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Met Mile, Los Alamitos Derby, top turf races at Belmont in weekend U.S. horse racing

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July 3 (UPI) — The Met Mile and some magnificent turf races at Belmont Park, last-chance hopes for some Kentucky Derby hopefuls at Los Alamitos and the return of Delaware Park top weekend horse racing in North America.

Bellafina is back in action at Los Al, exactly two years after she started her career on that track.

Let’s hop to it:

The Road to the Roses

Five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert’s once bountiful supply of 2020 Derby contenders has dwindled sharply in the past month, thanks to injuries and retirements.

So Thousand Words get another chance in a field of just five for Saturday’s $150,000 Grade III Los Alamitos Derby. Thousand Words, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, won his first three starts, including the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity in December and the Grade III Robert B. Lewis in February.

Then, as the waters got deeper, he was fourth in the Grade II San Felipe and 11th in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap over a sloppy track in his most recent start, in April. He’s been working steadily at Santa Anita and carries Baffert’s hopes to win this for the fourth straight year.

Another in this short field who might be getting a last chance at Derby glory is Anneau d’Or. He was second in both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Los Alamitos Futurity but then has flopped in three tough chances this year.

The other three are two maiden winners and one still a maiden so if Thousand Words and/or Anneau d’Or can’t handle them, expectations will be adjusted.

The race offers 20 points for the winner on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard with 8, 4 and 2 points for the minor placings. Thousand Words is ranked No. 17 on the list with 25 points. Anneau d’Or is No. 20, with 22 points. Tiz the Law leads with 272.

Sunday’s $100,000 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows has a very well-matched field of six to go 1 1/16 miles. The oddsmaker has Shashashakemeup, a Shackleford colt, the 2-1 favorite but any of them seems possible. Trainer Steve Asmussen brings Billy Batts and Bill Mott sends Acre.

The Road to the Oaks

Piece of My Heart and Comical, the favorites in a field of eight, drew the inside gates for Saturday’s $300,000 Grade III Delaware Oaks.

Those two finished 1-2 in the Gardenia Stakes at Oaklawn Park May 1 with Piece of My Heart leading all the way and Comical unable to make up the difference.

Comical has the better overall record, including a second in the Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita and a victory in the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga last summer. Three others enter after winning their last start but all will have to step things up a bit to figure here.

Strong Flag and Dynasty of Her Own top a field of seven for Sunday’s $100,000 Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows. The former, a Strong Mandate filly, has yet to beat winners.

Dynasty of Her Own, a daughter of Shanghai Bobby, comes from California where she won the California Oaks on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather track in her last start.

Turf

Chad Brown saddles three of the eight entered for Saturday’s $400,000 Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park and all would be given a chance in a race with loads of talent.

Two of them — Instilled Regard and Devamani — were last seen finishing 1-2 in the Grade II Fort Marcy at 1 1/8 miles over the course. This is 1 1/4 miles. Brown’s third starter, Rockemperor, finished second in the Grade II Charlie Whittingham at Santa Anita last time out but was DQ’d to third.

Others in the Manhattan include the venerable Sadler’s Joy, who was third in this race in 2017 and second in 2018, and Channel Maker, a two-time Group 1 winner on the Belmont greensward who needs to turn around a slide.

Saturday’s $125,000 Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park attracted eight 3-year-olds, several with chances but none setting the heart aflutter.

Gufo, a Declaration of War colt trained by Christophe Clement, has won three straight, most recently the English Channel Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and is the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.

Vanzzy has won twice on all-weather tracks but hasn’t matched that on the grass. Pixelate has been in the frame in minor turf stakes at Aqueduct, Sam Houston, Fair Grounds and Churchill Downs.

Turf Mile

Brown has two in Saturday’s $150,000 Grade III Poker at Belmont Park — both lightly raced 4-year-old colts and both with big chances.

Valid Point won his first three starts last year, including the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington Park, a day in which Brown swept all the stakes races on the card. He was 10th in the season finale at Keeneland and hasn’t been seen since.

Value Proposition takes a step up in class but was ultra impressive in his last start, earning a 100 Beyer Speed Figure in winning over the course and distance June 3. Got Stormy also is in here and if the 5-year-old mare can find her old form, she could show them all a thing or two.

Filly & Mare Turf

Saturday’s $50,000 Christiana Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Delaware Park has a field of nine to go 1 1/16 miles out of the infield chute. None is a standout although Pure Rhythm comes off a maiden win, by 11 lengths, at Tampa Bay Downs and Toolcat was a determined winner in her first start on the grass June 1, also at Tampa.

Classic/Dirt Mile

McKinzie, Vekoma and Code of Honor star in Saturday’s $500,000 Grade I Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. Better known as the “Met Mile,” the race is a “Win and You’re In” for the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and drew a worthy field of eight.

McKinzie is a three-time Grade I winner and has earned more than $3.1 million. Code of Honor also is a Grade I winner — that the 2019 Travers at Saratoga.

