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Preakness Preview: American Pharoah's Triple Crown quest

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Preakness Preview: American Pharoah's Triple Crown quest

This Saturday is the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico on NBC, the shortest of the three Triple Crown races at 1 3/16 miles. With a much more compact field of eight, compared to the 18 that started in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness features four of the top five finishers from the Derby.

Much like the Kentucky Derby, pace is going to make the race in the Preakness. In the Derby, Dortmund went out and carved out the early fractions that were not overly quick.  Firing Line was never more than a length behind Dortmund early while American Pharoah was never more than two back through the opening mile. Looking at the Preakness field, it appears that pace will be very similar to the Derby as none of the new shooters appear to provide a serious pace threat. 

Here’s a look at the field for the Preakness Stakes in post-position order:

1. American PharoahTrainer: Bob Baffert, Jockey: Victor Espinoza

The Kentucky Derby champ is saddled with the inside draw in the Preakness which is not overly favorable as the last runner to win the Preakness from post one was Tabasco Cat in 1994. That being said, the Preakness normally has a larger field than the eight we will see on Saturday. Victor Espinoza gave American Pharoah a perfect ride in the Derby and is familiar with being in this position as he was aboard both War Emblem and California Chrome in the Preakness off Derby wins. There’s only a couple of concerns for American Pharoah on Saturday. First, if the inside of the Pimlico track isn’t the place to be Espinoza will have to get out early, and second is that this will be his third race in just five weeks, a tie for the shortest amount of rest during a three race period for this field with Mr. Z.

2. DortmundTrainer: Bob Baffert, Jockey: Martin Garcia

Dortmund was my selection to win the Derby and he ran a very gutsy third.  Honestly I did not expect him to be setting the pace in the Derby but when he got to the front and slowed the fractions down, I felt he had a huge chance late. He may have been compromised on the first Saturday in May by running in what was likely the worst part of the track as he was inside with late outside moves coming from American Pharoah and Firing Line. In the end he was only defeated three lengths and now shortens up a sixteenth of a mile for the Preakness. I fully expect he finds the front once again and he should play a huge factor in the outcome of this race in the end.

3. Mr. ZTrainer: D. Wayne Lukas, Jockey: Corey Nakatani

Mr. Z became a late player in the Preakness as he was not expected to run in this race. On Wednesday morning came news of the sale of Mr. Z from Zayat Stables LLC (Owners of American Pharoah) to Calumet Farm and next thing we know Mr. Z is entered. Honestly, Mr. Z likely doesn’t belong in here.  After 13 career starts, he is still eligible for a first level allowance race and that’s with more than twice as many career starts as American Pharoah. The trip he received in the Derby wasn’t pretty but while American Pharoah makes his third start in just five weeks, this will be the fourth start for Mr. Z in seven weeks.

4. Danzig MoonTrainer: Mark Casse, Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Danzig Moon was one that surprised me a bit in the Kentucky Derby as I didn’t expect him to run as well as he did. He was coming off an uninspired fourth against only a so-so bunch in the Tampa Bay Derby and then second while wide in a soft Blue Grass Stakes.  He stepped up though in the Kentucky Derby. He raced in the second flight of runners the entire way around and got jostled much of the way. He never folded though, running on to finish fifth. At a price, Danzig Moon could be a threat to upset in the Preakness.

5. Tale of VerveTrainer: Dallas Stewart, Jockey: Joel Rosario

The positives for this one, he gets one of the hottest jocks over the last five years in Joel Rosario aboard, and his only victory came at the distance of the Preakness. That’s about where it ends in regards to his true chances to win this race. Never say never, but the speed figures for Tale of Verve put him 15-20 lengths slower than this field as his closing style isn’t going to help in a race where the pace isn’t expected to be overly quick. He has a spot in the starting gate though, so I guess anything can happen.

6. BodhisattvaTrainer: Jose Corrales, Jockey: Trevor McCarthy

Another new shooter, this one comes with a little more intrigue. While Bodhisattva didn’t compete in any of the major Derby preps, he is a three time winner and is the only one in this field that has won at Pimlico. He controlled the pace in his most recent start over this track and battled back when challenged in the stretch, but if he tries to challenge Dortmund early, he will likely be hanging with Tale of Verve late. His last three races has shown that he is a horse on the improve. This will be a tough task though as he will likely be tucked in behind all those that were competitive in the Derby early while trying to pass them late.

