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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: A good start

   November 9, 1986 -- It didn't take Marv Levy long to turn around the Buffalo Bills. At least for a week.

   The new coach of the Bills at that point in history won his first game in that position after taking over from Hank Bullough earlier in the week. Buffalo defeated Pittsburgh, 16-12, in Rich Stadium.

   It was not a day for passing and kicking. The winds at Rich Stadium were clocked at 33 miles per hour, supplying something of a funhouse atmosphere to the game.

   The Bills jumped off to a 13-0 lead at halftime on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Jim Kelly to Andre Reed, and a 5-yard run by Robb Riddick. Pittsburgh scored the next 12 points … missing both extra points in the process … but a 29-yard Scott Norwood field goal in the fourth quarter iced the game to some extent.

   Jim Kelly was 11 for 22 for only 95 yards, while Riddick ran for 108 yards. Mark Malone played quarterback for the Steelers in the game, which was one of two wins for the Bills under Levy that season.

--- Budd Bailey 

Post Time: Breeders' Cup postmortem

By Gene Kershner

It was truly a wild and wacky weekend in Louisville for the 27th edition of the Breeders' Cup World Championships. The Europeans, thought to own the American horses on the turf, only won one turf race over the weekend. We had a jockey fight, a non-scratch of a horse clearly in distress and an epic stretch duel in the Classic, a race that should go down as one of the greatest ever.

Excruciating loss

The crowd uttered a collective "ohhh" as the two horses crossed the line. Instead of a coronation of the great Zenyatta for winning a second straight Classic over the boys, a hush came over the 72,000 plus at Churchill Downs. Race caller Trevor Denman, who was willing Mike Smith early in the race to get closer to the pack when she was in her usual trailing position, was as shocked as everyone else as he repeated her name down the stretch. But it was Blame, the 4-year-old winner of five of six during 2010, that stole the show and Zenyatta's quest for perfection. While the race didn't pan out the way most of the public wanted, the giant mare proved she belonged.

If she could have found some running room inside at the top of the stretch, we would be celebrating the career of an undefeated champion. Jockey Mike Smith was forced to steady and veer his horse outside to make a frantic final dash to the wire. Unlike her many tight, late closing victories against female company, she was up against a different kind of competitor in Blame, who benefited from a perfect trip.

Blame did not give in to the charging Zenyatta and refused to fold against the defending champ in the final 50 yards. Trainer Al Stall on Sunday continued to relish the victory.

"I loved the trip he was having," Stall said. "I liked the way it was setting up. He had a little scrimmage on the front end at the quarter pole, but when he got through there and kind of pushed Lookin At Lucky out of the way, here comes Zenyatta and they both just made tracks for the wire.

"I know the Zenyatta people aren't happy with the outcome, but, believe me, she didn't lose anything in defeat. As everybody knows, she's the best race mare there's ever been in the game."

Do I think jockey error was to blame for the loss? No, I think Smith did his best to get her in position to win. Running on synthetic surfaces for 17 of her 19 career races up to this point she had never had as much dirt kicked in her face. Smith went through six pairs of goggles. Yes, he could have had her closer during a sluggish start, but it was no different than the way she ran in winning last year's Classic at Santa Anita.

It was a combination of two things: (1) the competition was much stronger this year with numerous Grade I winners in the field and (2) the soft campaign running against female company, principally in Southern California, did not have her as prepared to face the steeper competition. She's still a two-time Breeders' Cup champion (she won the Ladies' Classic in 2008) and will go down as one of the all-time great race mares.

Enter a new hero

As one hero, Zenyatta, will most likely retire as a broodmare, a new hero may have emerged out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Uncle Mo, an Indian Charlie 2-year-old colt, won the Juvenile going away over my choice, Boys at Tosconova, by four and a quarter lengths.

Uncle Mo's owner, Mike Repole, was beside himself after the race.

"It's basically gone from surreal to real," Repole said. "I've thought about this moment for 30 years, 25 years as a racing fan and five or six years as an owner, to just one day own a horse like this. So many kids growing up wanting to be baseball players .‚.‚. to be football players, and I just wanted to own a special horse."

