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Post Time: Derby Dozen gets a shake-up

By Gene Kershner

   The Post Time Derby Dozen was shaken up after a couple of weekends wherein some of the top horses faltered during their initial 2011 prep races. Uncle Mo retakes the top spot from To Honor and Serve, who finished third in this weekend's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in the first effort of his 3-year-old campaign.

 

In Post Time's Friday blog we were not keen on To Honor and Serve and had anchored our Pick Three ticket with the winner, Soldat ($4.80), and place horse, Gourmet Dinner. But don't count out the Bernardini colt just yet as Bill Mott may have needed this race and the prize is on the first Saturday in May, not the last Saturday in February. To Honor and Serve slipped to the No. 11 spot in the Post Time Dozen.

 

Here's a look at the ballot I will submit to the Wireplayers.com for this week's poll (trainer, probable jockey, graded earnings and place):

 

1 -- Uncle Mo (Pletcher, Velazquez, $1,260,000, No. 1). The Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ has yet to make his 2011 debut and looks to be pointing to the ungraded $100,000 Timely Writer, a one turn mile to be run at Gulfstream Park on March 12. It appears Pletcher will run him only twice before the Derby. He is looking more and more like the heavy favorite. His Derby Futures Pool odds closed as the second choice behind "all others" at 7-2.

 

2 -- Mucho Macho Man (Ritvo, Maragh, $270,000, No. 9). Winner of last weekend's Rebel Stakes at the Fair Grounds, he is most likely headed to the Louisiana Derby next before setting his sights on Louisville. The Macho Uno colt came out of the very competitive Holy Bull, which is looking to be a key race, one in which No. 6 Gourmet Dinner finished third.

 

3 -- Soldat (McLaughlin, Garcia, $510,000, No. 5). A solid performance in the Fountain of Youth put away doubts that he can't run on dirt after three turf starts and a win on a sloppy Gulfstream track. Having Kiaran McLaughlin involved in the Triple Crown trail will make things much more interesting. His 18-1 odds in Future Pool 1 look juicy now. Can he handle the 10 furlong Derby?

 

4 -- Santiva (Kenneally, Smith, $240,254, No. 11). Do you think Post Time has this one ranked a bit high? Take another look at the Rebel last weekend and the strong finish by Santiva. Keep an eye on Astrology's next performance. That could validate Santiva's win last November in the Kentucky Jockey Cup.

 

5 -- Brethren (Pletcher, Dominguez, $120,000, No. 22). He is on the outside looking in with respect to graded earnings at No. 22 (only top 20 earners qualify for a gate). He'll try and add to those earnings March 12 at the Tampa Bay Derby to qualify. I love how easily he won from the 10 hole in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa earlier in the month.

 

6 -- Gourmet Dinner (Standridge, Dominguez, $780,000, No. 2). The Delta Jackpot winner has had two decent outings at Gulfstream Park and finished strong Saturday behind Soldat. A lot of pundits thought he was a fluke winning the Jackpot, but his form has held up.

 

7 -- Stay Thirsty (Pletcher, Castellano, $110,000, No. 24). He worked on Sunday in company with stable mate Uncle Mo, breezing 1:00.60 for five furlongs, and fastest time of 27 horses. We'll see his 3-year-old debut at Aqueduct on Saturday in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, where he will need to hit the board to add to his graded earnings total.

 

8 -- Dialed In (Zito, Leparoux, $240,000, No. 12). Winner of the Holy Bull in January, he most likely will have a date with Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer. He had a dream trip in the Holy Bull, but the ompetition will start to get a lot tougher. Another Triple Crown trail veteran trainer, Nick Zito, will be fun to follow in the coming weeks.

 

9 -- The Factor (Baffert, Garcia, $90,000, No. 28). Winner of last weekend's San Vicente, he heads to Sunland Park to see if he can stretch out over two turns for the first time. He's horse racing's best chance to get some major national exposure with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly rooting him along the Derby trail. He wouldn't be the first Derby horse to come out of New Mexico's Sunland Derby (see Mine That Bird).

 

10 -- Rogue Romance (McPeek, Leparoux, No. 8). The Smarty Jones colt finished behind Mucho Macho Man and Santiva last weekend in the Rebel. Jockey Leparoux may face a difficult decision on who to ride come Derby day with the call on Dialed In also. Has a trip over the Churchill strip finishing third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile behind Uncle Mo.

