La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.
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Two horses dueled down the stretch of the 148th Kentucky Derby. For most of the final moments of the race, spectators at Canterbury Park cheered on as they focused on Epicenter, the betting favorite at 4-1, and the Minnesota-owned Zandon.
Could Zandon run down the powerfully built Epicenter and put Minnesota in the spotlight?
But Rich Strike appeared on the inside over the final seconds and edged both to win, throwing Canterbury into stunned silence.
Seriously. I ran down from the press box to roam around the betting areas following the race, hoping to hear someone celebrating. There was nothing, other than horseplayers mumbling "unbelievable" or "I can't believe it." There were some seriously long faces after the race.
No one was in line to cash a ticket. Rich Strike, at 81-1, became the second-biggest long shot to win the Derby, behind Donerail, a 91-1 longshot in 1913. Zandon threatened Epicenter down the stretch for a bit but could not catch him. And both got dusted by Rich Strike. Zozos, the other Minnesota-owned horse in the race, started strong but finished 10th.
But officials at Canterbury reported after the race that one person affiliated with the track — meaning they either bet at the track, online or through its wagering app — had Rich Strike in a superfecta that paid off $321,500 for a $1 dollar bet. That's a lot of Mint Juleps. Surely, those who love longshots probably had Rich Strike in some other parlays.
Hours before the race, Zandon was landing in plenty of parlays. And the crowd swelled in the moments leading to post time. For the first time, Canterbury held a fashion show before the race that drew more than 500 spectators. In all, officials estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 fans turned out for Derby Day at the park.
It was a Derby that no one will forget any time soon.
Recruiting's big wrinkles
Name, image and likeness (NIL) deals are now a factor in the college recruiting process. That, combined with the freedom provided by the transfer portal, enables athletes — legally — to follow the money when deciding to switch schools.
Commissioners for the Pac-12 and SEC met with U.S. senators on Thursday to ask for legislation to help combat these issues. The portal and NIL deals are the new way of life in college athletics. They can put college programs in tough spots when trying to attract athletes.
"It's an added challenge. It's an added piece to it," Gophers men's basketball coach Ben Johnson said. "What we have tried to do is work intelligently around that issue.
"If there is a kid we're recruiting and the first thing he talks about is maybe a large NIL number, well then we probably move on."
There are around 1,400 players in the men's basketball transfer portal, and about the same number in the women's portal. That's nearly an average of four players per program that could be looking for another school. Johnson, who recently landed transfers Dawson Garcia, Ta'Lon Cooper and Jaden Henley, would like to add another player, but it must be the right fit.
He laughed when asked how many times he checks the portal each day.
"It's an every five-minute thing," Johnson said. "It's a sickness."
Lynx need strong start
The WNBA season is upon us, and the Lynx intend to avoid duplicating their 0-4 start from last season.
"Last year being my first year I wasn't really sure what to expect and this year came better prepared," forward-center Natalie Achonwa said. "And I think we're taking more advantage of getting ready in the moment and not just going through training camp but taking advantage of every day."
It still will be hard to avoid stumbling out of the block after a flurry of moves last week.
The Lynx had to cut guards Layshia Clarendon, who's still recovering from a right fibula stress fracture, and Crystal Dangerfield, the 2020 rookie of the year, as part of a roster crunch. They signed guard Odyssey Sims, an All-Star with the Lynx in 2019. Free-agent Angel McCoughtry is recovering from injury. As the Lynx ready for their home opener Sunday, they are in a spot, trying to start fast when they are down some players.
They will have to ride out the opening weeks as McCoughtry gets healthy and Sims re-acclimates herself to the team. They also are waiting for Kayla McBride to return from playing in Europe. Star forward Naphessa Collier, who is about to give birth to her first child, wants to return before the season is over.
The Lynx could be a tough out by the end of the season. They just have to survive the start.
... AND TWO PREDICTIONS ...
Big step up to big leagues
Injuries are giving Jose Miranda a shot at the big leagues, but it will be a rough baptism. Look for him to hit around .235 over the next month, showing occasional power as he adjusts to tougher pitching.
Game 5 will be fun
Game 4 of the Wild-Blues series is Sunday, with the series returning to St. Paul on Tuesday night. That should be a good one; the prediction here is that this series will be tied at 2-2 as it returns to Xcel Energy Center.