Pigskins and Ponies: Derby Trail, NFL Conference Championships

Pop Culture

Welcome to ABR’s Pigskins and Ponies column, where winners play!

Horse racing is my means to an end, and I love the sport like no other, but I admit it, like most of you on a Sunday afternoon in the fall, it’s hard to pull me away from my couch ... and NFL RedZone.

I have a wanted sign in Vegas and am feared by fantasy football mavens nationwide, but when it comes to the college game, I choose to punt.

That’s where Bob Nastanovich comes in. He craves action and loves a good underdog as well as a cheap claiming horse with a big heart.

Let’s kick off the football, spring the horses from the gate and pad our bankrolls!

**Wednesday night lines from scoresandodds.com**

Pro Pigskins – by Joe Kristufek & Bob Nastanovich

Bob was dialed in last week, fanning the flame with Atlanta -5, Pittsburgh +1.5 and the OVER 52.5 in the Green Bay/Dallas game. Joe was with Bob on Atlanta, and he sniffed out the Green Bay upset in Texas, but overall he was wrong as much as he was right, going 4-4 against the number.

Bob’s Final College Football Record: 27-28-1 (49.1%)

Bob Last Week NFL Playoffs: 3-0 (100%)

Bob Overall NFL Playoffs: 3-2 (60%)

Joe Last Week Playoffs: 4-4 (50%)

Joe Overall NFL Playoffs: 10-6 (62.5%)

Joe’s Season Over/Under Win Totals: 4-2 (66.7%)

Joe’s Overall Season Total: 43-50-4 (46.2%)

NFL Playoffs – Conference Championships

Sunday, Jan. 22

Green Bay Packers +5 at Atlanta Falcons – 60.5 (3:05 p.m. ET)

Bob’s Pick: Atlanta -5 and OVER 60.5

Atlanta looked like the sharpest team going last week when dismantling the Seattle Seahawks. Their two-pronged rushing attack combined with Matt Ryan's passing accuracy had a championship feel to it. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing so well, the Packers should put up loads of points despite falling short.

Joe’s Pick: Atlanta -5 and UNDER 60.5

I agree with Bob about Atlanta. They looked like the most complete team in the playoffs last week. Their offense is scary good and the defense is now holding its own. In a perfect world, the Falcons take the lead into halftime and then pound the rock in the second half to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. The Packers QB is on fire, but his top two weapons – Jordy Nelson and Devante Adams – are both seriously banged up. He’ll still work some magic, but chances are it won’t be enough to match strides with the high-flying Falcons.

Pittsburgh Steelers +6 at New England Patriots - 50.5 – (6:40 p.m. ET)

Le'Veon Bell (WikiMedia Commons/Royalbroil)

Bob’s Pick: UNDER 50.5

My gut feeling is that the Steelers will pull the upset behind Le'Veon Bell's staggering ability and his late-season freshness. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have to throw the ball better than he did last week. Of course, that is more than possible. Regardless, the Patriots defense will be relied on to get them back to the Super Bowl. In the end, the Steelers D will prove the key.

Joe’s Pick: Steelers +6 and UNDER 50.5

The Patriots should win at home but the Steelers are good enough to cover and possibly pull the upset. The Pittsburgh offense was solid last week, but they just couldn’t stick the ball in the end zone against the Chiefs, a defense that’s tough to penetrate in the red zone. Le’Veon Bell will be featured early and often. If the Steelers score first, they have a much better chance to outlast the giant.

Ponies – Races of the Week

Not only was Bob perfect with his NFL picks, he also got Terra Promessa home in the Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and with Ready to Confess running second, out team combined to hand out a $21.60 exacta Joe proved that sometimes you don’t have to pick a winner in order to turn a profit. Three of his four picks ran second and the other earned the show dough, and the across the board prices put him in the black for the week.

Joe Last Week: 4-0-3-1 - $24 wagered; $28 returned

Joe’s Season Total: 60-7-17-11 - $354 wagered; $305.30 returned 

Bob Last Week: 1-1-0-0 = $6 wagered, $10.80 returned

Bob's Season Total: 18-4-3-4 - $106 wagered; $80.10 returned 

Saturday, Jan. 21

Fair Grounds – New Orleans, La.  

Race 7 – Louisiana Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, 4-year-olds and older

Seeking the Soul (Eclipse Sportswire)

Joe’s Pick: #1 Seeking the Soul

This talented 4-year-old son of Perfect Soul has run some big races, but he may not have reached his ceiling just yet. Last out in a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs, he finished a solid second behind Bird Song, who returned this past weekend to grab the place spot behind a razor-sharp Tommy Macho in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope Stakes at Gulfstream. Florent Geroux has been on fire all meet, and he won aboard this colt two races back at Keeneland.

Race 9 – Silverbulletday Stakes, 1 mile and 70 yards, 3-year-old fillies

Joe’s Picks (in order of preference): #3 Farrell and #4 Summertime Sky

Let me begin by saying I’m AGAINST #5 Untapped, the full sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Untapable who is installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite. Sure she won her last start by more than three lengths, but she didn’t beat much and worked hard to do it. Farrell is also very well-bred, and she appears to be coming into her own. Her front-running victory in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes was visually impressive. Summertime Sky also holds plenty of promise. She debuted with a sharp score in a turf sprint, but the pedigree suggests that 1 1/16 miles shouldn’t be an issue.

Race 11 – Lecomte Stakes, Grade 3, 1 mile and 70 yards, 3-year-olds

Joe’s Picks (in order of preference): #5 Untrapped, #8 Guest Suite and #12 Saint’s Fan

This looks like a great opportunity to dive into some gimmicks with a trio of horses I have been impressed with. Second behind eventual Smarty Jones Stakes winner Uncontested in his debut, Untrapped returned to score a sharp maiden sprint score of his own, and the pedigree suggest the route distance shouldn’t be a problem. Guest Suite is a proven router with a touch of class and he keeps getting better. Saint’s Fan is perfect from two starts. He too has two-turn pedigree, but the extreme outside post position is an obvious concern.

Oaklawn Park – Hot Springs, Ark. 

Race 8 – Dixie Belle Stakes, 6 furlongs, 3-year-old fillies

Bob's Pick: #5 Chanel's Legacy

Short-priced favorite Vertical Oak may be in the thick of a fierce speed duel if she fails to settle. If so, this could fall into the hands of this gifted Iowa-bred who is a skilled, rallying sprinter.

Joe’s Pick: #2 My Sweet Stella

She’s probably at her best around two turns, maybe even on turf, but she does have talent. She lost all chance when sandwiched badly at the start of the Golden Rod last out. My Sweet Stella is speedy enough to stay in contact with the leaders in this sprint and the price will be right.

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