Is the Kentucky Derby in this horse's future? Trainer Todd Pletcher knows the difficulty in getting a horse to the Derby. This year's probable favorite, Eskendereya, had to bow out a week before the race with a soft tissue issue in his left foreleg.

"When you have a horse like this that's this talented, we just need him to stay as good as he is right now," Pletcher said. "You know, I mean, he's already running races fast enough to beat what normally wins 3-year-old races. You know, the challenge always in this game is keeping them healthy. You know, that'll be our primary goal, and we'll kind of look at the calendar and see what the best game plan is."

We'll be following Uncle Mo as the Derby prep races commence in January.

Television snafu

When ABC signed off at 3:30 p.m. to hand the telecast over to ESPN, a Big Ten football game just happened to be in overtime. Michigan and Illinois were locked in a back-and-forth duel that threatened the showing of the Juvenile, scheduled to go off at 3:55. Some racing fans scrambled to find the race on their computers via ESPN3, although one would need the correct ISP to use that vehicle.

Luckily, we had downloaded the Breeders' Cup iPad application, which was showing the track feed and didn't miss a beat. While following along on Twitter (a must-have for racing fans and handicappers), many fans were irate and upset at the ESPN networks for not switching over to their ESPN Classic channel.

Other Breeders' Cup notes

* Golidkova closed late on the Churchill Turf to capture an unprecedented third straight Breeders' Cup Mile. Her groom pranced happily down the center of the track in joy after the race, a sight you don't see every day.

* Thank goodness for the ESPN reporters on Friday evening before the Ladies' Classic. Fortunately, I was able to cancel immediately all wagers on Life at Ten, who just wasn't right warming up in the post parade. The horse should have been gate scratched but the stewards let her run and she didn't even finish the race. In the newspaper Friday, we called the second and third finishers correctly, but my top choice, Life at Ten, just wasn't the same horse she's been all year long.

* My best predictions all weekend were Chamberlain Bridge ($15.80) in the Turf Sprint and Dangerous Midge ($19, $9.80, $5.20) in the Turf, not to mention Zenyatta getting beat at the wire for second. I was nipped out of two Pick-3 wagers by long shots, one on Friday where Midday was nosed out by 47-1 Shared Account in the Filly and Mare Turf and Saturday by 37-1 Dakota Phone over Morning Line in the Dirt Mile.

* Total attendance for the two days increased 18.5 percent from 96,496 in 2009 to 114,353 in 2010. The two-day common pool total was $163,619,784, an increase of 13 percent over the $144,599,205 wagered in 2009.

* Tragedy struck in the Juvenile Turf when Rough Sailing lost his footing, dumping jockey Rosie Napravnik after the clubhouse turn and breaking his shoulder. Rough Sailing was euthanized shortly thereafter.

There's still some racing left in the 2010 calendar and we'll take a look at the Saturday race of the week before we start concentrating on the 2011 Derby Trail.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He handicaps the race of the week on Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com.

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: The price was right

   November 8, 1986 -- Usually when a player is picked up on the waiver wire in the middle of a football season, it means little. This day saw an exception.

   Buffalo claimed wide receiver Steve Tasker on waivers from the Houston Oilers. Tasker had played college football at Dodge City Community College and Northwestern University. He was a ninth round draft choice of the Oilers, and played a season and one-half there. He caught two passes as an Oiler.

   Then Tasker came to Buffalo, and found a home. If you throw out kickers, punters, and kick and punt returners, he might be the best, and most famous, special-teams player in the history of the league. Tasker practically invented the "gunner" position, someone who lined up wide on punts and raced down the field to make tackles and plays. He had a similar role on kickoffs.

   Tasker played in seven Pro Bowls, and was even the most valuable player of that all-star game in 1993. He is on the Bills' Wall of Fame.

   Off the field, Tasker proved to be a eloquent spokesman for the team in a variety of situations. You knew he'd fit in somewhere in football after retirement, and he has put together a fine career as a commentator and commercial spokesman since he stopped playing.

