Horse Racing

Anibaba returns to Fire starting lineup

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Anibaba returns to Fire starting lineup

Just a week ago there was a doubt that Jalil Anibaba would even be in the Fires starting 11 for Sundays home match against the Houston Dynamo. And, if he did play, there was a question of where hed fit in.

Cory Gibbs knee surgery on Tuesday answered both questions. Gibbs will be out four-six months as his torn meniscus heals, and second-year man Anibaba will be slotted into a central defenders role. Unfortunately, it happened because of Gibbs misfortune.

"Its devastating anytime you hear a teammate has to undergo surgery," said Anibaba. "Cory was definitely my mentor last season, and that continued into this one as well. We were under the impression that he wouldnt be out too long. Hes an irreplaceable to me and to the club."

Gibbs and Anibaba played together in the middle during the Fires first three matches of the Major League Soccer season. Newly-acquired German defender Arne Friedrich, however, improved his fitness as the Fire trained through a two-week break in league games. A veteran of 82 games for the powerful German national team, Friedrich figured to move into the lineup against Houston with Anibaba the likely man out in the middle.

Coach Frank Klopas, however, used Anibaba on the right side in last Saturdays friendly against the University of Louisville while Dan Gargan was nursing a sprained toe. If Gargan wasnt ready for Sunday, Anibaba could have be inserted in his spot.

Klopas used Anibaba on the right side at the start of his rookie season, but he prefers to play him in the middle of the four-man back line. Anibaba likes it better there, too.

"Ive just had more games there, more experience there," said Anibaba. "Thats where I played in college, but it comes down to where I can help the team the most."

Though Klopas prefers not to discuss lineup possibilities, there seems little doubt that Anibaba will play with Friedrich in the middle against the Dynamo -- Gargan seems likely to return on the right. Anibaba isnt worried about adjusting to Friedrich, a vocal leader, after spending so much time with Gibbs, who played 19 times for the U.S. national team and also had playing time with European clubs.

"Both are easy to play with," said Anibaba. "Theyve been with elite clubs and their experiences are very comparable, though their styles are a little different."

The Fire (1-1-1) didnt play well in its last game with Gibbs and Anibaba together (a 2-0 loss at Colorado on April 1). Anibaba says a bounce-back is vital, no matter whos in the lineup.

"We dont have an option but to bounce back," he said. "The seasons not going to stop."

Elsewhere in the lineup, theres some doubt about the starting goalkeeper. Sean Johnson figures to make his first MLS appearance of the season after Paolo Tornaghi started the first three. Klopas wanted Johnson to get some game time after he basically just trained with Everton of the English Premier League and the U.S. under-23 squad since last season ended.

Johnson played in two reserve matches and was in for the first 45 minutes of the Louisville friendly since the Fires loss at Colorado, so he got some game action. The Fire, however, lost both of those reserve matches -- not a good omen going into the second home game of the season.

"Well be excited playing at home," said Anibaba. "Houstons a good side, plays well together and is very dangerous on set pieces. Itll be a battle for 90 minutes."

There's no rainouts in horse racing

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There's no rainouts in horse racing

It is playoff time here in Chicago. The hometown Cubs are back to their third consecutive NLCS. The Bears have played in gorgeous weather to open their season. The Bulls and Hawks get optimal conditions indoors. In racing, this isn’t always the case and last Saturday was one of those instances. 

After nearly two months of drought conditions in the Chicagoland area, racing at Hawthorne Race Course to close out the summer harness season was optimal. While the sprinklers were used constantly to keep the turf course green, the pond at Hawthorne had nearly dried up.

All of that came to an end last week at Hawthorne as Mother Nature was not quite as generous to open October. With the fall thoroughbred season commencing, the skies opened as well, with rain falling on numerous occasions to kick off the season. That was clearly the case last Saturday, when over five inches of rain came down during the course of the Hawthorne racing card.

In baseball, there would be a rain delay or cancellation. Youth sports teams get the day off. Outdoor attractions closed as flooding was prevalent in numerous locations. Here at Hawthorne…..we race.

At any racetrack, the equine stars are the showcase, but there are so many others necessary to put on the show. The folks brave the conditions and have to be well prepared.

Five stories above the racetrack, Hawthorne track announcer Peter Galassi provides the play-by-play for the racing action. With over 65,000 races called on his career, Peter has seen it all.

