It was a thrilling week in the Tuley’s Takes home office with the NFL Draft and Kentucky Derby added to the regular sporting menu of MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, UFC and golf.
I have an affinity for horse racing, so it’s always bittersweet this time of year after all the time and effort put into the Kentucky Derby, the biggest race of the year, and it’s gone in just over two minutes, especially when we don’t cash a ticket.
But I think it’s important after every big event like this — or any sports season for that matter — to reflect on what we did right and what we did wrong.
I don’t regret my main long-shot play on No. 12 Helium. With Nevada not having a pari-mutuel contract with Churchill Downs, the books had to book the race themselves, and I got Helium at 80-1 at Circa compared with 38-1 at the track, so I can’t complain about that. And Helium gave me my money’s worth as he was racing in fourth place through the first six furlongs, but just didn’t have enough to run down Medina Spirit and finished eighth.
As I’m sure everyone knows by now, Medina Spirit gave trainer Bob Baffert his record-setting seventh Derby winner. He was 15-1 on the morning line and closed at 12-1 as a lot of people threw him out. Medina Spirit wasn’t my top pick, but I at least had him in my exacta and trifecta box that I posted on vsin.com last Thursday and was the only one in the New York Post to have him in my top three as I wrote “Bob Baffert had a loaded 3-year-old barn for this year’s Derby, but this is the lone one to make the starting gate. He lost as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, but I have to trust Baffert’s handicapping of his own stable in entering Medina Spirit and can’t keep him out of my exotics.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t prescient enough to see Mandaloun running second or Hot Rod Charlie running third.
The most common thing we’ve heard from people in the wake of the Derby is “I’m never betting against Bob Baffert again,” which is silly. That’s the same mantra we’ve heard after Bill Belichick wins a Super Bowl or LeBron James wins an NBA title or when Tiger Woods was in his heyday. That leads to lazy handicapping and also causes people to take short odds on the “obvious” plays that everyone else is making that follow the same mob mentality.
What people should be focusing on is to not miss overlays with these all-time greats when they present themselves. Medina Spirit should have been worth a bet because he was allowed to go off at such high odds despite it being obvious that Baffert knows how to get 3-year-old colts ready for the first Saturday in May. It was the same way last spring when the bettors who took a chance on Tom Brady joining the Buccaneers were rewarded.
It also bugs me with people saying the fix was in. I’m not saying that races or games are never fixed, but there’s no way that all the other owners, trainers, jockeys, etc. would conspire to let Baffert win. What’s in it for them? They’re all trying for the money and prestige of winning the Derby themselves. Baffert just had his horse primed to win on the big stage — again. Bravo to him and his backers.
There’s a school of thought that says, “If you think it’s fixed, then you shouldn’t be betting on it because you can’t win.” I don’t agree with that sentiment either. Instead, my philosophy is that if you think the fix is in (and, again, I’m not saying anything is fixed), you’re better off being on the side of the fix. Since I’m overusing that word that I don’t want to use, I prefer to call it my “Guess the next day’s headline” theory.
If you had Sunday morning’s newspaper ahead of time (though I guess I should update this to say “Saturday’s website” or “Saturday’s social media post”), the biggest newsworthy headline would have been “Baffert wins record 7th Derby,” so that would be the way to bet. I always used the example of Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the Daytona 500 the year after his father died in the race. Many at that time said the fix was in, again, I thought it made the best headline.
For years, the saying in the NBA playoffs was that the league and the networks wanted series to go as long as possible as more games equals more of everything (attendance, beer sales, TV games, advertising, etc.). The NBA was even accused of assigning certain refs when needing series to be extended. Again, I’m not saying the fix was in, but it was the right way to bet, right?
Now, I’m sure a lot of people are thinking: Dave, Essential Quality was the favorite and so wouldn’t that have made him a headline bet? And wouldn’t Mattress Mack winning millions of dollars also be worthy of a headline bet?
I say no to both, and not because those headlines never came to fruition. Mattress Mack has done a great job with these hedge bets in getting publicity for his furniture stores and mattress promotions, but it was still a terrible bet on Essential Quality. I know we’ve seen superhorses in recent years with American Pharoah and Justify both winning Triple Crowns (for Baffert, by the way), but it’s a bad bet to take any horse at what turned out to be 5-2 odds in a 19-horse field. Mattress Mack had the best of it with 18 horses versus one to keep all the money he earned from customers paying for $3,000 mattresses.
Besides, as I said above, the key is to find the most likely winners when they’re not the favorite and you’re getting much better odds.
Takes on other sports
NBA bettors are faced with a similar situation with the Lakers’ future-book price drifting up to 7-2 and even 4-1 to win the NBA title. Do you envision the headline at the end of the NBA Finals reading “LeBron and Lakers repeat” and kick yourself for not betting them? Or do you pass as the team continues to struggle?
It’s a great debate as conventional wisdom was that the Lakers would be able to “flip the switch” when James and Anthony Davis were both back on the court. Now, they’re fighting to stay in the dreaded play-in tournament that James has openly mocked. I understand when I hear people overreacting and saying the Lakers are done, but I’m taking the Lakers at the best price I can find (looks to be 4-1 at both Circa and Westgate as of Tuesday afternoon).
As for the nightly betting results that I posted on Twitter @ViewFromVegas and in the VSiN daily newsletter, NBA favorites are still ahead 482-465-12 ATS (50.9%) with 12 games closing pick-’em through Monday’s games, but that means there are still plenty of underdogs cashing. My VSiN colleague, Josh Appelbaum, points out in his report linked in Monday’s newsletter that short favorites of -3 or less are 151-130 ATS (53.7%) and even better at 81-59 ATS (57.9%) when the line moves at least a half-point in their favorite. What I get from that is that underdogs of more than 3 points are performing even better against the spread, too (since there’s a better chance of covering in a straight-up loss instead of just having to win the game outright).
For those following along, Over/Unders are getting closer to a coin flip as Overs led just 485-497-7 (50.3%) through Monday’s games.
** Likewise in the NHL: Unders lead just 391-374-35 (50.9%) on the season while the first-period Over/Unders we’ve been tracking all season also started out very strong on first-period Unders, but now they lead just 407-392-1 (51.1%).
** In MLB, the season-long trends are leveling off as well. Unders were off to a hot (or cold depending on how you look at it with some cold early spring weather) start at 215-205-14 (51.2%) through Monday. Two weeks ago, we wrote how underdogs were actually ahead 114-112 SU with nine pick-’ems through April 19, but favorites have been cashing more and were 112-81 with seven PKs the last two weeks to take a 224-195 lead with 16 PKs through Monday. There’s still plenty of underdogs cashing, but you have to be more selective to find them these days. Of course, one of the best bets lately has been to fade the defending champion Dodgers as they lost 10 of 14 games, most of which as big chalk.
Circling back to our main theme, the question now is what headline will we see after the World Series? “Dodgers repeat despite early-season slump” is now available at 3-1.