American Pharoah just one step from Triple Crown


American Pharoah just one step from Triple Crown

BALTIMORE –- Three weeks from now, the 140th Preakness could be remembered for American Pharoah’s dominating win. If the horse doesn’t complete the Triple Crown, it may be remembered for the torrential rain that sent much of the record crowd scattering for cover.

Officially, American Pharoah’s seven-length win at Pimlico before 131,860 came on a track listed as sloppy. It was much worse than that.

“The first think I thinking about is so much water in my boots. I was flooded in them,” American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza joked.

“Each race, I learned something new and surprised me the way he runs. Today was just an amazing race for him. I can’t really see how far I was in front because there was so much water in my eyes.”

American Pharoah took the lead just after the start. A decided outsider, Mr. Z chased him and trailed by a length-and-a-half entering the stretch before fading and eventually finishing fifth.

But, American Pharoah, who won the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago by a length over Firing Line, steadily increased his lead. He led by four in the stretch and won going away.

It was trainer Bob Baffert’s sixth Preakness win.

“I’ve never won this race as easily and handily,” Baffert said.

Tale of Verve finished second. Divining Rod was third, and Dortmund, the third place finisher in the Derby, and also trained by Baffert, came in fourth.

“I’ve always said this was the easiest of the three legs, and the next race, I know, everybody’s sharpening their knives getting ready,” Baffert said.

Hard rain began falling about 20 minutes before the start of the Preakness.

“I’ve never been through anything like that. That was crazy,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah is a rather high strung horse, and Baffert was on edge.

“These horses, I could tell they didn’t like it when they get pelted like that, and I was worried about the cotton balls in his ears,” Baffert said. What if they’re getting soaking wet? How is he going to react? Maybe I should have taken them out.”

Baffert’s horse ignored the inclement weather, and now becomes the 14th horse to have a chance for the Triple Crown since Affirmed last won it in 1978.

“We could be talking about history,” Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah’s owner said. “For me, how could I be more happy than that?”

A year ago, Espinoza had a chance at the Triple Crown when he rode California Chrome to wins in both the Derby and Preakness.

California Chrome’s co-owner Steven Coburn loved the limelight, and when the horse finished in a dead heat for fourth, Coburn attacked the owners of Tonalist, which hadn’t run in the previous two legs.

Baffert identified with California Chrome’s trainer, the veteran Art Sherman, and now he hopes he has a horse that will draw interest in the Belmont.

“It’s so good for racing with a horse like this,” Baffert said. “Horse racing, we needed a little lift. Whether he wins the next one or not, what he’s brought to the table, there are a lot of people here today that came to see him run.”

Baffert will keep his horse at Pimlico until at least Monday before deciding where he’ll go next. With a long break, he can return to his California home or send him on to Elmont, N.Y. for the Belmont.

Danzig Moon finished sixth while Firing Line, which was the second choice, never contended and was seventh. Longshot Bodhisattva finished last.

It’s not known how many challengers await American Pharoah three weeks from now. The Belmont released a list of seven horses who didn’t run on Saturday that could try the mile-and-a-half.

Six were in the May 2 Derby: Frosted, Materiality, Keen Ice, Mubtaahij, Carpe Diem and Frammento. The seventh is Madefromlucky, winner of last week’s Peter Pan at Belmont.

Espinoza, who also rode California Chrome a year ago, will have his third shot at the Triple Crown. War Emblem came up short in 2002.

He hopes the weather is much better on June 6. The hot, humid day suddenly became chilly.

“I was just freezing,” Espinoza said. “I just wanted to get it over with.”

Espinoza endured the conditions and brought his horse home in an understandably slow, 1:58:46.

“I wasn’t really worried about it. I was so focused with American Pharoah to see how he is traveling on the messy track,” Espinoza said. “I had no choice just to let him run the messy and wet track.”

American Pharoah paid $3.80, $3.40 and $2.80. Tale of Verve paid $19.00 and $8.80. Divining Rod paid $5.20.

MORE PREAKNESS: First-time Preakness goers soak up unique experience

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Need to Know: Who will be left for the Redskins to draft at No. 13?

Need to Know: Who will be left for the Redskins to draft at No. 13?

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, April 26, one day before the second and third rounds of the 2018 NFL draft.  

The players the Redskins will have to choose from at No. 13

As the 2018 NFL draft unfolds tonight, the Redskins are going to look to be able to pick from a group of players when their pick comes on the board. “You’ve got about six or seven guys on that board that you’re hoping is there when you get there,” Doug Williams said on Tuesday. “If you lose one, you put another one up.”

So, who is likely to be in that group? Based on a bevy of mock drafts and big boards plus my own analysis guessing, here are the seven players I think will wind up in that group that will be under discussion when the Redskins pick, in no particular order. 

  • QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville 
  • DL Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
  • Edge Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio
  • LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
  • LB Leighton Vander Esch, Vanderbilt
  • S Derwin James, Florida State
  • CB Joshua Jackson, Iowa

Right off the top, did I forget RB Derrius Guice? No. While the Redskins like him I don’t think he is in consideration for the 13thpick. 

