pm PDT): 6 Three Rules, 2 Syndergaard

Race 9 (also the start of the Pick 4): BC Turf (3:22pm PDT): 4 Flintshire, 10 Found

Race 10: BC Filly & Mare Sprint (4:01pm PDT): 2 Haveyougoneaway, 8 Carina Mia

Race 11: BC Mile (4:40pm PDT): 10 Limato, 2 Alice Springs & 13 Midnight Storm. Both Limato and Alice Springs are foreign horses with very identical profiles, so I’m throwing them both in. Out of the American horses (STAND UP AND SALUTE, MISTER!) my top pick would be Midnight Storm. I’ll use all 3 in my pick 4, mix ’em up for pick 6 combos.

Race 12: BC Classic (5:35pm PDT): 10 Arrogate, 4 California Chrome. Yeah, that’s right. Every handicapper I’ve looked at says to single California Chrome here, but I’m thinking Arrogate is a better bet. So there.

There’s no way I play a $196 monster pick 6 ticket for all of my picks. I’ll play different combos, not sure how I’ll mix them up yet. However, a $12 monster pick 4 ticket is certainly within the cheapskate Wagstaff betting bankroll budget.

The weather should be clear & beautiful. Races at this level, well… anything can happen, really. But it’s worth a shot. Here’s hoping I run the table….

 

Belmont Stakes Picks 2015 June 4, 2015

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edthesurfer

This year’s Belmont, I think, is the best chance we’ve had for a Triple Crown winner since before I’ll Have Another’s injury took him out of competing in the Belmont a couple of years back. 37 years is a long time, and while the two main Belmont elements that usually combine to scuttle Triple Crown hopes  – the longer distance & the presence of runners who have not run in either or both of the first two legs of the crown – are present,  American Pharaoh still appears as a clear favorite in this relatively small field.

Science also confirms how difficult, if not impossible, it is for horses to win the Triple Crown. And you can’t argue with SCIENCE!!!! (That is, unless you’ve been paying attention to the ever-changing dietary guidelines emanating from the morons who gave us the “food pyramid,” among other crap. But I digress!)

For what it’s worth (and you could scroll down to review my decent success in both the Derby & The Preakness, thank you very much), I don’t think any other contender beats Pharoah if and only if Pharoah runs his standard race and his standard pace. And if he did, he’d run this one practically from gate to wire.  The one horse in the field I could see challenging him early and possibly dueling him right down the line is Madefromlucky, and that’s who I’d pick as the most likely upset if anything goes awry with Pharoah’s standard trip. At a morning line of 12-1, it might be a worthwhile bet, and definitely one to add to any exotic bet.

Assuming a few things go wrong with Pharoah and he’s out of the picture, another horse I could see sneaking in there (that is, is everything goes perfectly for him) is the other Todd Pletcher entry, Materiality. He’d have to run as well as he did in the Florida Derby, and with his jockey switched back from Kentucky’s Castellano to Velazquez, who knows? Velazquez has never lost a race with him. (Castellano will be riding Madefromlucky instead). Materiality has a morning line of 6-1, another one worth looking at for exotics.

If Frosted ran the race of his life, he might also have a shot, but I only see him with a good chance of finishing in the money somewhere other than first, and I’d definitely have him part of any trifecta or superfecta play. I think he’d have too much to make up after trying to keep up with an early pace that’s a little too fast for his liking.

So, that’s my 1-2-3-4 in order, fwiw. In the past, I’ve usually bet exactas and supers on this race, but the fields were bigger and the pools were more spread out. Not sure how I’ll approach this one on Saturday. The idea of an all G1 stakes level pick 4 intrigues me as well – correctly calling an upsetter to Pharoah within it would most likely mean a decent payoff.

 

Preakness Picks 2015 May 15, 2015

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preakness

So, will the Preakness basically be a rerun of the Kentucky Derby?

I mostly think so – American Pharoah, the favorite despite getting the rail position, seems (again) to be the one to beat. Dortmund seemed to fade in the stretch in the Derby, while Firing Line could only duel & keep pace at second. The way Espinoza & American Pharoah outran those next-best two down the stretch would lead me to give him the nod here, although if ANYTHING went wrong, a bad trip due to the rail, a stumble…anything, really….. I think Firing Line would sneak in there.

As far as runners who didn’t run in the Derby, the only one I can see mustering a challenge or maybe pulling off an enormous upset would be Divining Rod, whose speed figures are somewhat competitive with the leading horses in the field. Not a bad play to think about, since he’s 12-1 on the morning line, but I’m thinking that people will be wondering (again) if American Pharoah will win the Triple Crown after winning this race. Maybe simply betting Diving Rod to show up in the money is the play here, although I don’t even know if I’ll be betting on this one.

And, as usual, I’m sure the answer will be “No” thanks to whatever entry in the Belmont there is who will not have run in this one or the Derby and will be better rested. Same story, different year, and I’ll prognosticate that race when we come to it.

