LAS VEGAS — If it is Cinco de Mayo it must be time for what might be the fastest-growing weekend of sports betting that we see every year in Las Vegas.
It may not match the Super Bowl or the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but it is moving in that direction. At a time when we already have the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup and early-season baseball in full swing, we add the Kentucky Derby and a big night of boxing to the mix. This year it is Canelo vs. Chávez on the Strip at T-Mobile Arena.
Why is there always a big fight on Derby weekend? The easy theory that you often hear starts with the fact that so many bettors are already in the race and sports books playing the horses, why not get them to stick around to bet on boxing? But that is not why the biggest fights of the year fall on the first Saturday in May. This is all about the huge Mexican holiday weekend — and the fact that boxing is so popular with our Latin population.
The question is who will they cheer for Saturday when Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, moves up to fight Julio César Chávez Jr. at a 164½ pound catchweight in what is being billed as the “Battle of México.”
Kevin Iole, who will be covering the fight Saturday night for Yahoo! Sports, told me that “the crowd is going to swing a little bit toward Canelo. If it had been a couple years ago I think no question it would have been Chávez, but they’ve been disappointed by him so many times. If he starts to do well in the fight I think some people will just jump off the Canelo bandwagon and start getting on the Chávez bandwagon.”
When I think of Chávez, I cannot help but think of his daddy. Was he a good fighter or what? His two bitter losses to Oscar de la Hoya in the late ’90s were awesome slugfests. It didn’t get any better than that, and Mexican fans back then were pulling for Chávez, who won his first 87 fights. Think about that. And de la Hoya held titles in six weight classes.
That was such a golden age for boxing.
Bring it forward now to Saturday night, and Chávez Jr. is a big underdog. He has gotten some action late this week, but across town he is still 9-2. Canelo is a 1-6 favorite.
As my old friend Jimmy Vaccaro, the South Point oddsmaker, told me Thursday on VSiN, “People love to bet the underdogs in these fights. There’s always value if you win there, naturally. The worst thing you want to hear when you bet these big favorites is ‘we have a split decision.’ You sweat your little behind off.”
I know that Canelo is a much more seasoned fighter and a better boxer. But since Chávez Jr. is much larger, if he can get inside on Canelo, he can do some damage as the bigger man. I’m going to have to bet on him, because I enjoyed his pop so much.
Everybody wants to beat the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but I am here to tell you that it would not be awful to have a ticket on Classic Empire. He is no American Pharoah. He is no California Chrome. So he is going to be about 4-1 when they go to the post Saturday at Churchill Downs.
However, we have to think about long shots that can score in the exotics. Even though the horses that have won the UAE Derby have never won the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Snow can strike this year in the trifecta. And if you want to go superfecta do not avoid that number 2 horse.
I am also going to have Always Dreaming and Classic Empire on my tickets, but I am probably going to throw Irish War Cry, McCraken and Gunnevera in there. I also don’t want to overlook Hence, the wise-guy horse who has impressed with his track work the past week at Churchill Downs.
One stat that I am paying attention to a lot this year — and a reason I may throw out McCraken — is that in the last six runnings of the Derby, the horse that won had also finished first in his last race coming in. There is something about winning horse races. I know the handicappers break down all these numbers and say that a horse finished great. Yeah, he finished great — and he finished fourth. Some horses like to win and some don’t. That’s just the way it is.
One more thing about the UAE Derby. Just remember that it was run on a muddy track in Dubai. If Churchill Downs does not dry out from the rain they have been having in Louisville, watch out for Thunder Snow.
Don’t be surprised that the Pittsburgh Penguins have a 3-1 series lead on Washington even after losing Sidney Crosby to another concussion.
It has been my observation through the years in team sports that when you lose a key player, get on that team in the first game out. The rest of the players are paying attention, and they are taking no prisoners. They make up for the loss. The Penguins’ 3-2 win Wednesday night was a perfect example.
Over the long haul you can certainly take a position against the Penguins, because Crosby will be dearly missed if he cannot return. So regardless of their frustrating past, the Capitals are no lock to fold Saturday night when they play a stay-alive game at Pittsburgh.
The defending champs have yet to lose a game in the NBA Playoffs, but that does not mean the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing edge-of-your seat basketball. Their second-round matchup with Toronto has turned into the Sominex special. It just puts you to sleep.
The Cavs won the first two games at home by 11 and 22 points. But before you go headlong into a bet Friday night on the Cavs in Game 3, don’t forget what Matt Youmans has been pointing out this postseason writing here on VSiN.com. Teams going home after losing the first two games of series on the road are 6-0 against the first-quarter spread and 6-0 against the first-half number. Remember that combined 12-for-12 trend as the Raptors host Game 3.
The same goes for Utah, which is back home Saturday night trailing Golden State 2-0. But it is hard to bet against the Warriors under any circumstances. It is also hard to bet for them. Going back to July of last year the Warriors opened as minus-140 favorites to come back and win the championship that they had just lost in dramatic fashion to Cleveland. If you want them now to win the title the Warriors are minus-350 with the rest of the playoff field together at plus-250. That looks like a value play, but only if you really, really think Golden State is not going to take care of business over the next month.
Good luck with that.
As Houston goes home Friday night to play San Antonio in a series tied at 1-1, I am still kicking myself for jumping on the Rockets in Game 2. I overlooked what a great coach the Spurs have in Gregg Popovich. Coming off that blowout loss at home in Game 1, Pop made a big move. He put his superstar – Kawhi Leonard – on James Harden with the very first possession the Rockets had.
Leonard was not on Harden the whole game; the Spurs were switching around. But about 50 percent of the time Leonard, who is a fearsome defensive player, matched up with Harden and took him out completely out of his rhythm.
The bad news for San Antonio is that Tony Parker’s quad injury has knocked him out for the rest of the playoffs. Even though he is not the player he was as a younger man, Parker will be very hard for the Spurs to replace at the point.
Popovich can go to backup Patty Mills, who is a pretty solid player, but look for Dejounte Murray to come in and give the Spurs a little more size in Pop’s backcourt – and some pretty good defense. When Murray started at the point this season the Spurs went 7-1.
Of all the series going on in the NBA this is the one that I am keeping my closest eye on. Cat and mouse. Zig and zag. That is NBA basketball at its best.
By Brent Musburger