Vekoma has won five of seven career starts and exits a 7 1/4-lengths win in the Grade I Carter, going 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont Park. He earned a 110 Beyer Speed Figure for that.

Upset seekers might look to the Godolphin homebred, Endorsed, or Razorback Handicap winner Warrior’s Charge.

Last year’s Belmont Stakes winner, Sir Winson, is back in Saturday’s $200,000 Grade II Suburban at Belmont Park. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that the field also includes the second- and third-place finishers from that race, Tacitus and Joevia.

Sir Winston has been less than impressive since the 10-1 upset in the Belmont and Joevia has been suffering through a long dull streak. Tacitus, by contrast, finished second in the Travers and third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

He started 2020 with a late-running fifth-place finish in the $20 million Saudi Cup and then was a credible fourth in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap.

Mr Ritz, a 5-year-old, English-bred son of Oasis Dream, is the even-money favorite on the morning line for Saturday’s $175,000 (Canadian) Eclipse Stakes at on the Woodbine all-weather track.

Trained by Josie Carroll, Mr Ritz makes his first start since winning the Grade II Autumn Stakes at Woodbine last November. He was second in last year’s Eclipse. Carroll also saddles Avie’s Flatter, who was second in both the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes last year and third in the Breeders’ Stakes.

The Flatter colt was third in his 2020 debut in a Woodbine allowance event. Seven are set for this heat.

Nine are set for Sunday’s $100,000 Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap with Night Ops the 5-2 morning-line favorite.

The 4-year-old Warrior’s Reward colt, trained by Brad Cox, was fifth in last year’s Iowa Derby. He won the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park early in that meeting before posting a dull, ninth-place showing in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap May 2, his most recent outing.

Sir Anthony, another of those amazing Illinois-breds, won last year’s Cornhusker and returns winless in four intervening races, all graded stakes.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Bellafina returns to action as the favorite in a field of seven for Saturday’s $200,000 Grade II Great Lady M. Stakes at Los Alamitos.

The 4-year-old Quality Road filly won last year’s Grade I Santa Anita Oaks and then suffered a raft of tough beats, including a second behind Covfefe in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She finally was back in the winner’s circle after her most recent start, the Grade III Desert Stormer at Santa Anita.

The others in the Great Lady M. have more modest resumes although Hang a Star did jump up to finish second in the Desert Stormer at odds of almost 43-1. Zusha has been mixing it up in graded stakes but without winning.

Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Victory Ride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park drew five with Frank’s Rockette on the rail and likely to be well backed.

The daughter of Into Mischief has yet to miss a top-two finish in seven starts and was second in the Grade I Frizette over the course last autumn.

Saturday’s $75,000 Azalea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park has a field of six with the outside filly, Boerne, the 6-5 favorite. The Texas-bred daughter of Fed Biz saw a three-race win streak snapped when she finished second in the Game Face Stakes over the same track June 6.

Sprint

Six 3-year-olds are set to contest Saturday’s $75,000 Carry Back Stakes at Gulfstream Park — a real program-stabber. Double Crown, a Bourbon Courage gelding, is the narrow favorite with two wins from three previous starts.



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Bianca Andreescu skipping French Open, rest of season

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Sept. 23 (UPI) — 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu said she will not play in the upcoming French Open and will sit out the remainder of the 2020 season.

The 20-year-old Andreescu — currently ranked No. 7 in the world — announced her decision on social media, saying she wants to “focus on my health and training.”

“I have come to the difficult decision to skip the clay court swing this year and will be taking the remainder of the season off to focus on my health and training,” she wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “As hard as it was to come to this conclusion, I have so much to look forward to in 2021, including the Olympics.

“I want to use this time to focus on my game so I can come back stronger and better than ever. As always, your encouraging words and support meant the world to me and I look forward to getting back on the court and competing for Canada next year!”

Andreescu hasn’t competed on tour since withdrawing from a match during the WTA Finals in October 2019 because of a left knee injury. The same knee ailment prevented her from playing at the Australian Open in January.

Andreescu — the first Canadian to win a major singles trophy with her triumph in New York last year — also skipped this month’s U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges” surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and a lack of preparation time.

The 2020 French Open is set to begin Sunday in Paris. Andreescu is the third top-10 player on the women’s side to opt out of the tournament, joining No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and No. 3 Naomi Osaka.



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Fantasy football: Kelce, Andrews top Week 3 tight end rankings

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Sept. 24 (UPI) — Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Zach Ertz, Jared Cook and Tyler Higbee lead my Week 3 fantasy football tight end rankings for 2020.

Jonnu Smith, Darren Waller, Mike Gesicki, Noah Fant and Hunter Henry round out my Top 10 options at the position. Mo Alie-Cox of the Indianapolis Colts and Logan Thomas of the Washington Football Team are among my favorite sleepers this week.