   And essentially, it all started on this date. It was seemingly a minor move that turned out well for everyone, except the Oilers.

 --- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: An all-time beatdown

   November 7, 1970 -- The Buffalo Sabres had lost five in a row going into a game on this date. What's more, the team was playing the powerful Canadiens, the eventual Stanley Cup champions last season, in Montreal. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

   This game certainly qualified. Yes, expansion teams in their first season are supposed to have bad days. An 11-2 loss might be overdoing it, though. That was the score in the only game in Sabres history that the opponents have reached double digits.

   The odd part is that the Sabres scored the first goal. Gil Perreault got it at the 5:52 mark of the first period. Then the Canadiens took the lead on goals by Marc Tardif and Rejean Houle.

   Perreault got the Sabres back to even early in the second period … Reggie Fleming had the assist … and then the rout was on. The Canadiens scored seven goals in the final 15 minutes of the period. The shots were 22-6 in that period. Montreal added two more scores in the final period.

   Joe Daley finished with 43 saves on 54 shots for Buffalo. Montreal's Phil Myre had to make only 19 saves.

   By the way, the Sabres and Canadiens played to a 2-2 tie in Buffalo a little more than a week later.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Reboot button

November 6, 1992 -- This was the night that indoor soccer returned to Buffalo, at least for a while. The Buffalo Blizzard debuted on this date with a game against the Denver Thunder, and a local product was the star.

Rudy Pikuzinski, who had scored a hat trick (and the last goal) in the final game with the Buffalo Stallions, had five goals in a 15-7 win by the Blizzard in its first-ever game. One of them was the first goal in team history.

"I was in the right place at the right time," said Pikuzinski. "Playing with my brother, Randy, and the big acquisition of Paul Dougherty [a free agent the Blizzard acquired earlier in the day] is going to be great. Those guys are going to do most of the work and my job is to be in the right place at the right time, which today I was. The ball was bouncing my way. I could have had a lot more."

The goals were worth two points each  under the National Professional Soccer League's scoring system. At the other end, Jamie Swanner was in good form in goal. He had 15 saves to make a Memorial Auditorium crowd of 10,953 happy.

By the way, Paul Kitson had a hat trick for Denver that night. He went on to coach the Blizzard.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Racing's hero takes center stage

By Gene Kershner

Saturday’s eight championship races at the Breeders’ Cup are full of potential historic outcomes. Zenyatta can run her record to 20-0, win her second straight Classic and gather her third straight Breeders’ Cup race.

Goldikova can win an unprecedented three straight Mile victories. California Flag can win back to back Turf Sprints. Workforce, if he doesn’t scratch, can become the first winner of both the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Breeders’ Cup Turf races in the same year.

So the stage is set for a tremendous day under the twin spires at Churchill Downs. The Zenyatta phenomenon has taken Louisville by storm and continues to be the main story emanating out of the center of the racing universe this weekend. Unlike last year’s Filly Friday, which we discussed in Friday’s post, favorites fared much better last year on the Saturday card. Five of the eight 2009 championship races were won by the favorites. Don’t despair if you’re a long shot player, though, as the other three races were all won by bombs greater than 20-1 on the tote board.

Let’s take a look at some of the big races Saturday.

BC Juvenile

An East Coast-West Coast scenario has emerged between the top contenders here.  The East Coast horses, the favorite Uncle Mo (7-5) and second choice Boys at Tosconova (5-2), take on West Coast speedsters JP’s Gusto (10-1) and Jaycito (8-1).  I’m siding with Biggie over Tupac here and even going to throw Uncle Mo’s stable mate Stay Thirsty (8-1) into the mix.

Boys of Tosconova had a solid effort over the Churchill dirt in April in the Kentucky Juvenile Stakes and a convincing win at Saratoga over Stay Thirsty in the Hopeful makes him my top choice to garner Juvenile honors on Saturday. The very talented Uncle Mo should be out on the lead for trainer Todd Pletcher and should have no problem hitting the board. I’ll go with the “other Pletcher” colt, Stay Thirsty, to round out the trifecta with the West Coast horses off the board. 

