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Medina Spirit gives Baffert record 7th Kentucky Derby win

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — John Velazquez was in a familiar place, in the lead aboard Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby and holding off the stretch bid of three challengers. This time, Bob Baffert couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Medina Spirit won by a half-length on Saturday, giving Baffert his seventh victory, the most of any trainer in the race’s 147-year history. The jockey and trainer — both Hall of Famers — teamed up eight months ago to win a pandemic-delayed Derby in September with Authentic, who raced to an early lead and hung on. That wasn’t so surprising. This one was. Sent off at 12-1 — astronomical odds for a colt trained by the white-haired, two-time Triple Crown winner — Medina Spirit was in a street fight thundering down the stretch. The dark brown colt was pressed by Mandaloun on his outside. Hot Rod Charlie was coming fast outside of Mandaloun, with 5-2 favourite Essential Quality giving chase on the far outside. “I kept waiting for all those horses to pass him,” Baffert said. “When he got to the eighth pole, we said, ‘This guy has got a shot.’” Velazquez knew he had plenty of horse left. “We got to the 16th pole and he put his ears down and kept fighting,” the jockey said. “I was so proud of him.” In the paddock, Baffert watched in amazement as one of the least heralded Derby runners of his long career dug in at the front. “You could tell he was laying it down and Johnny was riding hard,” Baffert said. “He was just relentless.” Medina Spirit led all the way and ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.02. He paid $26.20, $12 and $7.60. The victory was worth $1.86 million. Velazquez earned his fourth Derby victory aboard the colt that was purchased as a yearling for $1,000 and was a bargain-basement buy at $35,000 for current owner Amr Zedan of Saudi Arabia. By comparison, Zedan recently paid $1.7 million for an unraced 2-year-old. “He doesn’t know how much he cost,” Baffert said, “but what a little racehorse.” Baffert punched his right arm in the air after watching the finish on the video board. He was buried in celebratory hugs by his wife, Jill, and youngest son, Bode. Jill Baffert had reason to celebrate earlier, when a horse she co-owns and is trained by her husband won a $500,000 race on the undercard. “I’m really, really surprised,” the 68-year-old trainer said of Medina Spirit. It wasn’t false modesty. Baffert had been low-key about his chances after two of his best horses — Life Is Good and Concert Tour — were derailed along the Derby trail. Medina Spirit isn’t the typical high-priced talent with a fancy pedigree in Baffert’s California barn. “I cannot believe he won this race,” the trainer said. “That little horse, that was him, all guts. He’s always shown that he’s been an overachiever. His heart is bigger than his body.” Medina Spirit has never finished worse than second in six career starts and two of his three losses came to Life Is Good, who likely would have been the Derby favourite had he not been injured. “I’ve rehearsed this speech in the shower and treadmill,” Zedan said. “Never thought I was going to do it, but here I am.” Medina Spirit broke sharply out of the gate while Essential Quality and 9-2 second choice Rock Your World bumped shortly after the start. “We were done,” Rock Your World’s trainer John Sadler said. “No chance.” Essential Quality was five horses wide in both the first and second turns before taking aim at Medina Spirit in the stretch and coming up short in fourth place. “He didn’t get the greatest trip,” trainer Brad Cox said of the favourite. “That can happen when you start from the 14-hole.” Mandaloun — Cox’s other entry — finished second and returned $23.00 and $13.40. Hot Rod Charlie, partly owned by five former Brown University football players, was another half-length back in third and paid $5.20 to show. Baffert won back-to-back, having tied Ben Jones with his sixth victory last year when the race was run in September without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. “The seven wins? I can’t believe I won two,” Baffert said. “That’s what I love about this business: Nobody knows for sure.” A week earlier, Baffert sat in front of the Arkansas Racing Commission appealing a 15-day suspension that was part of his punishment for a pair of drug positives involving two of his horses from May 2020. He was successful, with the commission voting unanimously to reduce his fines and overturn the suspension. “I’m just so grateful I can still compete at this level,” Baffert said. Velazquez became the first jockey to win consecutive Derbies since Victor Espinoza in 2014-15. The 49-year-old rider also completed the Kentucky Oaks-Derby double for the first time since Calvin Borel in 2009, winning the $1 million race for fillies on Friday. Velazquez had told Baffert a night earlier not to underestimate Medina Spirit, named for the second holiest city in Islam and capital of the Medina province in Saudi Arabia. “Every time I asked him for a little more, he gave me more,” Velazquez said. The Derby went off on a sun-splashed day with attendance of 51,838 — about 100,000 fewer than usual. Fans were told to wear masks inside the track, but plenty of them did not. O Besos finished fifth, followed by Midnight Bourbon, Keepmeinmind, Helium and Known Agenda. Highly Motivated was 10th, ahead of Sainthood, Like The King, Bourbonic, Hidden Stash, Brooklyn Strong, Super Stock, Rock Your World, Dynamic One and Soup and Sandwich. Keepmeinmind is trained by Calgary’s Robertino Diodoro, who had a horse in the Derby for the first time. Woodbine trainer Mark Casse trains Helium and Canadian-bred Soup and Sandwich. ___ More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Beth Harris, The Associated Press

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Clippers look to clean up the little things vs. Knicks

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Taking care of the little things has become a point of emphasis for Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue as his club enters the final week of the regular season.

