Union Rags gives Matz another star attraction for Ky. Derby
Six years after Barbaro, Union Rags confirmed his status as the Kentucky Derby front-runner with an impressive 4-length victory in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes over the weekend at Gulfstream Park. The win in his 3-year-old debut comes nearly four months after the colt's lone defeat — by a head to Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 5.
"You never know after a four-month rest. Do you have the horse fit enough? Did you do this? Did you do that?" trainer Michael Matz said. "You ask yourself 51 questions. I guess we did it right this time."
Matz took a similar path with Barbaro, who won the 2006 Derby before breaking down in the Preakness and sustaining injuries that ultimately led to the colt being euthanized.
The Dixie Union colt will have one more prep — the $1 million Florida Derby on March 31 — before heading to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on May 3.
Union Rags breeder and owner Phyllis Wyeth was feeling confident in the winner's circle at Gulfstream Park.
"We were just out for a practice run. Can you believe that one? And we didn't want him to peak too soon," she said.
Owner: Md. track's future depends on slots
Owners of Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, Md., said slots or other casino-style gambling is essential to their plan for the horse racing track to survive. Penn National Gaming bought the bankrupt track last year for $12 million and reopened it to racing with hope that it could expand gambling there. Now, the company could be eliminated from competition for a casino even before a gambling license is approved for Prince George's County.
Steven Snyder of Penn National told The Washington Examiner that a gambling license at Rosecroft is the last viable option to sustain horse racing. But County Executive Rushern Baker supports a measure to expand gambling at National Harbor instead. He urged Maryland lawmakers last week to support the plan for a high-end casino near the Potomac River.
Dominguez wins Woolf award for jockeys
Ramon Dominguez won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey award after a nationwide vote of his fellow riders, it was announced Monday. Dominguez, a 35-year-old native of Venezuela, will receive the trophy in a ceremony at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., next month. The other candidates were Corey Lanerie, DeShawn Parker, Martin Pedroza and Scott Stevens.
Dominguez, who primarily races in New York and Florida, has won two straight Eclipse Awards as North America's champion jockey, and two Breeders' Cup races, including a victory last year in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Hansen.
The Woolf award is given to a rider based on both his career achievements and personal character.
It is named for one of the greatest jockeys of his era, George Woolf, who died after a riding accident at Santa Anita in 1946.
Cats' Zellers earns SEC weekly honor
After hitting safely in nine of 12 plate appearances during a three-game weekend sweep, Kentucky junior outfielder Zac Zellers was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week.
A native of St. Louis, Zellers put together a monster weekend for the Wildcats, batting .667 (6-for-9) with a double, triple, two home runs and five RBI. The 6-foot, 185-pound right-handed hitter also drew a walk and was hit by two pitches.
Kentucky (6-0) next hosts Morehead State at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
■ Louisville senior outfielder/first baseman Stewart Ijames, an Owensboro Catholic graduate, was named Big East Conference Player of the Week after leading the Cards to a 4-0 record.
Ijames was 6-for-12 with three home runs, seven RBI, seven runs scored, a .625 on-base percentage and a 1.333 slugging percentage. He reached base in 10 straight plate appearances starting with his second plate appearance in Friday's 7-4 win over Oakland and concluding with his fourth in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Grizzlies.
The Cardinals, ranked 14th in the latest Collegiate Baseball poll, host Eastern Illinois at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Djokovic wins 1st match since Aussie Open
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic played his first match since winning the Australian Open, shaking off the rust to beat Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the Dubai Tennis Championships.
Marko Djokovic — ranked 868 spots below his brother — had a less successful day. The younger Djokovic, a wild-card entry into the tournament, was bounced in the opening round with a 6-3, 6-2 loss to Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan.
A few hours before his victory, Novak Djokovic was courtside for his brother's match.
Djokovic serves as a mentor of sorts for the 20-year-old Marko and said it was hard to watch his brother struggling. The five-time Grand Slam champion acknowledged it must be difficult for Marko and his other tennis-playing brother, 16-year-old Djordje, to deal with comparisons to their elder sibling.
"In the end, he has to face this, I guess, pressure in a way for having Djokovic surname," Djokovic said of Marko. "All over the world where he plays tennis, I guess he has to face this pressure that is not necessary for him at this age. It's his burden, and he's very committed. He wants to succeed in tennis."
Djokovic had not played a match in nearly four weeks — and it showed at times. Going for a fourth consecutive Dubai title, he is now 8-0 this year. He insisted he was not concerned with matching his exploits in 2011 — including three Grand Slam titles and a 41-match win streak to open the season.
"The last year was amazing," he said. "Definitely best year of my career. If you ask me if I can repeat it, I don't know. It's going to be very, very hard obviously."
■ Sixth-seeded Mardy Fish had an easy time against Andreas Beck of Germany, winning 6-1, 6-1 to join Djokovic in the second round. Fish broke Beck twice in the first set to lead 4-0. In the second, he broke three times before closing it out in 57 minutes.
The American has had a mixed year so far, crashing out in the second round of the Australian Open and losing to 388th-ranked Albano Olivetti in the Marseille quarterfinals last week.
Sports in the courts
Sandusky seeks delay in sex-abuse trial
Jerry Sandusky's lawyer wants the judge in his child-sex-abuse case to delay the start of his trial until mid-July. The former Penn State assistant football coach's lawyer filed a motion in Harrisburg, Pa., on Monday that said he needs more time to contact and interview witnesses, subpoena records and hire experts.
The 68-year-old Sandusky faces 52 criminal charges he sexually abused 10 boys over a 15-year period, allegations he denies.
Two weeks ago, Judge John Cleland tentatively scheduled jury selection in the trial to start May 14 in Centre County.
Sandusky is also asking for more time to file a catch-all pretrial motion that's due Thursday.
The last word
If USGA Executive Director Mike Davis has his way, the record low scores at last year's U.S. Open at Congressional are unlikely to travel to the West Coast. Davis said Monday at San Francisco's majestic Olympic Club that the course will be "the hardest start in a U.S. Open" when players tee off June 14:
"I am convinced that this will be the hardest start in a U.S. Open. The first six holes are going to just be brutal. I would contend if you play the first six holes 2 over, I don't think you're giving up anything to the field."