Preps Talk

Bob Baffert holding pocket aces heading into Kentucky Derby

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Bob Baffert holding pocket aces heading into Kentucky Derby

With just over two weeks to go until the Kentucky Derby, trainer Bob Baffert is going into the race as strong as any trainer has in recent history. Two weeks ago it was the Baffert trained Dortmund who dominated the Santa Anita Derby and appeared primed to be the favorite on Derby Day. Maybe not though.

Last weekend at Oaklawn Park we saw an equally dominating performance in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. In that event, the Bob Baffert trained American Pharoah made a mockery of the field. Sitting just off the early pace, jockey Victor Espinoza never had to move on American Pharoah, winning as easily as could be by eight lengths.

When the field is drawn in a couple of weeks for the Kentucky Derby, Dortmund and American Pharoah will be the favorite and second choice, but who will be which? Regardless, we know Bob Baffert will have a pair of major threats on the first Saturday in May. 

Major Player in Illinois Derby?

The field for this Saturday’s Illinois Derby at Hawthorne was drawn on Wednesday morning as Bob Baffert could have another up and coming three-year-old star. Last year Baffert’s Midnight Hawk lost by a whisker to Dynamic Impact in the Illinois Derby after a stretch battle.  This year, Whiskey Ticket could be the horse to beat. A somewhat unknown, Whiskey Ticket comes into the Illinois Derby with just one career start. That race came on March 19 at Santa Anita, a maiden breaker while going one mile.  Whiskey Ticket’s breeding suggests he can run all day and he will likely set the pace in Saturday’s Grade 3, $400,000 event.

The biggest challenge to Whiskey Ticket in the Illinois Derby could come from Cross the Line from the barn of Jerry Hollendorfer. Cross the Line has a stronger resume than Whiskey Ticket as he has won twice and ran second in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. His most recent race was a fifth-place effort behind Dortmund in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

The weather looks great for a fine weekend of racing at Hawthorne Race Course. Races will be conducted on the turf as well and the outdoor barbeque will be grilling all day Saturday. First race for the ten race Saturday card is 1:50 PM with the Illinois Derby being run at 5:45 PM.  If you can’t make it out to the track, make sure to place your wagers online at Xpressbet.com.

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

High School Lites had a busy show as it was the final week of the regular season for IHSA boys basketball Class 3A and 4A. The Class 1A and 2A playoffs also tipped in boys basketball as the show has some thrilling regional titles that were decided in the final minute. And finally, the girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals were played on Friday as the state's top teams played in Bloomington.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Richards wrestler Mia Palumbo

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Simeon boys basketball

Highlights

Marshall shocks Leo in Class 2A regional final

Aurora Christian runs past Harvert Christian for 1A regional title

Buzzer-beater lifts Monticello over Gibson City for regional title

Jacobs goes unbeaten in Fox Valley with win over Dundee-Crown

West Aurora gets by rival East Aurora

Yorkville completes season sweep of DeKalb

Lemont escapes past T.F. North

Marshall needs OT to get past Teutopolis in girls 2A semifinals

Harlan takes down Eureka in 2A semifinals

Stockton runs by Okaw Valley in 1A

Schlarman races by Lebanon

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.