While this is the time of year we’re getting ready for the football season in the Tuley’s Takes home office, my wife has been watching old episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”
With the Kentucky Derby coming up Saturday instead of being run the first Saturday in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like I’m in the middle of an old episode waiting for Rod Serling to break the fourth wall and explain that we’re in another dimension or have been secretly abducted and transported to another planet (“do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do”).
But, hey, we’ve already adapted to handicapping NBA and NHL playoff games in August and without fans in the stands, as well as seven-inning MLB doubleheaders and extra innings starting with a runner appearing on second base out of the ether. Twilight zone, indeed.
As for the Derby, I’ve seen the Xpressbet Kentucky Derby Wager Guide (get your copy at vsin.com/horses). So far all their experts have picked 3-5 morning-line favorite Tiz The Law to win, as have countless other early previews I’ve read. And I get it. Tiz The Law has moved to the head of the 3-year-old class. He won the Florida Derby impressively in March to establish himself as the Derby favorite after other top contenders such as Charlatan, Nadal and Maxfield fell by the wayside. Then Tiz The Law romped in the first leg of this year’s scrambled Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, and followed that with another easy win in the Travers. But while the whole world is seemingly on Tiz The Law like the public believing that the aliens were truly benevolent and offering Earthlings a utopian future in the classic “To Serve Man” episode, I’ve been going over the past performances looking for clues like the code breaker trying to decipher the rest of the book.
It looks too easy to declare Tiz The Law the next superhorse. Yes, I certainly admit I bet against American Pharoah and Justify in their Triple Crown runs in 2015 and 2018, respectively. But this is a whole new world. Tiz The Law is trying to pull off the feat later in the year, after initially being trained to peak in the spring, and against 3-year-olds that have had more time to develop and mature.
In addition, Tiz The Law drew post No. 17 in the 18-horse field, and no Derby winner has ever come from No. 17. I’m sure you’ll hear that many times this week, and Tiz The Law apologists will say no colt as good as Tiz The Law has drawn No. 17 before, and they’ll point to Big Brown winning from the outside No. 20 post in 2008. I agree that the best horse can win from anywhere, but where I believe the No. 17 post will doom Tiz The Law is that he’s used to running just off the pace and will have to be hustled up to get near the lead before the first turn.
Now, there’s plenty of room to run up while passing the Churchill Downs stands the first time. But he also has the race’s top speed horse, No. 18 Authentic, drawn to his outside and plenty of other speed horses — primarily No. 4 Storm the Court, No. 6 King Guillermo, No. 10 Thousand Words and No. 16 Honor A.P. — battling to get to the same spots near the front. While this certainly compromises the chances of the front-runners who will be cooked on the front end, I believe it will also doom the stalkers to be eaten alive by the closers as they’re forced to go faster than they want early. (And this all fits in with the theme as, after all, “To Serve Man ... it’s, it’s a cookbook!”)
In looking for the most likely upset, I keep going back to No. 2 Max Player. I lost on him as he was a well-beaten third to Tiz The Law in the Belmont and the Travers. Many times in my years as a horseplayer I’ve been on a horse too early, and then he finally lives up to my expectations at a nice price. I’m hoping that’s the case here. Max Player hasn’t closed as strong as he did earlier in his career, but he hasn’t been embarrassed, and this race should set up for him and hopefully he finds that extra gear.
With Tiz The Law being overbet, I’m sure to be betting multiple long shots and trying to put together exotic tickets that could really pay big, so be sure to check my columns on the VSiN.com home page and at vsin.com/horses as we get closer to the weekend.
Tuley’s Takes on NBA
Heat vs. Bucks
Unfortunately, I passed on the Heat in Monday’s Game 1 of this second-round series, when they knocked off the Bucks as five-point underdogs and + 180 on the moneyline. However, as tempting as it is to fade the Bucks again, I’ll pass on Game 2 as we all saw how they bounced back in their series against the Magic. All the games landed around the betting numbers, but they won handily. I would be willing to bet the Heat later in the series, with hopefully an increase in the points.
Thunder vs. Rockets
After successfully backing the Rockets + 1.5 in Game 1, I passed the next couple of games as the Rockets became favored. Then, with Russell Westbrook returning for Houston, I flipped to the Thunder. I lost Game 5 but won Game 6 and will be on them again in Wednesday’s decisive Game 7. I don’t believe the Rockets are 5.5 points better than the Thunder.
Celtics vs. Raptors
As I wrote in last week’s “Point Spread Weekly,” I took the Celtics + 135 in this second-round series as well as + 2 in Game 1, which was scheduled for last week before the players’ boycott. When the series started Sunday, the Celtics beat the Raptors 112-94. I passed on Tuesday’s Game 2 but will jump back on the Celtics plus the points anytime they come off a loss in this series.
Western Conference series
The Lakers and Clippers were still awaiting the Game 7 winners of the Jazz-Nuggets and Rockets-Thunder series, so we have to wait until seeing the matchups and the series and Game 1 prices before making final decisions. However, my early thought is that I’d be more inclined to fade the Lakers with the Rockets-Thunder survivor than with the Jazz. If the Nuggets prevail as the No. 3 seed, they’d face the Clippers, but I’m not sure I’d be interested in them as dogs either.
Tuley’s Takes on NHL
Stars vs. Avalanche
I missed out on the Stars’ first two wins in the series, but I jumped back on them Sunday in Game 4 at + 120. They’re going for the series clicher in Game 6 and I’m back on them, as they’ve outplayed the Avalanche all series despite the 6-3 blowout loss Monday.
Other NHL second-round series
We’re waiting to see whether the Islanders-Flyers and Golden Knights-Canucks series wrapped up Tuesday night or whether we’ll have a Game 6 or two Thursday. I’ve made enough on the Islanders and Golden Knights (Vegas puck line, baby!) earlier in the series that my first instinct is to pass Thursday night.
Tuley’s Take on CFB
Middle Tennessee State (+ 3.5) at Army
The fractured college football season kicked off Saturday with Central Arkansas winning and covering in an FCS opener against Austin Peay that drew a lot of action as the only game on the betting board. The season continues with a small FBS slate this holiday weekend. I’m not jumping in on a lot of games with these mostly under-the-radar teams, though my leans can be found on the VSiN NCAA Consensus page in this issue. But one bet I’ve made is on Middle Tennessee State + 3.5 at Army. Army had a disappointing 5-8 record last year and must replace QB Kelvin Hopkins, who was a big part of the Cadets’ success. Meanwhile, MTSU returns 13 starters, including QB Asher O’Hara, who had 2,616 passing yards and 20 TDs last season as a sophomore and ran for 1,058 yards with nine more TDs. Army might be able to grind out some drives, but I’ll take the more balanced offense. This line opened Army -5 at most books, but it had been bet down to + 3.5. I’m confident it’s been sharp money betting it down, so I’m confident in the pick but wouldn’t take it lower than + 3.