1. Boys at Tosconova, 2. Uncle Mo, 3. Stay Thirsty.

BC Mile

Can you say chalk fest?  This one is a two-horse race between two-time champ and Irish-bred Goldikova (6-5) and 2009 U.S. Older Horse of the Year Gio Ponti (4-1). I was privileged to see Goldikova win her second straight BC Mile with a powerful closing move at Santa Anita last year and she seems primed to defend her title. Sidney’s Candy (10-1), who ran his eyeballs out in his turf debut, should set a hot enough pace for both of the two favorites to close into. For a potential long shot, I can see Proviso (12-1), winner of her last four, at least hitting the board and grabbing the show. 

1. Goldikova (IRE); 2. Gio Ponti 3. Proviso (GB)

BC Turf

My sources tell me that Workforce, winner of this year’s Arc in Paris, most likely will scratch out of the race. The Arc post time favorite, Behkabad (Fr), who finished fourth, is my selection to bring home Turf honors. For starters he has won three Group level races in Europe at the distance. The chart notes for the Arc say he was boxed in most of the way and never really was able to run his race. He may have conserved some run for this one, so look for him to stalk the pace and come away with the victory.

 My second choice is Dangerous Midge (12-1), who puts blinkers on for the first time as well as Lasix medication. Jockey Frankie Dettori will be looking to do his famous victory dismount should he pull off the upset. Will this be the horse that gets it done for him? The best chance for an American victory sits with the 5-year-old, Winchester, the classy winner of two Grade I races at Belmont Park this year. 

1. Behkabad (Fr), 2. Dangerous Midge, 3. Winchester.

BC Classic

The crescendo will be building all day for the appearance of the mighty Zenyatta. Featured on “60 Minutes,” in “O Magazine” and every ESPN commercial for the Breeders’ Cup all week long, she currently is the face of horse racing. She’ll perform her prancing and pawing routine during the post parade and will win over the hearts of more than a few racing fans across the country.

Her critics have carped about her soft campaign (only running against female company principally in Southern California) all year long, but her handlers have been only pointing at one big race the entire year.  There is no doubt that she will be last in the early going and will be charging down the lane at the front runners as the horses approach the wire.

Seeking to win her 20th straight victory and claim the $3 million first prize, she has several worthy challengers. The horse that I believe has the most opportune chance to unseat the queen is Lookin at Lucky. The Southern California-based colt has really filled out after a tremendous 3-year-old campaign, winning the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Indiana Derby en route to his date with the big Z.  He is in terrific condition and will look to reverse his fortunes on the Churchill oval after a disastrous trip during the Kentucky Derby. After being bounced around from his rail position, he closed incredibly to finish a valiant sixth in the slop and bounced right back two weeks later to win the Preakness.

“He looks good; so far, so good,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. “He’ll run his race. We’re all going to find out how tough we are; it’s a great race, really good top horses in there. I think he’s up to it. He’s still a young horse so I don’t know how he fits in right now going a mile-and-a-quarter. He’s tough, though, 2-year-old champion and going to be 3-year-old champion. He keeps going and going.”

I also like Quality Road, whose bloom came off his rose after losing to Blame in the Whitney, his only loss of 2010.  If the track is super fast he will be the one to catch, but I have a funny feeling the track will be playing to Zenyatta’s strengths and not Quality Road’s come Saturday.  I’m going with  Lookin at Lucky to pull the upset.

1. Lookin at Lucky, 2. Zenyatta, 3. Quality Road.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He handicaps the race of the week on Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com

 

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Get your kicks

     November 5, 2000 -- You can start a lot of arguments about the greatest this or best that in Bills' history. However, most people agree on the identity of the Bills' best-ever kicker: Steve Christie.

     He did some of his best work on this date. Christie kicked a 48-yard field goal at the end of regulation to move the Bills into a tie with the New England Patriots. Then in overtime, he kicked a 32-yard to give the Bills a 16-13 win in Foxboro.

