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May 6, 2017

Saturday Sport: Jockeys and cyclists in Pink. Sidney Crosby's NHL return

In the United States:
The 2017 Kentucky Derby will be run this afternoon at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky.  This storied event has been called the fastest two minutes in sports.  This afternoons race will be  the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.  On May 17, 1875, in front of an estimated crowd of 10,000 people, a field of 15 three-year-old horses contested the first Derby.  The race has always been held at the Churchill Downs, which is considered a cathedral in the world of horse racing.  The race has always featured and been limited to  three year old thoroughbreds, running the 1 1/4 miles distance (2 km.).  No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without having raced as a two year old.

The Kentucky Derby is the first of the Triple Crown of horse racing, including the Preakness Stakes, run at Pimlico Racecourse, Baltimore, Maryland and New York City's Belmont Stakes, which follow in the weeks after.  The winner of the Kentucky Derby is considered a potential winner of the Triple Crown, keeping the horseracing world in suspense until the Preakness Stakes.  The attendance at the Kentucky Derby ranks first of all races in North America and usually surpasses the attendance of all other stakes races, including the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders' Cup. The Triple Crown has been won by only 12 horses since 1919. 

The Kentucky Derby is replete with traditions, from the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home" to Mint Juleps served in souvenir glasses, from the burgoo, the thick stew served throughout the park, to the elaborate hats worn on Millionaires' Row.  Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, attended the Derby during a US visit in 2007.  The Derby is frequently referred to as "The Run for the Roses," because a lush blanket of 554 red roses is awarded to the Kentucky Derby winner each year. The tradition originated in 1883. The Kentucky Derby is the last event in Louisville's two week Derby Festival, a great time to celebrate springtime in a beautiful city.   

This afternoon, 20 horses will constitute this year's Kentucky Derby field.  This morning, "Always Dreaming" is the odds on favorite to win, followed at this point by "Mc Cracken," "Classic Empire," and "Irish War Cry." 

In Italy:
The Kentucky Derby is not the only thoroughbred race before the public eye today.  Kicking off on the Island of Sardinia, 200 stud cyclists at the top of their game will be contesting the 100th Giro d'Italia for the next three weeks.  Today sees the second stage of this annual Grand Tour of cycling. There are three inaugural stages in Sardinia, then two in Sicily, and then the rest on the Italian Peninsula, from now until the last Sunday in May.  While several of the Kentucky jockeys may be in pink, only the race leader in the Giro d'Italia wears pink. 

Favoured in this year's race is Nairo Quintana, with Italian Vicenzo Nibali as another strong favorite.  A Colombian, "Nairoman" races with the Spanish Movistar team.  Vicenzo Nibali, an Italian, has been a strong favorite also, representing the hometown boys now that Sardinian Fabio Aru had to drop out with a knee injury. 

Controversy struck the Giro last week.  Two cyclists were removed because of positive drug tests. Also, a novel and dangerous prize offered for the first time this year, for the fastest descent from 12 mountains, was dropped, because outside of Italy it was considered novel and dangerous.  Within Italy it seemed like an awesome idea.  Today's stage will show some beautiful Sardinia scenery, beautiful coastal views from rarely seen parts of the island.  Sunday, and the rest of the stages, should continue the traditional Giro style of challenging, if unorthodox and surprising, race courses and stages. 

In the USA:  National Hockey League Stanley Cup playoffs continue. 
The Pittsburgh Penguins hold a 3-1 series lead on the Washington Capitals, and hope to put it away in  Game 5, scheduled for 7:15 p.m.  Saturday in Washington.  The Penguins' top player, Sidney Crosby, well known already to readers of this space, has been out with a concussion, but took part in a full contact practice yesterday.  Fans hope this means he will be at Game 5, to put the nail in Washington's coffin. 

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