7. Divining Rod – Trainer: Arnaud Delacour, Jockey: Javier Castellano

Another new shooter in the Preakness, this will likely end up being the wise guy horse that many say can pull off an upset. He has never missed the board in five career starts. He finished a well-beaten third in the Tampa Bay Derby behind Carpe Diem but did come back to run onto a solid win in the Grade 3 Lexington on April 11. He’s fresh, not having run since that start, but his style is also going to put him close early, with the likes of Dortmund, Firing Line and American Pharoah. When it comes to the running in the stretch, I am expecting Divining Rod to be giving way as he did in the Tampa Bay Derby instead of rallying as he did in the Lexington. Also, Leparoux, who rode him last out, stays with Danzig Moon. I would have preferred to see Luis Garcia back aboard this one for the Preakness.

8. Firing Line – Trainer: Simon Callaghan, Jockey: Gary Stevens

The Hall of Famer Stevens gave a Hall of Fame ride aboard Firing Line in the Kentucky Derby. Never letting Dortmund get away, Firing Line also raced on the better part of the track at Churchill that day. He ran huge in that race and could get a very similar trip from the outside draw in the Preakness. The main concern for Firing Line could be if Diving Rod chooses to contend early, leaving Firing Line to go wider into the first turn. He’s never run worse than second from six lifetime starts and this distance should suit him nicely.

The way I see the Preakness running could be very similar to the Derby. I expect Dortmund to try to set slow early fractions. Firing Line likely rates close. The monkey wrench could come if Divining Rod chooses to push the pace along early. Keep an eye on the Derby winner early though. I fully expect Victor Espinoza in guide American Pharoah away from the rail and into the clear within the first sixteenth of a mile. In the stretch, I think this race comes down to the four competitive runners from the Derby. While I’ll be cheering for American Pharoah, my money may go to Danzig Moon if he happens to sneak off anywhere close to his 15-1 morning line. In my estimation, the best way to cash though in the Preakness is to box American Pharoah, Dortmund, Firing Line and Danzig Moon. To me, these four are clearly the class of this race.

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at ChicagoSunTimes.com.

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.

Anton Forsberg on uncertain future with Blackhawks as Corey Crawford nears return

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg on uncertain future with Blackhawks as Corey Crawford nears return

The Blackhawks are preparing for Corey Crawford to make his season debut this week after recovering from a concussion since Dec. 23, 2017, when he last made his appearance between the pipes.

That means a decision has to be made on Anton Forsberg, who's serving as the backup to Cam Ward but ranks third on the organizational depth chart in goal with a healthy Crawford. The challenging part of the situation is that Forsberg requires waivers if the Blackhawks want to try sending him down to the American Hockey League and keep him within the organization. But it's beyond his control.

"I have no idea and I don't want to think that way either,” Forsberg told NBC Sports Chicago. “I just want to be focused on getting better every day and try to work hard and put in the work, so hopefully when [my chance] comes, I've done everything I can.”

There are several layers to this, mostly questions: Can the Blackhawks find a trade partner for Forsberg? Would he clear waivers if he's put on there? And if he does, what happens to Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen, both of whom the Blackhawks are looking to take next steps in their development?

One thing is for certain: The Blackhawks do not plan on carrying three goaltenders. But maybe that’s an option for the short term until they see how Crawford handles the load since they have a six games in nine days stretch starting on Thursday.

“Organizationally, he’s one of our group of goaltenders,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Forsberg. “That’s where it’s at. We know the importance of depth in that area is always going to get challenged over the course of a season and we know the importance of the position. We’ll see how that plays out.”

In any profession, it's hard not to think about your future when there's uncertainty regarding your position. But Forsberg is trying to block all that out, no matter how difficult it may be.

"Sometimes it is, but at the same time it's the life of hockey,” he said. “Everybody has been, at some point, in their career probably in that situation. At the end of the day, it's always about yourself and how you can get better and all that. So that's what I'm trying to do.

"I try to come in here every day with a smile on my face. Hockey is the best thing in the world, so I just try to come in here and have fun and do my job. That's it."

If Crawford is ready to return on Thursday, that probably means Forsberg will be placed on waivers Wednesday. If he does get claimed, Forsberg must be on the NHL roster for at least 10 games and/or 30 days before being eligible to go through the waiver process again. So he cannot be stashed in the minors if claimed by another team.

That means his fate really depends on whether an NHL team is in need of an everyday backup goaltender.

"I really have no idea,” Forsberg said of whether or not he believes he would get through waivers. “It all depends on the situations and other teams, where other teams like me, I don't know. I don't want to focus on it. I just want to do my best right now to be prepared for whatever happens."