An early explosion of offense around the league has led to increased relevance for tight ends through two weeks of the fantasy football season. Check out my weekly waiver wire article for more great options for your fantasy football team’s tight end slot in Week 3.

Here are some of my favorite players in this week’s Top 20 rankings:

TOP SHELF

The Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens should score in bunches in a high-octane Monday Night Football matchup. I expect Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce to be one of the most productive players in the game. Kelce is my top tight end this week.

The Ravens have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends this season. Kelce should have at least eight catches and has a great chance to score multiple times in Week 3.

Mark Andrews will be the tight end on the other side of the field when the Ravens take on Kelce’s Chiefs to cap off the Week 3 schedule.

Andrews scored twice in Week 1 and should return to the end zone in Week 3. He is my No. 2 tight end this week and should be in lineups regardless of league format.

SNEAKY PLAYS

Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee lands at No. 5 in my rankings. Higbee exploded for three touchdowns in Week 2 and should continue to be an integral part of the Rams offense.

I expect the tight end to catch at least five passes for 50 yards and to return to the end zone in a game against the New York Giants Sunday in Inglewood, Calif.

Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki hauled in eight catches for 130 yards and a score in Week 2. He should continue his breakout campaign on Thursday Night Football when the Dolphins face the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jaguars have allowed a league-high 198 recieving yards to tight ends this season. I expect Gesicki to see double-digit targets in Week 3 and turn that into a great fantasy football performance. He is my No. 8 tight end this week and is a must-start in leagues that require starting tight ends.

LONGSHOTS

Mo Alie-Cox has done a fantastic job as a replacement for injured Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle. He’ll return to that role in Week 3 when the Colts host the New York Jets, who just allowed two touchdowns to San Francisco 49ers tight end Jordan Reed.

Alie-Cox had 111 yards on five catches in Week 2. I expect him to come close to 100 receiving yards again in Week 3. He is No. 11 in my rankings, but should only be in lineups for leagues that require starting tight ends.

Washington Football Team tight end Logan Thomas is my No. 15 tight end option and lands in streaming territory for Week 3.

Thomas had a touchdown in Week 1 and hauled in four catches in Week 2. He should surpass that total in this game against the Cleveland Browns, who have allowed the second-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2020.

Cleveland allowed 11 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown to Cincinnati Bengals tight ends in Week 2. Thomas could end up as a Top 10 fantasy football tight end for Week 3 if he gets into the end zone against the Browns.

Week 3 fantasy football tight end rankings

1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs at BAL

2. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens vs. KC

3. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles vs. CIN

4. Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints vs. GB

5. Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams at BUF

6. Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans at MIN

7. Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders at NE

8. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins at JAX

9. Noah Fant, Denver Broncos vs. TB

10. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers vs. CAR

11. Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts vs. NYJ

12. Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons vs. CHI

13. Evan Engram, New York Giants vs. SF

14. Jordan Reed, San Francisco 49ers at NYG

15. Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team at CLE

16. Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns vs. WAS

17. Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. HOU

18. Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles vs. CIN

19. T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions at ARI

20. Chris Herndon, New York Jets at IND

This week in the National Football League

The Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff celebrates after a first down in the final minutes of the fourth quarter in Philadelphia on Sunday. The Rams defeated the Eagles 37-19. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo



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College football: Notre Dame-Wake Forest postponed due to COVID-19

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Sept. 22 (UPI) — Saturday’s game between Notre Dame and Wake Forest has been postponed after the Fighting Irish announced 13 players are currently in isolation.

Notre Dame said in a statement Tuesday that seven student-athletes tested positive for the coronavirus out of 94 tests administered Monday. Combined with testing results from last week, 13 players are isolated — with 10 in quarantine.

Due to the positive results over the past two weeks, Notre Dame has paused all football-related activities until further testing is completed. Both schools are working on rescheduling the matchup.

“With student-athlete health and safety our primary focus, we will continue to follow our prevention protocols and ongoing testing procedures,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “We managed an increase in positivity rates in August, and the players handled it wonderfully.

“We knew COVID-19 would present challenges throughout the season, and we’ll always put student-athlete health and safety at the forefront of our decision making. We look forward to resuming team activities and getting back on the playing field.”

Wake Forest athletic director John Currie said the programs are attempting to reschedule the game for Oct. 3 — an open date that both schools share.

“I know everyone involved is saddened to be unable to play this weekend, but based on the circumstances it is the right decision,” Currie said in a statement Tuesday. “We are already discussing options for rescheduling with the ACC and our future opponents, including the possibility of playing on the October 3rd weekend.”

Notre Dame beat South Florida 52-0 at home last week and opened the 2020 season with a victory over Duke.

Wake Forest began the season with a blowout loss to top-ranked Clemson in Week 1 and a 45-42 setback to North Carolina State in Week 2.

This is now the fourth ACC contest impacted because of coronavirus issues.



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