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Originally published Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 6:22 PM

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Verrazano confirms status as prime Kentucky Derby contender | Horse racing

Verrazano strengthened his reputation as a prime Kentucky Derby contender by taking the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby in Florida.

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Horse racing

Verrazano triumphs

in Tampa Bay Derby

Verrazano strengthened his reputation as a prime Kentucky Derby contender by taking the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday in Oldsmar, Fla.

Verrazano, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, beat runner-up Java's War by 3 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs despite stumbling early in the race and cutting his right-front leg. The injury did not appear to be serious, Daily Racing Form reported.

Verrazano ran 1-1/16 miles in 1 minute, 43.96 seconds and paid $2.80 to win in the $350,000 race. Pletcher said the colt, who is 3 for 3 in his career, might make his next start in the April 6 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in Jamaica, N.Y. The Kentucky Derby is May 4 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

"He definitely showed us that he can overcome an early stumble and deal with a little dirt in his face," Pletcher said of Verrazano. "We found out that he could travel well and handle two turns. All the things we were worried about, he overcame them pretty well."

Hear the Ghost wins

Hear the Ghost rallied to beat even-money choice Flashback by a half-length in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.

Hear the Ghost, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and ridden by Corey Nakatani, ran 1-1/16 miles in 1:42.34. The gelding paid $13.80 to win in the $300,750 race.

Flashback was 6 ½ lengths ahead of Hear the Ghost, who was in fourth, with a furlong to run.

Flashback and 2-1 second choice Goldencents battled for the lead through fast fractions — including 1:09.94 for 6 furlongs — earlier in the race. Goldencents faded to fourth in the field of eight.

Skiing

Ligety takes World Cup

giant-slalom title

Ted Ligety of Park City, Utah, won his fifth giant-slalom event of the season to clinch the World Cup title in that discipline with a race to spare. Ligety has four giant-slalom championships, as he also won the World Cup title in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

Ligety had a two-run time of 2:35.43 in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, where he has won five times.

"To win here again is a supercool feeling," Ligety said.

Austrian Marcel Hirscher was 0.45 seconds behind Ligety in second place and is also second in the giant-slalom standings.

Meanwhile, Anna Fenninger of Austria won a World Cup giant slalom in Ofterschwang, Germany, with a two-run time of 2:29.39.

Fenninger beat runner-up Tina Maze of Slovenia by 0.44 seconds.

Maze is the first woman to make eight giant-slalom podiums in the same World Cup season.

Sled-dog racing

Zirkle leads in Iditarod

Aliy Zirkle, last year's runner-up, took the lead in Alaska's 998-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Zirkle, who is from Two Rivers, Alaska, was the first musher to leave the Kaltag checkpoint, which is 346 miles from the finish in Nome. She arrived at the checkpoint with 13 dogs and left it with 11 dogs after a 19-minute stop.

Second-place Aaron Burmeister of Nome left Kaltag 1 hour, 53 minutes after Zirkle.

Human participants usually take care of their dogs first when they stop, serving up stews for their teams.

At longer stops, dogs nap while mushers melt snow to fix food for their teams, massage dog paws and shoulders, fill up on their own grub and fix damaged sleds.

"They know what they're supposed to do, and they absolutely know what I'm supposed to give them," Zirkle said of her team before the race. "And if I don't, that relationship is broken and we can't do the race. So it's really on me, honestly."

Jan Steves of Edmonds was in 58th place.

Elsewhere

Bernard Hopkins, 48, extended his record as the oldest boxer to win a major title, scoring a 12-round unanimous decision over Tavoris Cloud to claim the IBF light-heavyweight championship in New York.

Hopkins (53-6-2) surpassed the record he set by beating Jean Pascal for the WBC light-heavyweight title in May 2011.

"Tonight was better," Hopkins said. "Because I'm older."

The 30-year-old Cloud is 19-1.

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