     Christie was at his best in the clutch in 2000. At this point in the season, he already had four kicks that either won the game in the last minute or in overtime. That's pretty good, since the Bills were 5-4 after this win.

     "I don't know if we're a real good team that's lost some close games or a real bad team that's won four in the last second," Bills coach Wade Phillips said. "But we've come through, and I think we're learning to win."

     Christie had nine great seasons in Buffalo, and is a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Filly Friday Forecasting

By Gene Kershner

The weather forecast for the Breeders' Cup Filly Friday has been calling for rain showers for most of the week. We'll keep this in mind as we analyze the races making up the late Pick Four, concluding with the Ladies' Classic.

We're not a very big fan of the Marathon or Juvenile Fillies Turf races, so we'll take a pass on both of those.

When reviewing last year's Filly Friday, the post-time favorite did not win any of the six races. While the favorite did hit the board in four of the six, the average odds of the winning horse was a juicy 6-1. I'm not saying one has to take a contrarian approach to the favorites, but in deep fields like the ones we'll see over the two-day world championships, horses with great value will be in the mix. Now we just have to find them!

Filly and Mare Sprint

The Filly and Mare Sprint race has drawn a full 14-horse field with the defending champion Informed Decision (7-2) looking to duplicate her effort at Santa Anita in 2009. Informed Decision is mainly a synthetic track specialist, so I'll be leaning elsewhere. The morning line favorite is the New York-bred filly Rightly So at 3-1, who has hit the board in all three races on off tracks, winning once. The Read the Footnotes filly won the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga this summer by four lengths and has decent wet track figures, so she should be around at the wire.

Trainer Tony Dutrow was confident when asked about his filly. "She's very fast and she's going to be in front," said Dutrow. "She's in excellent form."

The horse that intrigues me most is Evening Jewel (15-1); even though her last four races have been run on turf. In her lone appearance at Churchill, she lost a head bob to the Ladies' Classic favorite Blind Luck at a mile and an eighth. The cutback to 7 furlongs should be the right medicine for the Jewel. My long shot play in this race is Sara Louise, whom I look to return to her 2009 form.

1-Evening Jewel; 2-Rightly So; and 3-Sara Louise.

Juvenile Fillies

AZ Warrior, set as the morning-line favorite at 7-2, made the transition from synthetic to dirt, winning the Frizette at Belmont Park in October. The 2-year-old daughter of former Preakness and Travers champion Bernardini should be able to handle the two turns without a problem.

Trainer Bob Baffert expanded by saying "Nothing bothers her, she's got a great mind, and all of her siblings can run. None of them have won going two turns but she's by Bernardini, so I don't see why she can't. She's coming into this race training as well as she did at Belmont so I think she'll run a big race."

The surprise horse in this race will be Believe in AP (15-1), trained by Rick Dutrow. I happened to be sitting in the box next to Dutrow for her turf debut at Saratoga in July. She finished a fast closing third and Dutrow was smiling from ear to ear.

This week Dutrow noted: "She was ready to run a week after she got to our barn in the beginning of the summer and she's wanted to go long on the dirt from day one. We ran her on the turf because I couldn't get a spot on the dirt going long for her. I figured the turf races would give her some great experience as a racehorse and we would get back on the dirt when we could."

Rounding out my trifecta will be the Great Britain shipper Theyskens' Theory (10-1), who will run on Lasix for the first time, an angle I love to play.

1-AZ Warrior; 2-Believe in AP; and 3-Theyskens' Theory.

Filly and Mare Turf

This race's odds-on favorite will be defending her title in the Filly and Mare Turf. Midday (GB) made the trip back to the States after winning four of her five races since last year's Filly and Mare Turf. She will be close to even money and most punters will be singling her in vertical exotic bets. It's tough to dismiss this Euro as she should have no problem with the mile-and-three-eighths distance or a yielding turf course, should it arise.

Harmonious enters second off the layoff for trainer John Shireffs at 6-1, winning four of five turf efforts, finishing second in the other. Miss Keller (IRE) another European shipper, has turf specialist Javier Castellano in the irons. At an 8-1 morning line, I'll be using her underneath Midday in exactas and trifectas.

