Stakes purses increase for Belmont, Saratoga meets
Purses for both the 56-day Belmont Stakes spring meet and the 40-day Saratoga meet will see hefty increases this year, the New York Racing Association announced Wednesday. Stakes purses at Belmont will jump approximately $1.9 million, or 26.6 percent, to $9.05 million in 2012, while purses at Saratoga will rise $2.85 million (27 percent) to $13.35 million. The New York racing circuit has been aided in recent months by revenue brought in by casino gambling at Aqueduct.
"Some quick math should convince anyone that $620,000 in daily purses at Belmont and nearly $1 million per day at Saratoga will take a lot of horses out of barns and away from competition at Kentucky tracks," Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery said. "Churchill Downs will do what we can to keep horses and horsemen in Kentucky, but the surge in daily purses in New York will make that very difficult without the Kentucky legislature giving us the tools to compete."
Churchill's 2012 spring meet will feature 24 events with total stakes purses of $7.275 million. The value of stakes purses for the 2012 Spring Meet is down from last year's total of $7.325 million for 25 races.
Hansen entered in Gotham Stakes
Reigning juvenile champion Hansen, who suffered his first career loss in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes, gets a shot at restoring some of his lost luster Saturday when he headlines a field of 13 in the Grade III, $400,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Hansen, the 6-to-5 morning line favorite, will break from post position No. 12. He is the only graded stakes winner in the field.
Ultimate Eagle favored at Santa Anita
Bob Baffert will have a horse in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap this weekend. It just won't be defending champion Game On Dude. The Hall of Fame trainer decided Wednesday that Game On Dude will skip Saturday's Grade 1 race at Santa Anita and chase a bigger payday in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31 in the United Arab Emirates. Baffert's hopes of winning a third straight Santa Anita Handicap will rest with 8-1 shot Prayer for Relief, whose career earnings of more than $1 million make the 4-year-old colt the richest of the race's 13 starters. Ultimate Eagle was made the 5-2 morning line favorite for the 75th Big 'Cap. He is coming off a 71/4-length victory in the Strub Stakes on Feb. 4.
Rondo gets third triple-double of year
Former Kentucky star Rajon Rondo had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to record his third triple-double of the season and lead the host Boston Celtics to a 102-96 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. Rondo had six rebounds and five assists in the third quarter, when the Celtics went on a 20-4 run to turn a five-point deficit into a double-digit lead. The Bucks cut it to two points in the final minute, but Kevin Garnett made four free throws in the last 15 seconds to clinch it.
■ Kevin Durant scored eight of his 23 points down the stretch to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 92-88 victory over the host Philadelphia 76ers. Russell Westbrook had 22 points and 13 rebounds and James Harden added 16 points as the NBA-leading Thunder overcame a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter and won their sixth straight game.
■ Ryan Anderson had 23 points and 15 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic pulled away late in the fourth quarter with a 102-95 win over the host Washington Wizards. Former UK star John Wall had 33 points to lead the Wizards, who lost their sixth straight.
■ Rodney Stuckey scored 29 points and Greg Monroe added 19 points and a career-high 20 rebounds as the host Detroit Pistons routed the Charlotte Bobcats 109-94. Ex-Cats Brandon Knight and Tayshaun Prince added 20 and 14 points.
Kobe cleared to play after concussion
Kobe Bryant has been cleared to play for the Los Angeles Lakers after breaking his nose and getting a concussion in the All-Star game on a hard foul from Dwyane Wade. Bryant was declared symptom-free Wednesday night by his neurologist, who cleared Bryant about an hour before the Lakers hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves in their first game back from the All-Star break.
Johnson's crew chief banned 6 races
NASCAR issued steep penalties against five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and his team for failing the first inspection for the Daytona 500. Crew chief Chad Knaus was fined $100,000 and suspended six races Wednesday, car chief Ron Malec also was barred for six races, and Johnson was docked 25 points, sending him into this weekend's race last in the Sprint Cup Series standings. The penalties stem from a failed inspection Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR said the No. 48 Chevrolet had illegally modified sheet metal between the roof and the side windows, an area known as the C-posts. Hendrick Motorsports immediately said it would appeal.
Woods stares down reporter
Tiger Woods had a terse exchange with a magazine reporter Wednesday over excerpts from his former swing coach's new book, and ended the conversation with a long stare and a sarcastic, "Have a good day." Woods, approaching the four-year anniversary of his last major championship, is playing the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., for the first time since 1993, when he was 17. Hank Haney's book, The Big Miss, is about his six years as Woods' swing coach. In a Golf Digest excerpt Tuesday, Haney details Woods' fascination with the military, particularly the Navy SEALs. When asked by Golfweek's Alex Miceli if he considered being a Navy SEAL at the height of his career, Woods tried to dismiss the question before saying, "You're a beauty, you know that?" After another exchange, Woods then stared at Miceli and said, "Have a good day."
New Pirate Burnett struck in face
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett was struck in the face by a fouled-off ball on Wednesday, and will fly from the team's spring training complex in Bradenton, Fla., to Pittsburgh to have his right eye examined by team doctors. Burnett was hit during a bunting drill. After the ball hit the temple near his right eye, a dazed Burnett dropped into a crouch near home plate. As he was examined by an athletic trainer, Burnett joked, "Where did the bone go?" The Pirates acquired Burnett, 35, in a three-player trade with the New York Yankees.
U.S. men get first win over Italy
The United States beat host Italy for the first time in 11 games over 78 years, a 1-0 victory in an exhibition Wednesday night on Clint Dempsey's goal in the 55th minute. Dempsey took a short pass from Jozy Altidore and put a right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The Americans had been 0-7-3 against Italy, getting outscored 32-4.
The last word
Ex-reliever Eddie Guardado, on why throwing a little spring-training BP with the Minnesota Twins won't be a problem:
"My last five years in the big leagues, I was pretty much throwing batting practice."