 

And it will certainly be watched closely during Sunday’s home contest against the New York Knicks.

 

“We’ve been messing around too much,” Lue said. “We have to be a more disciplined, solid team, which we have been all season. But lately we’ve been messing around, playing around with the game a little too much for me right now.”

 

Over the last five games, the Clippers have averaged 16 turnovers a contest, tied for third worst in the NBA. Los Angeles is 3-2 in those contests.

 

The Clippers (45-22) are currently the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with five games left in the regular season. After the Clippers finish a four-game homestand against the Knicks, they will finish the regular season with four games on the road.

 

Los Angeles is 2-1 so far during the homestand. The Clippers defeated the Knicks earlier this season on the road in New York, 129-115 on Jan. 31.

 

The Clippers recently completed a three-game season sweep over their crosstown rivals, rolling the Los Angeles Lakers 118-94 on Thursday.

 

“We’re working on ourselves every day,” Clipper big man DeMarcus Cousins said. “We’re preparing for the long haul, with the playoffs right around the corner. We’re just trying to tune up everything, fix the small mistakes we make on a nightly basis and try to get as close to perfect as we can before this playoff run happens.”

 

New York (37-30) is currently the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks are 2-2 on a six-game road trip that finishes with games against the Clippers on Sunday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.

 

“These games are just testing us,” Knicks forward Taj Gibson said. “Every game is a test. You can’t just sneak into the playoffs. We’re playing some really good teams right now, and it’s only going to make us better.”

 

The Knicks are only a half-game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks (37-31), the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. New York is looking to hold them off, along with the Miami Heat (36-31) and Boston Celtics (35-32) to maintain home-court advantage in the postseason.

 

All five of New York’s remaining games are against teams headed to the playoffs. With the Knicks in the postseason for the first time in eight years, it’s up to head coach Tom Thibodeau to get his team mentally prepared for the playoffs.

 

“I like these games for our team,” Thibodeau said. “I think it shows us where we are, and what we need to work on. That old saying, ‘Iron sharpens iron.’ And so hopefully we can improve and it will help us down the road.”

 

Thibodeau will continue to be a little shorthanded on the bench, with injured guards Immanuel Quickley (ankle) and Alec Burks (knee) sidelined, along with center Mitchell Robinson (foot).

 

Quickley suffered a sprained ankle earlier this week against the Denver Nuggets. Burks missed eight games earlier due to the league’s health and safety protocols and then suffered a minor knee injury on his return to the floor on Monday that leaves his availability in question. Robinson is out indefinitely after having surgery on his right foot in late March.

 

–Field Level Media

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NHL roundup: Predators clinch playoff berth

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Luke Kunin scored two goals and the host Nashville Predators sealed a playoff spot with a 3-1 win over the Central Division champion Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

 

Predators goaltender Juuse Saros made 21 saves and held a shutout into the third period in what was a preview of a first-round postseason series. The teams conclude the regular season with a rematch Monday night in Nashville.

 

Kunin scored in the second and third periods for a 2-0 Predators lead. Mikael Granlund assisted on both goals.

 

Carolina’s goal came from Morgan Geekie less than 1 1/2 minutes after Kunin’s second goal, but Erik Haula sealed the outcome with an empty-net tally. Carolina goalie Alex Nedeljkovic made 27 saves while taking a loss in regulation for the first time in his past nine outings.

 

Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2

 

Toronto overcame a 2-0 deficit with three straight second-period goals to defeat visiting Montreal and clinch the North Division title.

 

The Maple Leafs won the final two regular-season games between the teams to take the season series 7-2-1. Jack Campbell made 21 saves for the victory.

 

Pierre Engvall, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner scored for the Maple Leafs. Brett Kulak and Nick Suzuki scored for the Canadiens, who got 23 saves from Jake Allen.

 

Penguins 1, Sabres 0

 

Jeff Carter scored and goaltender Maxime Lagace stopped all 29 shots he faced to lead Pittsburgh past visiting Buffalo as both teams concluded the regular season.

 

Several hours later, Pittsburgh clinched the East Division and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The Penguins secured first place after they won and the Washington Capitals failed to record a regulation-time victory against the Philadelphia Flyers.

 

The Sabres finished last not only in the East but also overall in the NHL. Buffalo rookie goalie Michael Houser, pressed into the No. 1 role because of a series of injuries, made 22 saves in his fourth career start.

 

Panthers 5, Lightning 1

 

Alex Wennberg scored three goals to lead Florida past Tampa Bay in Sunrise, Fla., and into a two-point lead on the Lightning in the race for home-ice advantage in their Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series.

 

The two teams conclude the regular season on Monday. Florida needs one point to clinch home ice; Tampa Bay needs a regulation win. Sam Bennett and Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for Florida, and each added an assist. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots.

