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: Final pregame thoughts on Redskins vs. Packers

Need to Know: Final pregame thoughts on Redskins vs. Packers

Here is what you need to know on Sunday, September 23, 15 days before the Washington Redskins visit the New Orleans Saints.  

Talking points

The wide receivers will have opportunities

It’s a copycat league but the Packers defense is unlikely to emulate the soft Cover 2 scheme that the Colts used to frustrate Alex Smith and the wide receivers last week. Green Bay plays a more aggressive defense with more blitzing and man coverage and they aren’t going to change that up today because of what the Colts did. This should give Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, and Jamison Crowder some opportunities to get chunk plays. It won’t be easy, but the chances will be there for the taking. 

Watch the Packers running game

The Packers don’t run the ball very often; the last two years they were 29th and 27th in the league in rushing attempts and so far this year they are 27th. Why run the ball when you have a weapon like Aaron Rodgers? While they are effective when they do run, with their average per rushing attempt ranking in the top 10 in both 2016 and 2017, it doesn’t always matter. The last four times they rushed for over 100 yards in a game they have an overtime win and three losses. It must be noted that Rodgers played in only one of those games, so we know what makes the difference there. 

A better day for Peterson?

All week long I have been talking about the matchup between the Packers stout three-man front of nose tackle Kenny Clark and ends Mike Daniels and Muhammad Wilkerson against the Redskins’ patchwork interior offensive line. I think that the Packers have the edge here and that could mean some tough sledding for Adrian Peterson. I still think that Peterson will be able to get outside some and he should have a better day than the 11 carries for 20 yards he had against the Colts. The Redskins will need extended drives for touchdowns if they are going to win and Peterson will need to be a part of it. 

Which way will the Redskins go?

This Redskins team is an inconsistent bunch. It would not be surprising at all if they followed up their flat effort against the Colts with a solid performance against the Packers. I think the passing game will be sharper and the defense will keep the Packers from being in third and short too often. Still, Rodgers will get his and the Redskins will find themselves in a shootout. I pointed out earlier this week that it’s hard to beat Green Bay if you don’t score at least 30 points. The Redskins haven’t done that since doing it back-to-back in Weeks 10 and 11 last year. They lost both of those games, to the Vikings and Saints. Maybe they can do it and I think they’ll make a run at it but it will come up short. 

Packers 28, Redskins 24

Injury report

Game status

Out: Apke (hamstring), Lauvao (calf)
Questionable: Harris (concussion), Richardson (shoulder), Brown (oblique)

For the Packers, QB Aaron Rodgers (knee) questionable, S Kevin King (groin) out

Full injury report here

The agenda

Today: Redskins Kickoff 12 noon, NBC Sports Washington; Redskins vs. Packers 1 pm, FOX

Upcoming: Redskins @ Saints (October 8) 15 days; Panthers @ Redskins21; Cowboys @ Redskins 28

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Capitals trim two more from roster, sending pair of goalies to Hershey

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Capitals trim two more from roster, sending pair of goalies to Hershey

Washington made a number of cuts Saturday morning to trim their roster down to 43 players

On Saturday night, they cut it down to 41 as the team announced goalies Parker Milner and Adam Morrison were assigned to AHL Hershey.

Milner and Morrison’s departure leaves Washington with four goalies on the current roster in Braden Holtby, Pheonix Copley, Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov.

The trade of Philipp Grubauer left the backup role in Washington a matter of some question heading into the season, but the team’s top four was never really in doubt. Saturday’s move to send Milner and Morrison to the AHL only confirms what we already knew.

With Hershey’s training camp set to start on Monday, the Bears will obviously need two goalies which explains why the move was made now. 

This will likely only be a temporary move, however, as Vanecek and Samsonov are likely to be Hershey’s goalies heading into the regular season. For now, keeping them on the Capitals roster allows them to continue practicing against better competition and will allow them the opportunity for more work in the preseason.

The Capitals still have another three preseason games left to play, the next of which will take place on Tuesday in St. Louis.