A horse named Justify and a basketball player nicknamed King James headline a terrific betting Saturday.
At the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Justify seems a worthy favorite coming off his impressive win in the Kentucky Derby. Another sloppy track looms large, but Justify conquered that obstacle at Churchill Downs.
Hall of Fame connections don’t hurt, either. Trainer Bob Baffert is 4-for-4 with his Derby winners in the Preakness, including American Pharoah three years ago in the slop. Jockey Mike Smith won the Preakness 25 years ago on Prairie Bayou, and he has hit the board six other times. Let’s not overlook that Smith did a terrific job keeping Justify clear of the 20-horse cavalry charge at the Derby.
Using history as our guide, $100 across the board on American Pharoah returned $500 in 2015. But that was also when 28-1 long shot Tale Of Verve finished second, returning $19 to place and making a winning $2 exacta bet worth $124.40.
While an across-the-board bet doesn’t seem worth the risk, a $5 exacta bet with Justify over “all” costs you $35, and “all” over Justify costs another $35. Forget show bets on the Preakness; this is not like the Kentucky Derby. As long as a short-priced Good Magic doesn’t slip in, there is value with Justify on an exacta ticket.
Shortly after the Preakness is Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers return home trailing the Boston Celtics 2-0. Yes, I know it’s a best-of-seven series, but considering no team in conference finals history has come back from a 3-0 deficit, this is a must-win game for the Cavs.
I bet the Celtics to win the series at plus 245, but I’m backing the Cavaliers minus 6½ in Game 3 for two reasons.
One, the Celtics have not played nearly as well on the road as at home, going 1-4 straight up and 2-3 against the spread in the playoffs. Two, James usually is at his best during desperate times. His string of seven consecutive NBA Finals might be coming to an end, but I don’t see the Cavs being swept. His teammates have to step up, but role players usually shoot better at home than on the road.
So Justify on top of an exacta in the slop and LeBron at home look like a winning formula. Now if only I can find a way to parlay them.
Brent Musburger’s betting column appears Saturday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His show on the Vegas Stats & Information Network can be heard on SiriusXM 204 and livestreamed at reviewjournal.com/vegas-stats-information-network.