With no Triple Crown in play, Belmont lacks a singular buzz

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BALTIMORE — Cloud Computing stole the Preakness, and any hope of a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The 13-1 shot did it on six weeks’ rest, having skipped the 20-horse roughhouse that is the Kentucky Derby even though he had enough points to get in that race. With another three weeks until the Belmont in New York, Cloud Computing could return to run on his home track.

“We haven’t ruled it out,” trainer Chad Brown said Sunday. “We’re just going to evaluate the horse this week and probably by next weekend we may have a decision.”

Cloud Computing didn’t race as a 2-year-old because of injury, so he is among the freshest horses out there.

Brown prefers to give his horses a month or more between starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher also favors long layoffs, although he made an exception to run Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming back in two weeks. The colt responded with an eighth-place finish – the worst of his career – on Saturday.

“He looks good, bright, alert, sound, healthy, happy,” Pletcher said. “We’ll head to Belmont and regroup.”

If the Derby and Preakness winners skip the Belmont on June 10, the likely favorite would be Classic Empire, who was runner-up Saturday after finishing fourth in the Derby.

It would be the first time since 2010 that neither the Derby nor Preakness winner run in the Belmont. That year, Derby winner Super Saver, trained by Pletcher, and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky sat out the third leg.

Trainer Mark Casse said Classic Empire is being pointed toward the Belmont, barring any unforeseen developments.

“He was a better horse yesterday than he was two weeks ago for the Kentucky Derby,” he said.

Among other horses likely for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont – the longest of the Triple Crown races – are: Senior Investment (third in Preakness), Lookin At Lee (fourth in Preakness) and Japanese invader Epicharis.

Lookin At Lee finished second in the Derby, when Classic Empire was fourth.

Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee would face off for the sixth time in the Belmont, and they could be the only horses to run in all three Triple Crown races. Classic Empire has three victories against Lookin At Lee, including this year’s Arkansas Derby.

“You’re looking at horses that traveled at 2, ran at as high a level as we have, so you’re not surprised,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Lookin At Lee and won last year’s Belmont with Creator.

“They’ve been able to maintain themselves physically. That puts them in a different position than horses who have not consistently run on that stage.”

Possible Belmont starters are Multiplier (sixth in Preakness) and Conquest Mo Money (seventh in Preakness). Gunnevera (fifth in Preakness) and Hence (ninth in Preakness) won’t run in the Belmont.

Epicharis, one of the top 3-year-olds in Japan, will make his North American debut in the $1.5 million Belmont. That would make him eligible for a new $1 million bonus offered by the New York Racing Association to any Japan-based winner of the race. The winner’s share of the purse is $800,000.

Epicharis would be the second Japanese horse to run in the Belmont. Last year, Lani finished third after running in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

NBC Sports Group acquires exclusive U.S. media rights to Rugby World Cup

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STAMFORD, Conn., & DUBLIN, Ireland — NBC Sports Group has acquired the exclusive U.S. media rights to the Rugby World Cup through a seven-year partnership with World Rugby, both parties announced today. The agreement includes media rights on all platforms and in all languages to the Rugby World Cups in 2019 and 2023; the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017 and 2021; the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018 and 2022; and the annual World Rugby U20 Championships from 2017-2023.

“This agreement is the culmination of years of cultivating our rugby portfolio. It began with U.S. collegiate rugby clubs and now, through this unprecedented agreement, includes the greatest tournaments, teams, players and coaches in the world,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports Group. “Whether it is men’s or women’s, sevens or 15s, pros or amateurs, rugby fans can rest assured that they will have more access to more premier rugby content than has ever been possible in the U.S.”

“The USA is one of the fastest-growing markets for rugby participation and fan growth,” said World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont. “This exciting and unprecedented deal with one of the world’s most prestigious broadcasters will ensure that more people than ever before in the USA will be able to access the world’s top men’s and women’s fifteens and sevens events. NBC will be the destination for rugby in the USA.”

“This deal represents a significant uplift on previous deals in the US, reflecting the ever-increasing stature of rugby within what is arguably the most competitive commercial marketplace for sport,” added World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper. “This all-encompassing deal with our friends at NBC is great for fans and great for rugby as we look towards San Francisco’s hosting of Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018.”

The agreement begins this spring with the World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 from Georgia, and continues this August with the Women’s Rugby World Cup from Ireland. San Francisco, Calif., will host the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July of 2018, while Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Sites beyond 2019 have yet to be determined. Following is a year-by-year breakdown of the events included in the agreement:

  • 2017: Women’s Rugby World Cup (Ireland); World Rugby U20 Championship (Georgia)
  • 2018: Rugby World Cup Sevens (San Francisco, Calif.); World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2019: Rugby World Cup (Japan); World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2020: World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2021: Women’s Rugby World Cup; World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2022: Rugby World Cup Sevens; World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2023: Rugby World Cup; World Rugby U20 Championship

NBC Sports anticipates utilizing NBC, NBCSN, The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app, NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports’ direct-to-consumer product — and possibly other platforms to provide more comprehensive U.S. coverage of the numerous events included in the agreement than ever before.

All rugby sevens events will be presented by the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, part of a comprehensive content and distribution partnership formed in 2016 by the IOC, USOC, and NBCUniversal. The centerpiece of the partnership is a U.S. linear cable channel, which will launch this summer. Rugby sevens debuted as an Olympic sport during Rio 2016.

NBC Sports Group’s multi-year agreement with World Rugby enhances its already robust slate of rugby programming, which includes exclusive Olympic rugby coverage through 2032, Premiership Rugby, the Rugby Sevens World Series, the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, and the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup. NBC Sports Group has also provided coverage of the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, and exhibition matches in conjunction with USA Rugby that feature the USA Eagles, New Zealand All Blacks, and Qantas Wallabies.

 

Azarenka aims to come back in time for Wimbledon

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MOSCOW — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka says she is planning to return to competition before Wimbledon.

Azarenka, who was ranked No. 1 for seven months in 2012 and 2013, went on a break last July to have her first child. She had previously been targeting a return at the July 31-Aug. 6 Bank of the West Classic in California.

In a statement on Twitter, the Belarusian says “my training has been progressing well and I feel ready to start competing,” adding that she plans “to play one of the grass court events prior to Wimbledon.”

Wimbledon starts July 3.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, and has twice reached the Wimbledon semifinals.