State of Play holds on to take Turfway Derby prep
After two straight off-the-board finishes, State of Play beat Ill Conceived by a head in Saturday's $75,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park. Ill Conceived was second after a gutsy comeback that fell just short in the Kentucky Derby prep. Dynamical was third, 31/2 lengths farther back. Mr. Prankster, the 4-5 favorite, settled into good position through three-quarters but tired and finished fourth.
With Stewart Elliott aboard, Ill Conceived was out of the gate first and set fractions of :24.69 and :49.83 as State of Play rated to his outside. Ill Conceived led by a length nearing the quarter pole but suddenly went wide, opening the way for State of Play to come inside, and winning jockey Victor Lebron made the most of the opportunity.
State of Play was the second choice at 2-1 and paid $6, $4.20 and $4. The put him back in the winner's circle after off-the-board finishes in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in November and the Sam F. Davis Stakes a month ago. A Grade II winner in his second start, the With Anticipation Stakes, State of Play now has three wins in five starts and earnings of $166,500.
Ron the Greek wins Santa Anita Handicap
Ron the Greek won the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap by 3½ lengths on Saturday, sending Setsuko to a runner-up finish for the second consecutive year. Ridden by Jose Lezcano, Ron the Greek ran 1¼ miles in 2:00.41 and paid $9.20, $4.40 and $3.40 at 7-2 odds for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Ron the Greek topped a field that was sorely lacking in name recognition after defending champion Game On Dude bypassed the race in favor of running in the $10 million Dubai World Cup later this month.
McIlroy in lead with No. 1 in sight
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy put on quite a show in the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. From mangled rough right of the 11th fairway, he measured up a 7-iron from 181 yards and figured it was worth the risk to take on the water in front of the green. The ball cleared the hazard by no more than a yard, and McIlroy seized on the moment by holing a 50-foot birdie from the back of the fringe.
Two par saves were equally important on the back nine, and a birdie from the front bunker on the par-5 18th gave him a 4-under 66, matching the low round of a windy afternoon and giving him a two-shot lead. That left the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland one round away from becoming the second-youngest player behind Woods to reach No. 1 in the world. He would have to win the Honda Classic to replace Luke Donald atop the ranking.
McIlroy was in a similar spot last week when he reached the final of the Match Play Championship, knowing a win would make him No. 1. Only this time, there is more than Hunter Mahan in this way. McIlroy, at 11-under 199, had a two-shot lead over 22-year-old rookie Harris English (66) and 43-year-old Tom Gillis (69). Seven players were within five shots of the lead, a group that includes PGA champion Keegan Bradley and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
Rolen gets two hits in return as Reds tie
Scott Rolen's shoulder looked just fine. Mike Leake appeared to be a little rusty. Rolen went 2-for-2 in his return from shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the final two months of last season, and the Reds and Indians played a 6-6, nine-inning tie Saturday in their spring training opener in Goodyear, Ariz. Rolen is a seven-time All-Star, including 2010 and 2011. But the 36-year-old didn't play after July 20 last year and had arthroscopic surgery Aug. 3 to remove bone spurs and fragments from a joint in his left shoulder. Leake, competing for a spot in the Reds' rotation, started for Cincinnati and allowed two runs — one earned — and four hits in two innings.
"Leake wasn't as sharp as he usually is," Reds Manager Dusty Baker said. "I don't worry about Leakie."
Starters shine as Bat Cats take two
Kentucky starter Jerad Grundy struck out a career-best nine and allowed one run through seven innings as the Bat Cats finished off a sweep of Illinois-Chicago Saturday with an 8-2 win at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Freshman A.J. Reed had three RBI for the Wildcats (10-0), who are off to their fourth best start ever. UK is one of three undefeated teams in the nation to play at least three games, joining South Carolina (9-0) and Gonzaga (8-0). Kentucky opened up the day with a 4-3 win over UIC, getting 10 strikeouts from starter Taylor Rogers and the second save of the year from former Tates Creek star Trevor Gott.
Softball can't hold off unbeaten Cajuns
The Kentucky softball team couldn't pull off a doubleheader sweep Saturday, when they gave up a four-run lead and lost 5-4 at No. 12 Louisiana-Lafayette at the Ragin Cajuns' Invitational. The Cats took a 4-0 lead in the first and were up 4-1 going into the seventh, but the Cajuns (14-0) scored on a double and three-run homer with two outs to take the lead. Senior Rachel Riley (2-2) took the loss for the Cats (9-8). Kentucky cruised to a 10-2 six-inning victory over Stephen F. Austin in the morning. Riley was 3-for-3, including a solo homer, with two RBI. Sophomore Lauren Cumbess also homered for UK. Chanda Bell (4-1) got the win, striking out seven and walking five.
■ After claiming the doubles point and winning four of the five singles matches that ended in a decision, the No. 9 Kentucky men's tennis team started its Southeastern Conference schedule with a convincing 5-1 win over No. 17 Louisiana State on Friday in Baton Rouge. Kentucky continues SEC play on Sunday at No. 47 Arkansas.
■ The Kentucky gymnastics team continued where it left off last week, shattering its season-best overall team score to earn its second consecutive win over a top-25 opponent in a 195.950-195.750 victory at No. 21 Illinois on Friday inside Huff Hall.
Hawks snap Thunder's win streak
Josh Smith scored 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, Jeff Teague added 16 points, and the host Hawks snapped Oklahoma City's seven-game winning streak with a 97-90 victory over the Thunder on Saturday night. Kevin Durant finished with 35 points, going 14-for-17 on free-throw attempts, and Russell Westbrook had 25 points for league-best Oklahoma City.
■ Jordan Crawford scored 31 points, and John Wall added 24 to lead host Washington to a 101-98 victory over Cleveland. Antawn Jamison scored 29 in his return to Washington but missed a three-point attempt to tie the game with 35 seconds to play. It was Jamison's first appearance in the Verizon Center since being traded from the Wizards to Cleveland in February 2010.
NFL to investigate Redskins' bounties
The NFL will investigate allegations that the Redskins had a bounty program to reward players with money for jarring hits when Gregg Williams coached the team's defense between 2004 and 2007, a league official said Saturday. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said it is standard procedure for NFL officials to look into any accusations of rules violations.
■ The Saints placed the franchise tag on Drew Brees Sunday — giving them exclusive negotiating rights with their Pro Bowl quarterback for the next year.
The last word
Notre Dame's girls' team survived Highlands' slowdown tactics to win 13-8 on Tuesday on Tuesday in the first round of the 9th Region tournament. Pandas Coach Nicole Levandusky (whose team advanced to Sunday's finals with a 53-44 win over Ryle Saturday) looked on the bright side afterward, telling the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"Our girls have no excuses not to be ready for practice. They should be pretty fresh."