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Kentucky Derby to allow spectators, with masks encouraged



June 25 (UPI) — The 2020 Kentucky Derby will be held with spectators Sept. 5 in Louisville, Ky., Churchill Downs Racetrack officials announced Thursday.

The Derby usually is held before the Belmont Stakes in the Triple Crown series, but was moved from May 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will now be the second leg of the Triple Crown after Tiz the Law won last weekend’s Belmont Stakes. The Preakness will complete the Triple Crown on Oct. 3 in Baltimore.

No fans were allowed to attend the Belmont Stakes on Saturday in Elmont, N.Y., but that will change for the famed Derby.

Churchill Downs Racetrack officials said they consulted with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Kentucky public health officials before they decided to allow fans at the Derby.

Derby week will be from Sept. 1 to 5, with the Kentucky Oaks race Sept. 4 at Churchill Downs.

Officials said guests at the Derby will be “consistently and frequently encouraged” to wear a mask at all times unless seated. Guests also be asked to wash their hands for 20 seconds or sanitize them frequently and socially distance themselves from others when possible.

“We truly appreciate the leadership of the governor of Kentucky … and all of the hard work, collaboration and guidance that state and local officials and public health experts have provided us to safely and responsibly host Kentucky Derby Week in September with spectators,” Churchill Downs Racetrack president Kevin Flanery said.

He added: “Our team is deeply committed to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever, and we will take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety of all who attend and participate in the Derby.

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have established a comprehensive set of operating procedures, which include a multitude of precautionary measures to be followed while fans are in attendance at our facility. We are determined to keep our customers, employees and communities as safe as we responsibly can.”

Churchill Downs’ plan for the event includes a capacity reduction, limited access at facilities and a reduced number of credentials for staff, media and guests. Barn access will be restricted to essential personnel.

The allowed number of Derby spectators has not been announced. A crowd of 150,729 watched there last year.

More information on tickets and seating areas is to be released soon, track officials said.

“The impact of the Kentucky Derby extends well beyond the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs,” Flanery said. “It is an incredibly important time for the city of Louisville and the commonwealth of Kentucky both culturally, economically and with respect to our time-honored traditions.

“Both employees and guests are asked to take an active role in following all guidelines. We must all do our part to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience.”

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U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open



Sept. 17 (UPI) — Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, who won the 2020 U.S. Open last week, announced Thursday night that she will skip this month’s French Open.

Osaka — ranked third in the world — said she decided to withdraw from the upcoming major because of a lingering left hamstring injury and a lack of preparation time on the clay surface.

“Unfortunately I won’t be able to play the French Open this year,” Osaka wrote on social media. “My hamstring is still sore so I won’t have enough time to prepare for the clay — these two tournaments came too close to each other for me this time. I wish the organizers and players all the best.”

The French Open is set to begin Sept. 27 in Paris after being rescheduled from its traditional spring dates due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Osaka, 22, has never advanced past the third round of the French tournament.

Osaka, who had her hamstring taped throughout the U.S. Open, earned her third major title in New York after a three-set comeback win over Victoria Azarenka.

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Chicago White Sox beat Minnesota Twins to clinch AL playoff spot



Sept. 17 (UPI) — The Chicago White Sox are back in the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade after earning a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.

With the victory, the White Sox clinched their first postseason berth since 2008. It is only the franchise’s second trip to the playoffs since the club won the World Series in 2005.

The White Sox are the first American League team to clinch a spot in the 2020 postseason. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first NL club to punch their ticket to the playoffs.

“Everybody in there is extremely happy,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work over the years. Hopefully, it’s just a first step, and we continue to move forward.”

White Sox slugger Jose Abreu fueled the win with his 17th home run of the season. The homer — which tied the game at one run apiece in the fourth inning — gave Abreu 50 RBIs in the team’s first 50 games this year, making him the first MLB player to reach 50 RBIs in 2020 and the first to do it in 50 contests since the Detroit TigersMiguel Cabrera in 2013.

Abreu tied the game again in the seventh inning when he legged out an infield single to score Jarrod Dyson from third. That sequence set up the winner — a line drive double to left field by Eloy Jimenez to plate pinch runner Yolmer Sanchez.

“For me, that was a really special moment,” Jimenez said. “It’s really fun, you know. At the beginning of the year, I would have been disappointed if we didn’t make the playoffs. Now, we’ve made it, and we have to continue to play hard and win our division.”

“We’re not done,” Renteria said. “This is just one phase of it. Hopefully, we’re continuing to be better.”

This week in Major League Baseball

New York Yankees Luke Voit (L) celebrates with Aaron Hicks after hitting a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in New York City on Thursday. The Yankees defeated the Blue Jays 10-7. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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Miami Heat rally past Boston Celtics for 2-0 series lead



Sept. 17 (UPI) — The Miami Heat mounted another comeback to beat the Boston Celtics 106-101 and take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night.

The Heat were down by as much as 17 points in the second quarter and trailed the Celtics by 13 at halftime before exploding for 37 points in the third frame. Miami had been 0-21 in postseason games when trailing by at least that many at the half.

The Heat are now 1-21 in such games and sit two wins away from their first NBA finals since 2014.

“We like to make it hard on ourselves,” Heat star Jimmy Butler said. “We like being down double digits and being the comeback kids.”

Goran Dragic led the Heat with 25 points and five assists. Bam Adebayo, who had a clutch block in the closing seconds of Game 1, recorded 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson scored 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point range to end his offensive woes. In the Heat’s last two playoff games, he was 2 of 9 from deep and scored a combined eight points.

Butler finished with 14 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists. Jae Crowder scored 12 points, and Tyler Herro added 11 off the bench.

Kemba Walker had a team-best 23 points for the Celtics, who also got 21 apiece from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Brown failed to make a corner 3-pointer that would have tied the game with 15 seconds left, and Butler sealed it with two free throws with 7.4 seconds left.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is set for Saturday.

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