If Jackson is there, the move is to wait for the phones to ring. There is talk that the Ravens, who pick 16th, would like to add him. Moving back to Baltimore’s spot could potentially add a third-round pick and still have at least four of these seven players still available. The Redskins are intrigued by Jackson but with Alex Smith under contract, they aren’t going to draft a quarterback.  

Payne has been a popular pick to the Redskins in mock drafts (such as the one I posted yesterday). He could be a bit of a reach at 13 and perhaps he is a better candidate to be taken after a trade back. I think that Vita Vea will be gone, probably to the Raiders with the 10thpick. 

If Vea does go to Oakland and there is a top-10 surprise like Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey, a hot name lately, then there is a good chance that both Edmunds and James will be available. Let’s do the count as the Redskins would as the first 12 picks unfold. If four quarterbacks go plus Vea, McGlinchey, guard Quinton Nelson cornerback Denzel Ward, running back Saquon Barkley, and edge rusher Bradley Chubb, that leaves two other picks in front of the Redskins. I think those will be cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick and inside linebacker Roquan Smith. That would leave James and Edmunds. Of course, one or both of them could go earlier, leaving Fitzpatrick and/or Smith for inclusion on the Redskins’ list. 

Any one of those four players should give the Redskins pause when it comes to trading down or taking Payne. They need impact players and all of those prospects have potential to be just that. 

Their interest in Davenport may tell us how confident the Redskins are in their ability to retain Preston Smith beyond this year and their confidence in the development of Ryan Anderson. And if they select Joshua Jackson could be a signal that Josh Norman will become a 2019 salary cap casualty. The Redskins reportedly like Vander Esch but he’s a notch below the special talents like Edmunds and Smith. 

If I was presented with this scenario, I’d probably take James. Yes, the Redskins like D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson but they could take James, move him around the defense and figure out some neat name for his position. He would make the defense better immediately. Other needs like the defensive line could be handled later on in the draft.  

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

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Today’s schedule: 8:00 NFL Draft, first round, AT&T Stadium, Arlington TX

Days until:

—Rookie minicamp (5/11) 15
—OTAs start (5/22) 26
—Training camp starts (7/26) 91

The Redskins last played a game 116 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 136 days. 

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Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

The Toronto Raptors' best player has become a serious problem for the Washington Wizards, as they now face a 3-2 series deficit in their 2018 NBA Playoffs first-round series and the bleak reality that one more loss means their season is over.

DeMar DeRozan, who began this first round series with a modest 17 points in Game 1, has since raised his game to a new level to beyond even what we have seen in the past. In Games 2-5, DeRozan has averaged 31.8 points, including his 32-game outburst in Game 5 that tilted the series in Toronto's favor.

DeRozan is averaging 28.8 points through five games against the Raptors. That's up considerably from his 22.5-point career playoff average.

DeRozan scored his 32 points in Game 5 with efficiency. He shot 12-for-24 from the field and even made three of his four shots from three.

He didn't even need the free throw line like he normally does. DeRozan shot six free throws, less than his regular season average.

The Wizards are having trouble with DeRozan particularly in the first half. DeRozan is averaging 14.8 first-half points during the playoffs, second only to LeBron James. 

DeRozan had 20 points by halftime in Game 5.

"DeMar was in his element tonight," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said. "He got it going early. It was kind of hard to shut him off."

The Wizards are paying for disrespecting DeRozan's three-point shot. He made just 31.2 percent from long range in the regular season, but is shooting threes at a 45.5 percent clip in the playoffs.

If DeRozan is knocking down shots from outside, his offensive game is as complete as just about anyone in the NBA. He has shown in this series an impressive ability to not only get to the rim, but finish through contact or draw fouls.

DeRozan does a good job of maintaining body and ball control going straight up against Wizards' big men and is often rewarded by the referees. He shot a playoff career-high 18 free throws in Game 4.

The Wizards are actually doing a decent job of taking away his midrange shots, which usually account for much of his points. Though DeRozan is hitting an impressive 66.7 percent from 5-to-9 feet, up from his season clip of 47.6, his numbers are down from further out.

DeRozan is shooting 40 percent from 10-to-14 feet out, down from 41.5 percent in the regular season, and just 28.6 percent from 15-to-19 feet, down from 43.7.

DeRozan is hurting the Wizards from long range and within nine feet of the rim. He is taking what the Wizards are giving him and Washington has to adjust.

"We’ve gotta pretty much get it out of [his] hands. Make sure we take care of everybody else," Oubre said.

The Wizards should look to how the defended him in Game 4 as a good example of how to limit his impact. DeRozan had 35 points, but required 29 shots from the field and 18 free throws to get there. 

Washington forced DeRozan into an inefficient night and forced others to try to beat them. The result was the Wizards' best defensive game overall, as the Raptors scored a series-low 98 points.

DeRozan isn't the only defensive concern for the Wizards as they look ahead to Game 6 on Friday. Backup point guard Delon Wright scored 18 points for the second time this series and Toronto hit 11 threes in the game.

The Wizards held the Raptors to just seven threes in Game 4 and it was no coincidence they won that game. They have to lock down the perimeter and, as this series has shown, that includes DeRozan even though he isn't known for making threes.

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