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A Grip on Sports: The Preakness finish helps wash away the sport’s issues, if only for a while

Flavien Prat atop Rombauer, center, reacts after winning the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Baltimore.  (Associated Press)
Flavien Prat atop Rombauer, center, reacts after winning the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Baltimore. (Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Is there much better than watching three Thoroughbreds racing down the stretch side-by-side, straining to win one of horse racing’s biggest prizes? Excellence is always wonderful to witness, no matter what type of competition it appears in.

•••••••

• The Preakness is usually the most overlooked Triple Crown race. The Kentucky Derby is, well, the sport’s premier event. The Belmont is its premier test. But snuggled in-between is Baltimore’s race, one that is either a steppingstone to greatness or just another race.

Neither were actually in play yesterday. With the sword hanging over the Derby results – Medina Spirit is expected to be disqualified if and when a failed drug test is confirmed – the second leg of the Triple Crown wasn’t going to yield an all-time champion. But it was interesting in its own way – even before the starting gate opened.

After that occurred Saturday afternoon, Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon battled for the lead for about a mile. And then Rombauer came storming down the stretch on the outside. The longshot never stopped, pulling away and winning by more than three lengths. A magnificent run and a magnificent win.

It was the type of exciting finish the sport needed after a week of bad news.

After all, it is rare a Kentucky Derby winner has to deal with a disqualification due to drug use – it’s only happened once in more than 100 years. This year’s news comes with the added attraction of Bob Baffert. Medina Spirit’s trainer, who has won more Derby titles than anyone, has faced as many drug accusations recently as any high-profile trainer in the game. He is a lightning rod for the sport’s drug-related ills. He also is one of the sport’s most visible faces.

That was the pre-race setup. The race itself? The type of competition that puts you on the edge of your seat.

• No one was on the edge of their seat last night. At least not in the Spokane Arena. It was empty.

Still, the Spokane Shock took the turf again. But the reality of the Indoor Football League team’s return won’t really hit us until it is playing in front of a sellout Arena crowd. And pull out a last-second win.

The latter didn’t happen, as Spokane fell to the Frisco Fighters in a game that came down to the final possession. As all indoor football games seem to do.

Maybe by the end of the season, the pandemic will be so far in our rearview mirror we’ll be able to witness 10,000 fans watching the Shock’s game.

One can hope.

• Nolan Hickman is, by himself, not Gonzaga’s only hope. But add the Seattle-raised guard’s presence to the Zags’ recruiting class and there is even more hope for the elusive national title.

Hickman, who originally committed to Kentucky before an assistant coach left, is just another addition to a high school recruiting group that includes three other outstanding players, topped by No. 1-ranked senior, Chet Holmgren.

Yes, the Bulldogs lost a lot of talent off last season’s NCAA runner-up team. But they are replacing it with a recruiting class that features more highly thought-off depth than any in Mark Few’s tenure. And that’s saying something.

Just what does it mean? And what could it mean? Jim Meehan looks at those questions in his usual in-depth way.

•••

WSU: We won’t find out if Theo Lawson is right for almost a year, but he took some time this week to exam which Cougars could be picked in the 2022 NFL draft. His first choice will be taken. Book it. After that, who knows? … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college sports, it’s going to be a while before we stop passing along stories concerning new commissioner George Kliavkoff. Maybe 10 years or so. Or however long the media-rights deal lasts. … Oregon’s football coaching staff will travel this summer to see prospects. … Arizona State filled a position of need from the transfer portal. That’s a sentence we didn’t write five years ago and one we’ve written a lot recently.

Gonzaga: As we linked above, Jim has more on Hickman’s signing. So do other sources. … The baseball team stayed on track to win the West Coast Conference title, edging Portland 6-3.

EWU: So let us see if we get this right. Eric Barriere was the first-team quarterback on the four major FCS All-American teams. Which means four diverse voting groups felt he was the best quarterback in the nation. And yet another quarterback, one that wasn’t the first-team All-American quarterback, was chosen as the Walter Payton Award winner, given to the best offensive player in the nation? That’s just nuts. Ryan Collingwood has more details in this story. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Northern Arizona has filled out its basketball coaching staff.

Preps: The final day of spring sports hit us yesterday and Dave Nichols has a roundup of championship events as well as another roundup of all the other action, including the first couple basketball games of the season.

Shock: Ryan was at last night’s opener and he has this game story. … James Snook was there as well and he has a photo gallery.

Indians: It’s deja vu all over again. Another game, another loss for Spokane against Vancouver in Hillsboro, Ore. Dave put together this story.  

Mariners: The back-to-back 7-3 victories (we had a typo in our column yesterday, but the score was 7-3 on Friday as well) over the Indians should install a bit of hope. The M’s will try to rise back above .500 when they host Cleveland again today. … Jarred Kelenic is still the new kid in town.

Seahawks: Rookie minicamp always includes some interesting stories. … The Hawks have talked with their highest-paid players about restructuring their contracts if needed for salary cap relief. … Pete Carroll was in awe of DK Metcalf’s recent track performance. … If the players don’t want to show up for a mandatory minicamp, Seattle will ask them to attend longer OTAs.

Sounders: The Sounders will face LAFC today without Stefan Frei, their rock in goal. … Portland defeated San Jose on Saturday using a backup goalkeeper.

Storm: The roster is markedly different, but not the results. Seattle is the WNBA’s team to beat once again. The Storm showed that Saturday in an 87-83 win over Las Vegas.

•••       

• You have to love the Inland Northwest. Yesterday was near-perfect. Today will be as well. Tomorrow too. And then? Pull out your umbrella and coat. It’s going to get cooler and wetter, though the rain probably won’t arrive until late in the week. We’re still a long ways from summer, when the days are warm, the nights are cool and the living is easy. Until later …

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