 

The teams amassed a combined 156 minutes of penalty time and nine misconduct penalties. Luke Schenn scored for the Lightning, and Andrei Vasilevskiy took the loss with 30 saves.

 

Capitals 2, Flyers 1 (OT)

 

Conor Sheary scored with 59.4 seconds left in overtime as Washington defeated visiting Philadelphia.

 

Lars Eller scored with 40 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. On the game-winner, Sheary took a quick pass from Nic Dowd and fired a shot that trickled between goalie Alex Lyon’s pads.

 

The injury-depleted Capitals were even more short-handed in this contest. T.J. Oshie appeared to hurt his knee late in the second period and was ruled out with a lower-body injury, leaving Washington with only 10 forwards during the third period and overtime.

 

Rangers 5, Bruins 4

 

Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere and Vitali Kravtsov scored in a span of less than five minutes during a four-goal third period, and New York completed its season with a victory at Boston.

 

Zibanejad scored again late, K’Andre Miller also had a goal and Pavel Buchnevich had three assists as the Rangers snapped a five-game losing streak. Keith Kinkaid had 28 saves before exiting during the third with an injury. Igor Shesterkin stopped seven shots the rest of the way for New York.

 

Nick Ritchie, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron scored for the Bruins, whose six-game points streak came to an end. Charlie McAvoy had two assists and Tuukka Rask stopped 18 shots.

 

Islanders 5, Devils 1

 

Brock Nelson scored twice in a span of 3:40 in the second period as New York scored four unanswered goals in a rout of visiting New Jersey in the final regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.

 

Jordan Eberle scored late in the first period, and Nelson struck twice by swatting in a pair of rebounds after New Jersey’s Andreas Johnsson tied the game less than five minutes into the second. Former Devil Kyle Palmieri and Mathew Barzal scored in a span of 37 seconds early in the third as the Islanders halted a three-game losing streak.

 

The Islanders moved within two points of the third-place Bruins. The Islanders visit Boston on Monday night for their final regular-season game, but the Bruins also visit the Capitals on Tuesday night.

 

Senators 4, Jets 2

 

Tim Stutzle posted his first career hat trick to pace visiting Ottawa to a victory over Winnipeg, handing the Jets their sixth consecutive home defeat.

 

Connor Brown also scored and added two assists, Shane Pinto collected two assists and Filip Gustavsson made 27 saves for the Senators. Ottawa, which has long been eliminated from playoff contention, is on an 8-1-1 run.

 

Mason Appleton and Mark Scheifele scored for the Jets, who have lost eight of nine games but remain in third place in the North Division. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19 shots.

 

Blue Jackets 5, Red Wings 4 (OT)

 

Max Domi scored with 20.4 seconds remaining in overtime and Columbus won its season finale over visiting Detroit.

 

Domi scored from the slot off a feed from Oliver Bjorkstrand. Cam Atkinson, Bjorkstrand, Eric Robinson and Jack Roslovic scored in regulation for Columbus.

 

Jakub Vrana, Danny DeKeyser, Sam Gagner and Valtteri Filppula scored for Detroit.

 

Wild 4, Ducks 3 (OT)

 

Victor Rask scored with 2:14 left in the extra session to lift Minnesota past Anaheim in St. Paul, Minn.

 

Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Hartman and Nick Bonino also scored, and Cam Talbot made 19 saves for the Wild, who finished 7-1-0 against the Ducks this season. Kirill Kaprizov had two assists for his 13th multi-point game, adding to his franchise rookie records.

 

Rickard Rakell and Max Comtois each had a goal and an assist for the Ducks. Ryan Miller made 21 saves in the final game of his 18-year NHL career.

 

–Field Level Media

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Canada to skip Olympic qualifier due to COVID-19

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Gymnastics Canada said on Friday they have decided not to enter teams in the Pan American Championships being held in Brazil due to health and safety concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The June 4-13 event in Rio de Janeiro was Canada‘s last chance qualifier event for the Tokyo Olympics in men’s artistic, women’s artistic, and rhythmic gymnastics.

“We realize the impact these decisions have on our athletes, especially those senior athletes that have dedicated so many years to their ambition of competing at the Olympic Games,” Gymnastics Canada Chief Executive Ian Moss said in a statement.

“We will do everything we can not only to support all athletes and coaches impacted by this decision through this difficult period, but to also provide hope and opportunity moving forward towards their international goals in the future.”

Canada had the opportunity to qualify one more athlete in men’s and women’s artistic, respectively, and one individual and one group in rhythmic gymnastics at the competition.

The event was also a qualifier for trampoline gymnastics, but there is one more chance to qualify for that discipline at a World Cup competition to be held in Italy in the coming weeks.

Athletes and coaches had the opportunity to appeal the decision and Gymnastics Canada said it went through the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada arbitration process with these individuals to show transparency around the decision.

The result of the appeal, which ruled in Gymnastics Canada‘s favour, was delivered to all parties on Thursday.

 

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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