1-Midday (GB); 2-Harmonious; and 3-Miss Keller (IRE)

Ladies' Classic

The 11-horse field includes some classy fillies for this race to be run under the lights at 7:30 p.m. The most notabe is the Kentucky Oaks winner, Blind Luck, who finished second in last year's BC Juvenile Fillies as the post-time favorite. She lost to her rival, Havre de Grace, last time out at Parx in Philadelphia; however, she was giving up 10 pounds in doing so. While I think she'll beat her rival for the third time in four tries, I am all aboard the Todd Pletcher express with 4-year-old Life at Ten (7-2). She's a solid three for three at the mile-and-an eighth distance and one-for-one on an off track. I'm wary of the other Pletcher horse in the race, Malibu Prayer: Be sure not to leave her off the bottom of any trifecta tickets.

1-Life at Ten; 2-Blind Luck; and 3-Havre de Grace.

Jockey Bet

John Velazquez and Julien Leparoux were listed as co-second choices, at 5-1 each, behind the mutuel field at 3-1. The Jockey Bet is a wager where fans can bet on which rider will win the most Breeders' Cup World Championships races. It is a win-only wager.

"The Jockey Bet is a fun way for fans to have a wager on their favorite jockey and to have action over both days of the event," said Ken Kirchner, President of FalKirk International, which manages the Breeders' Cup wagering program.

The Field is the combined total number of wins by all other jockeys. Take the field.

Good luck, let's go cash some tickets!

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred
Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He handicaps the race of the week on
Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com.

Running notebook: Book report and calendar

   I read "Long May You Run" by Chris Cooper this week. It's a short review of dozens of running-related topics, with some good contributors.

   Of particular local interest is the fact that two area races were mentioned in the book. The surprising part is that one of them was not the Turkey Trot, even though there was an essay on Thanksgiving Day races.

   Buffalo was mentioned in the list of cities that hosts a Corporate Challenge. The other was in an essay on recycling shoes, as the Shoes for the Shelter race got a mention.

   For my complete review of the book, go here.

   It's the first weekend of November, and there are some races on the calendar. It's courtesy of buffalorunners.com, which also has come up with its first look at 2011:

   * Joe's 5K, Newfane Elementary School in Newfane, 10 a.m. Saturday, 778-4603.

   * Veterans Appreciation 5K, 524 Walnut St. in Lockport, 12 noon Saturday, 433-6747 x26. I ran this race for the first time last year. No one goes away hungry.

   * Bob Ivory Run, 5K, 845 Kenmore Ave. in Tonawanda, 270-4113. It's a Buffalo News Runner of the Year race. The premium is a reflective vest, which is a great idea and a first locally as a gift. Nice job by the organizers.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Hello, goodbye

   November 4, 1970 -- In the fall of 1970, Sabres general manager and coach Punch Imlach took a look around at his expansion team's roster and didn't particularly like what he saw. He knew he had gotten few talented players in the draft over the summer, and figured any deal that could make his team one percent better would be helpful to his cause. Therefore, he went to work a few weeks into Season One.

     The day before this, Imlach claimed veteran defenseman Bobby Baun on waivers from Detroit. For a day, sports writers no doubt waxed poetically on the deal. Baun and Imlach were together with the Leafs in their glory days, as Baun even played on a broken leg in a Stanley Cup-winning game at one point. Now at 34, Baun was reuniting with Imlach in Buffalo to help out his old coach.

   Except, Imlach only held on to Baun for a day.

   Instead, he traded him to St. Louis for defenseman Jean-Guy Talbot and forward Larry Keenan. Talbot was a cagey veteran while Keenan added some experience of his own up front. No, it didn't win the Sabres any championships, but it was a step forward. There were plenty of trades to come.

     Baun never played for St. Louis either. He preferred to go back to Toronto, which is just what he did in a Nov. 13 deal for Brit Selby. That's four teams in less than two weeks for Baun, if you are counting.

--- Budd Bailey

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