 

11 -- To Honor and Serve (Mott, Velazquez, $250,000, No. 10). Let's give him one more shot, his next start will most likely be in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in April. Mott's just too good of a trainer to not have him ready to roll next month. Keep an eye on his work tab during March.

 

12 -- Runflatout (Sadler, Gomez, $0, NR). Here's the Post Time longshot horse. He'll need to pick up some serious graded earnings to make the gate, but he'll have the opportunity on the west coast in the Grade 2 San Felipe and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. He posted a 96 Beyer in a maiden win for West Point Thoroughbreds. Someone has to emerge from the West Coast; I'm going with this one.

 

Honorable Mention: Astrology, Machen, Comma to the Top, Jaycito and Anthony's Cross.

 

Next week's race of the week will be the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct; check back on Saturday for the Post Time race analysis.

 

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.


 

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Settling for silver

     February 28, 2010 - The world was watching when the United States and Canada got together to play for the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It was a Buffalo Sabre who attracted the most attention.

     Goalie Ryan Miller had been superb in leading the United States to the championship game against Canada. He was at it at again that Sunday afternoon, keeping Team USA close.

     Zach Parise scored with 24.4 seconds left in regulation to tie the score, 2-2. That sent it to overtime.

     There Sidney Crosby thrilled a nation - the nation of Canada. He beat Miller through the legs in overtime to send the U.S. home with a silver medal.

     "I knew we lost, and you just feel miserable," Miller said afterwards.

     Even so, Miller came out of the game more acclaimed than ever for his work. He went to win the Vezina Trophy as the National Hockey League's best goalie.

--- Budd Bailey

NLL All-Star Game in Verona

1:45 p.m. -- Hello from The Turning Stone Event Center in Verona. The East is ready to play the West in the NLL All-Star Game.

This is the first team sport event ever held in this facility. It usually is the setting for concerts and boxing matches. The facility is said to hold 2,600 for lacrosse. There aren't many bad seats, but it sure doesn't look like they are all filled with only 15 minutes to game time.

The game is played under the shadow of problems in Calgary, where the franchise needs $500,000 to finish the season. I talked with Commissioner George Daniel, and he said the league is working furiously to find some sort of short-term solution. When I asked whether a mid-season team folding was a commissioner's worst nightmare, he replied, "It is." I'll have the complete interview in my notebook in Monday's Buffalo News.

All of the Bandits' players who were scheduled to be here have turned up -- John Tavares, Mark Steenhuis, Brett Bucktooth and Chris White. Brandon Francis also was at a player reception Saturday night, although he's not suiting up.

2:01 p.m. -- Brett Bucktooth received the biggest ovation when the players were introduced. He's not only an Oneida, but he played at Syracuse University. Indeed, there are several Syracuse players here for the game.

2:12 p.m. -- After only four minutes of play, it sure looks like an All-Star Game. We're 3-2, West. Bucktooth has a goal.

2:14 p.m. -- Mark Steenhuis has a goal for the East . It's now 4-4 with 4:53 gone. I don't know who the MVP will be, but I know it won't be a goalie.

2:20 p.m. -- We haven't had a goal in a minute. Fans may ask for a refund soon.

2:21 p.m. -- Two quick goals, including one by Tavares, change that. It's 5-5 with 7:40 left. I think we have had 10 different goal scorers.

2:27 p.m. -- Steenhuis' second goal of the game was a unique breakaway. He came in alone, faked high, and then rolled the ball into the net. It's 8-5, East.

2:35 p.m. -- The East has a 9-6 lead after 15 minutes. Luke Wiles of Washington is the goal-scoring leader of the game with three. It's amazing how good these guys can be with the ball; we've seen all sorts of moves and shots.

2:44 p.m. -- The pace of this game is rather impressive. It's been up and down the floor, without much defense going on. You might call it "basket hanging" in another sport. The East has a 10-8 lead with 9:40 left in the second quarter.

2:54 p.m. -- Looks like the two sides are catching a breather here. It's 12-11, East, with 4:13 to go in the half.

3:02 p.m. -- We're done with a half -- it's 12-12.

3:24 p.m. -- New goalies, but same results. Mark Steenhuis has his third of the game, and the East is up one, 14-13. The Bandits probably have more fans than any other team here. Rochester is second, and Philadelphia probably is third. No sign of Toronto fans. Did see a Minnesota Swarm sweatshirt on someone at halftime.