“I’ve called races in every weather condition possible and what we raced in Saturday was one of the tougher conditions to call in,” Galassi said. “When I announced races at Balmoral Park, fog would be my biggest concern. Fog was the worst. We had an occasion where myself, and our track stewards had to go from our location on the roof down to trackside for a race because the fog was so bad. We had to get below the fog to get a vantage point. Here at Hawthorne, dealing with the rain, especially at the rate it came down last Saturday, is very tough. Consider the windows of my announcer’s booth being the windshield of a car, but without window wipers. Streaks of water rolling down the panes of glass in your direct view. Add to that the glare of the lights off the glistening racetrack and thoroughbreds and riders covered in mud. It isn’t always the easiest, but what these athletes deal with on the track and in those conditions are far worse than what I am subjected to.”

Moving trackside, the race begins at the Hawthorne starting gate. Veteran assistant starter Bill Fultz and crew are responsible for safely loading the horses into the gate and keeping the horses calm in preparation for a fair start. While the job is complicated and dangerous on a clear day, the focus needed on a day where the weather conditions are menacing only increase.

“When the weather is tough and we are dealing with rain or snow, additional clothing and gear for our crew is needed,” Fultz said. “This is a physically demanding job as we are in the mud, working with horses, making sure they are safe, while also focusing on our safety. Fortunately we have an experienced crew that takes a lot of pride in their job and I feel it shows in the horses’ clean starts and performances.”

On horseback, the jockeys are limited in numerous aspects. On a good day, a rider has to not only worry about maintaining their weight, but also controlling a 1,000 lbs. thoroughbred, racing at 35 MPH, while balancing on a pair of two inch wide metal stirrups. In harsh weather conditions, limited additional clothing is allowed as the jockeys goggles become one of the most important pairs of equipment. Last Saturday was a good day for Hawthorne’s second all-time leading rider Chris Emigh as he won a pair of races in the monsoon.

“I figure you can either go out there and be miserable or go out there and have fun,” said the affable Emigh. “A lot of dirt and water gets thrown back at you and you just have to find a good spot in between the sprays of water and mud. Goggles are the key, a normal race I may have three pairs on, but on Saturday that amount doubles. We are controlling our mount, keeping balance, and trying to flip down to a clean pair of goggles numerous times each race. I get concerned when I come to that last pair and still have a quarter of a mile to go. When that happens, we just focus on what visibility we have and your finger becomes your window wiper.”

As all of the action takes place, cameramen positioned in towers around the track televise the action. Positioned at the finish line are Ryan Thompson and Nicole Thomas, the track photographers for Four Footed Fotos that work tirelessly to capture the Hawthorne action. When others may choose to wait until the last minute to capture to winner on the finish line, Ryan and Nicole take the weather as an opportunity to capture great images.

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

"NOT IN OUR HOUSE!" a Cubs coach yelled as he walked through the media throng awaiting entry into the clubhouse.

There was Kyle Schwarber standing at his locker, emphatically saying, "we're not gonna go down quietly."

There was Jake Arrieta, already making plans for what he would do to celebrate after the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the NLCS.

What a difference a day makes.

The Cubs looked completely beat and worn down after Game 3 Tuesday night. Kris Bryant echoed the same line — "why not us?" — he delivered last fall when the Cubs were down three games to one in the World Series, but this time, it just didn't feel the same.

Bryant looked shellshocked and admitted the team was drained after the NLDS and traveling across country to get steamrolled by the Dodgers in the first two games of the NLCS.

Wednesday night, things were different.

Even though the offense still hasn't broken out. 

Even though all the Cubs' runs still came off early homers — they have yet to score in this series not off a longball.

Even though Wade Davis is unavailable for Game 5 Thursday — the Cubs haven't won a game this postseason in which Davis did not pitch.

Even though the best pitcher on the planet — Clayton Kershaw — awaited the Cubs Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

The belief was back in the home clubhouse at Wrigley, even if it was just for one day.

But was it just for one day? 

I've been saying it all fall — the only time this Cubs team has played up to their potential is when they've had their backs against the wall. Your back couldn't possibly get more against the wall when down 0-3 in the NLCS, a deficit only one team in baseball history has come back from.

Conceivably, yes, the Cubs can pull this off. They can climb all the way out of this hole and make a second straight World Series.

If any team can do it, it's the group that erased the longest championship drought in American sports history and did it in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Will the Cubs be able to pull it off? 

I have no idea, honestly. I know that's a cop-out, but screw predictions at this point of the postseason. 

There's a very real possibility the Cubs offense finally breaks out and takes one more step toward writing this team's entry into the baseball history books.

There's also a very real possibility Kershaw comes out and slams the door on any talk of Cubs magic and finally pitches his way into the World Series for the first time.

Either way, the build-up to Thurday night around Wrigleyville is gonna be fun as hell.