Playing the ponies, analyzing umps and taking it to the hoop

Let’s see, over the past month, my NBA team (the two-time defending champion Lakers) got swept in the second round of the playoffs despite being an overwhelming favorite (and despite facing a Mavericks team known for choking in the playoffs).

My MLB team—the Dodgers, whose owner has surpassed The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills as the biggest fraud in L.A.—was seized by the commissioner’s office (the outlook is so bleak that there are serious doubts the club will make payroll at the end of the month).

As for my Chargers, they appear to have had a productive draft, but there’s no way of knowing since there’s no end in sight to the NFL’s labor dispute.

If all that wasn’t disheartening enough, Donald Trump has announced he won’t run for president (flushing 12 months of comedy gold down the toilet), a gallon of gas now costs as much as a couple of happy-hour beers, and the relentless Vegas winds have completely ruined my golf game.

OK, I made that last one up; much like Tiger Woods, I don’t have a golf game. What I do have, though, is a trio of topics to take my mind off of an otherwise miserable spring, so let’s move on. (Note: My bankroll remains at $7,486).

AND AWAY THEY GO: Back in the 1970s, Santa Anita racetrack was a second home to my father (as was Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Park, Bay Meadows—yep, Pops loved the ponies). Alas, the horse-racing gene wasn’t passed on to me. In fact, everything I know about the animals I learned from Mr. Ed, the 1960s sitcom about a talking horse.

However, I recently picked the brain of ESPN horse-racing analyst Hank Goldberg (see Page 128) regarding the May 21 Preakness Stakes (the second leg of the Triple Crown). So armed with Goldberg’s information (and some additional research), I’m ready to make a few Preakness wagers.

First, I’m staying away from Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom for two reasons: He’s running for the second time in two weeks after being dormant in the six weeks leading up to the Derby, and this is just his second-ever race on dirt (the first being at Churchill Downs). Instead, I’m taking a shot with Dialed In (ran eighth at the Derby after going off as the favorite), Mucho Macho Man (finished third at the Derby) and Mr. Commons. I’ll put $2 across the board on all three; I’ll play $2 exacta boxes with Dialed In and Mucho Macho Man, as well as with Dialed In and Mr. Commons; and I’ll put all three horses in a $2 trifecta box.

UMP UPDATE: Last year at this time I mentioned how studying the tendencies of home-plate umpires are critical to handicapping baseball. Even though the strike zone has been defined in the sport’s rulebook for more than a century, every umpire interprets it differently (and those interpretations frequently impact whether a game goes over or under the total). Also, even though umps are trained to be completely objective, some subconsciously favor home teams over road teams (and vice versa).

Now that we’re six full weeks into the season, let’s take a look at the early umpiring trends, remembering that crews rotate clockwise around the diamond each day for the duration of a series. (Note that all stats are as of May 16.)

The “homer” umps include Lance Barksdale (home teams are 8-1 when he’s behind the dish), Ted Barrett (7-1), Marty Foster (6-1) and Doug Eddings (8-2). Those umps that tend to favor the visitors are Jim Wolf (8-1), Jeff Kellogg (7-1) and Alan Porter (5-1).

When it comes to totals, the “over” umpires are Dale Scott (8 overs, 1 under), Scott Barry and Sam Holbrook (both 7-1), Tim McClelland (6-1) and Hunter Wendelstedt (7-2); while the low-scoring umps include Brian Runge (7 unders, 1 over), James Hoye (6-1), Porter (5-1) and Phil Cuzzi (7-2).

NBA ACTION: The playoffs are down to the final four, and my two main futures wagers on the Bulls to win the Eastern Conference ($400 to win $660) and the Thunder to win the Western Conference ($100 to win $700) remain in play.

If you’re looking to pad your bankroll during the conference finals, note the following betting trends: Dallas entered its series with Oklahoma City having covered the spread in 14 straight games dating to the regular season (including eight in a row at home). However, the Thunder are 9-3-1 against the spread in their last 13 meetings with the Mavs. Also, the underdog is 9-3-1 ATS in the last 13 meetings.

As for the Bulls-Heat series, Chicago improved to 4-0 overall and ATS against Miami this season with its Game 1 victory. Additionally, the home team is 7-2 ATS in the last nine meetings (through Game 1).

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