Reckoning: I wasn’t going to bet this one, and when the rain came a’pourin’ down, I was even more determined not to, even if it meant re-handicapping the thing throwing out Firing Line, since he was the likeliest leader to be most negatively affected by having mud thrown in his face. Even with the weather, I turned out to get the winner, and my longshot pick ran 3rd. Not too shabby, but the potential payoffs still didn’t make it worthwhile to me. We’ll see what happens in the Belmont in three weeks.

Kentucky Derby Picks 2015 May 1, 2015

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I’m not sure how I’ll actually spread my bets on the Derby this year, but I think I can narrow the always enormous field down to a handful of likely candidates for finishing in-the-money, if not winning it outright. While I’ve been using a slightly different handicapping protocol for the current season of Santa Anita with mixed (but better than historic) results, I’m making these picks based on my usual parameters for a high profile high stakes race like this one. I’m mostly looking at overall speed, potential to maintain (or increase) speed at this distance, a distance new to the majority of the field, and whatever I can gather about their current condition & training.

So here it is: Like the opening odds, I would favor the two Bob Baffert entries in this one – American Pharoah and Dortmund. They’ve both got lightning times for races leading up to this and have not faded in stretches. They’ve also won at this level, and by a lot, gate-to-wire in numerous instances. I’d give the edge to American Pharoah from a numbers standpoint, but these two are really close.

One horse I could see sneaking  into an upset victory would be Firing Line. He’s lost to Dortmund twice by a head, but he just flew in his last race, and a repeat of that performance, I think, would give him the edge here. He’s 12-1 on the morning line and worth taking a shot at. My other long-shot wild card possibility (though lesser) would be Upstart, who has some great speed ratings (although erratic) and looks to be in great form. I also can’t resist picking a horse that’s also a gag in Duck Soup. And I also can’t resist including a long-shot possibility when he’s 15-1 morning line and seems to have a reasonable shot at it.

Bets? Still not sure. Probably some win bets on all of them and perhaps an exacta box of all four. I’m never comfy going into deeper exotics with a field of this size, and prefer to save my triple crown bankroll for the Belmont, which I always find the easiest of the three to handicap deep into the field. The only thing I can really guarantee is that I’ll be petting the cat while the race is on.

I’ve been toying with the idea of regularly posting Santa Anita picks on a separate blog page for anyone who might be interested in following my picks or betting along with Wagstaff.  After all, I’ll need company in the poor house for Scrabble games and trivia contests , so join in! Though to be honest, I’m up a few hundred bucks since the start of the year overall. I do about the same or better than the professional handicappers in the newspaper and at the Daily Racing Form. Why can’t they hire ME instead? With ME, you get picks you can trust, PLUS bonus  jokes!

Like this one: A little boy runs home from school and says “Mom! Mom! I got a part in the school play! Aren’t you proud of me?” And the mom says “Oh, that’s wonderful! The drama teacher must think the world of your talent! What part did you get?” The little boy answers “I play the role of the Jewish husband.” The mother gets angry and says “You go right back to that school and tell that god damn teacher you want a speaking part!”

You’ll be telling that joke tomorrow. And maybe you’ll win the Derby! See how valuable I am?

Reckoning Update: Well, I’m pretty valuable after all. Out of the 4 horses I gave you, I got the 1, 2 and 3 finishers.  I bet the exacta and made a $60 profit, which will soon be blown at Brent’s Deli, the best deli in Los Angeles. Stay tuned, we’ll see how I do with The Preakness or if I start posting my Santa Anita plays.

Wagstaff’s Football Picks – Weekend of October 5, 2013 October 4, 2013

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football.
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groucho-4

The return of Wagstaff’s picks! I know you all missed it dearly and just couldn’t sleep nights, crying your widdle eyes out over your confusion on who to bet on (legally, in Las Vegas, of course… I’d NEVER want anyone to gamble illegally on something that hurts absolutely no one.)

In the past I made tons of picks each week & kept a won-loss record. This time, I think I’ll edit myself down to a few virtual bets each week that I’d consider the cream of the crop.

So here we go: In the college games, I like Ball State plus 5 against Virginia, and Oklahoma to cover 9 against TCU. An iffier proposition is Idaho plus a fat 27 against Fresno State. They ought to lose, but I’d bet small on beating that spread.

In the Pros – I’d take the Saints by 1 over the Bears, and in what I think the best bet of the weekend is, I’ll go with the Broncos to cover only 7 over the Cowboys, in a game I’d figure they’d win by at least 2 touchdowns. Don’t start betting against Peyton Manning until it starts getting really cold outside & the oddsmakers spot him too much after a string of wins. It’s comin’, trust me…

The Pats take on the Bengals in a pick ’em game. I never bet for/against my team – it’s bad luck. I only hope they can fill the hole left by Wilfork & that the receivers keep their learning curve going. The Bengals led by Dalton (Hey, that’s who Patrick Swayze played in Road House!) are pretty good.

After rolling over & dropping dead against Harvard, Brown plays URI this week. They ought to win it, but as my alma mater descends further and further into insanity with crap like “naked week” (without the obviously needed requirement that only hot girls get naked, but OH NO, not with all the politically correct crapola there…) I’m starting to care less and less every time I open the alumni magazine and discover yet another one of my fellow alums is responsible for destroying the world.

End of rant. Time for a beer.