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Saturday Sports: Horse racing suspension; Stanley Cup Finals; NBA Game 2

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And I look forward all week to saying, and now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Horse racing halted at Churchill Downs. Panthers on ice - can anyone stop them? Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Michele, thanks very much for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: You bet, Scott. Good morning.

SIMON: Good morning. The company that operates Churchill Downs, host of the Kentucky Derby, announced yesterday it will suspend horse racing after this weekend, move the races to a different location. Of course, this comes after 12 horses died at Churchill Downs in just the past five weeks. What do we know about the investigation and what's ahead?

STEELE: Yeah, well, Scott, you know well, and I know that when people have to put out bad news, there's just something about Friday night.

SIMON: Yes.

STEELE: Right? Yeah, and...

SIMON: Absolutely.

STEELE: Yeah. And that's what we saw from Churchill Downs. Of course, they host the world-famous Kentucky Derby. You said it yourself - 12 horses have died at the track since April. And they've decided to make this pretty historic decision. They're going to suspend all racing operations from June 7 until July 3 to figure out what's going on.

And that can be a pretty heady time for the track. You know, you've got Father's Day there. You've got Belmont, to name a couple big draws. And here's the thing. Here's what's confounding. They haven't been able to find a commonality between all these horse deaths. They do know, at least, Scott, that it isn't related to the track. So they're going to take that time to try to investigate and find out what's going on.

SIMON: A lot of people contend it's just horse racing is what's going on.

STEELE: Yeah, that's what they're trying to find out because there is something behind the scenes if 12 horses are dying since April. They have done diagnostics of the racetrack, and so far, nothing has come up that would, you know, prompt them to believe that something is awry. So they have to do a little bit more digging here.

SIMON: Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals tonight - the Florida Panthers take on the Vegas Golden Knights. The Panthers have surprised - let me put it this way - people who don't know the game, the sport as well as you do. You've been talking about the Panthers for a while. What do you look for in this series?

STEELE: Yes, Scott, you know, I know that you're an avid listener of the sports segment, and you know that I picked the Panthers to go the distance after they beat the mighty, mighty Boston Bruins in round one. Here they are - right? - facing against the Golden Knights tonight, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. And, Scott, we've got two classic hockey markets here - South Florida and Las Vegas.

SIMON: Oh, yeah. The history, the history - yeah.

STEELE: (Laughter) Yeah. Chicago, Montreal they're not.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: But you know, I actually think that there's some intrigue here to two Sunbelt teams, neither of whom has won it, and you've got two American-born stars on either side. Of course, I'm talking about Jack Eichel and Matthew Tkachuk. A very quick note here on the goaltenders - just diametrically opposed. For the Panthers, you've got Sergei Bobrovsky - one of the most fun names to say in hockey, in my opinion. He is one of the highest-paid goalies in the history of the NHL. He's playing outstanding. Adin Hill in net for the Golden Knights...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...He's got more AHL games under his belt than NHL games. He started out the season as a fourth stringer, and the reason the Knights are here is because of that guy. So not bad for Adin Hill on his third team in three years. Should be an exciting match-up.

SIMON: You know, I think they're playing to confirm your judgment of them. I think that's become their big move.

STEELE: They got the memo.

SIMON: Exactly.

STEELE: They got the memo, Scott. Yeah.

SIMON: Michele Steele of ESPN, thanks so much.

STEELE: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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