Cubs

Special Delivery: The Pizza Man wins Arlington Million

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Special Delivery: The Pizza Man wins Arlington Million

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) — Richard Papiese made his money selling store fixtures.

For several years, the Chicagoan also has been cashing in at the race track with a large and successful thoroughbred racing operation.

Saturday, Papiese scored big with The Pizza Man winning the Grade 1 Arlington Million. The 6-year-old gelding, ridden by Florent Geroux, beat Big Blue Kitten by a neck in Chicago-area racing's biggest race.

The Pizza Man became the first Illinois-bred to win the Million by coming up the middle to overhaul Big Blue Kitten with a sixteenth to go in the 1 1/4-mile turf.

"It's a very special horse that loves to win," Geroux said. "He knows where the wire is."

Geroux brought The Pizza Man from ninth place on a turf course softened by a downpour an hour before post time. Going four-wide around the far turn, he galloped through the field, then went by Shining Copper on the right just after Big Blue Kitten had passed on the left.

"It looked like he was struggling over the very soft track, but when I put him outside he grabbed the bit again and I was thinking, 'Oh boy, he's going for a big one here,'" Geroux said.

Then it was just a matter of catching the Kitten and hanging on.

"We knew he had the speed," trainer Roger Brueggemann said.

Big Blue Kitten came in second for the fourth time in six races, winning the other two.

"He didn't like the ground," jockey Joe Bravo said about Big Blue Kitten. "When Kitten kicks, he's a runner."

The Pizza Man paid $13.60, $6.60 and $4.60. Big Blue Kitten returned $4 and $3.20, and Shining Copper paid $11.60 to show.

The Pizza Man had been cross-entered in Saturday's American St. Leger, which he won last year, but Papiese decided to run him in the Million after a narrow victory in the Stars & Stripes last month. The victory in the Million answered local critics who believed the horse wasn't capable of winning a Grade 1 race.

Now, Papiese, $600,000 richer, is thinking of sending The Pizza Man to the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.

"First I'll read the papers to see if he belongs there," Papiese said.

Irish-based horses swept the other graded stakes.

Watsdachances edged Stephanie's Kitten by a neck in the Grade 1 Beverly D for fillies after Secret Gesture, the first horse to finish, was disqualified for interfering with Stephanie's Kitten in the stretch. Watsdachances had come from off the pace in the final quarter-mile of the 1 3/16-mile race. Secret Gesture was moved back to third.

Highland Reel ran away to a 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes. Closing Bell was second by a head over Force The Pass, which broke from the gate slowly in the 1 1/4-mile turf test. It was Highland Reel's second straight win and first in the U.S.

Lucky Speed took the lead with a sixteenth remaining to capture the Grade 3 1 11/16-mile American St. Leger by three-quarters of a length over Britain's Panama Hat.

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.

Blackhawks deal Michal Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks deal Michal Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

The Blackhawks dealt defenseman Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick. Kempny had seven points in 31 games this season.

Kempny, 27, recorded 15 points in 81 career games for the Blackhawks. He tallied an assist in Saturday's 7-1 victory over the Capitals.

Kempny signed a one-year extension through the end of this season back in May.