3:36 p.m. -- The goaltending actually hasn't been that bad ... under the circumstances. The score could be highter than the current 17-16 East lead.

3:49 P.M. -- It's 20-20 after three quarters. I have a feeling that this one is going down to the wire.

3:56 P.M. -- Chris White of the Bandits picked up the game's first penalty, a cross-checking call with the East up two. I think he just wanted to get on the scoresheet.

4:08 p.m. -- The West finally picked up a penalty, for illegal substitution. The Bandits' fans here were happy to change B-O-X with the score tied at 25.

4:15 p.m. -- The East is up, 27-25, with three minutes to go. Brett Bucktooth has five points for the East.

4:17 p.m. -- Mark Steenhuis' fifth goal may have wrapped it up for the East at 29-25 with 1:22 left.

4:20 p.m. -- The East wins, 30-26, sending the crowd home happy.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Outta here

     February 27, 2008 -- The Buffalo Sabres knew they would have trouble re-signing defenseman Brian Campbell when his contract expired in the summer of 2008. The decision was: should they keep him through the end of the season and possibly get nothing for him, or trade him before the deadline?

      The latter alternative won. Campbell, the subject of high hopes as an offensive defenseman, was traded to the San Jose Sharks. In return, the Sabres received forward Steve Bernier and a first-round pick.

     The problem regarding Campbell was contractual. He was set to become a free agent at the end of the 2007-08 season. For an organization that had lost some players without getting anything in return, allowing another to walk away made little sense.

     "You recognize that if you allow everyone to go to the unrestricted free agent market, and I'm not blaming anyone here, your draft cannot support the makeup of your hockey club," General Manager Darcy Regier told The News' John Vogl. "Subsequently, in the best interest of the club, you have to get something back. Otherwise, you won't have enough players and you won't have enough quality."

      Campbell eventually moved from San Jose to Chicago, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2010.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: So long, Joe

   February 26, 1984 -- Joe Cribbs might be one of the most underrated Buffalo Bills player in history, at least from the historical perspective of looking back more than two decades.

   The Bills drafted him in the second round in 1980, and he immediately filled a void at halfback. Cribbs ran for 1185 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He also caught 52 passes.

   Cribbs spent four seasons in Buffalo, and went past 1,000 yards in three of them. Then he signed a contract to jump to the United States Football League. The Bills tried to stop Cribbs in court, and the case sent sports reporters into the unfamiliar territory of a courtroom.

   But Cribbs won the suit, and two days later -- on this date -- he debuted with the Birmingham Stallions. Cribbs gained 52 yards in 16 carries.

   Cribbs was back in Buffalo in 1985, and spent two seasons after that in San Francisco. He never gained more than 600 yards on the ground in the second act of his NFL career. But he sure was good in the first act.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Chilly but sunny

The Chilly Challenge certainly lived up to its name last week. It was a bit chilly for those who turned out to Canisius High School for the annual event. However, the sun was out and the roads were clear, so no one was complaining. It was my first trip into the new gym at Canisius, since I missed last year's race -- very impressive. I had to ask what was on the space where the facility was built (offices and a private home, as it turns out).

There's only one race on the calendar this week. The Polar Bear 5K is in Olcott. This is the race where someone dressed up as a bear. Then after the race, you get a t-shirt that says either "I beat the bear" or "The bear beat me." And it's usually a pretty fast bear. Starting time is 11 a.m. Sunday. Call 434-8887 for details.

By the way, the Chilly Challenge and Polar Bear 5K usually conflict, but we'll see if separating them leads to an increase in runners on Sunday.

The running calendar is at buffalorunners.com. One tip -- if you've signed up for the Shamrock Run, be sure to pick up your premium early, and try to go at an odd time in order to avoid the lines. The Shamrock always does a great job on premiums.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Florida Derby Preview Day

By Gene Kershner

     We'll take our talents to South Beach this weekend and the all-stakes Pick Three at Gulfstream Park. The anchor leg is yet another key Kentucky Derby prep race, the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a two-turn route race over 1 1/8 miles. It should be a terrific racing day on what's known as Florida Derby Preview Day at Gulfstream.

The other two legs of the Pick Three include two Grade 2 races, one for 3-year-old fillies going a mile and one for 3-year-old colts going 7 furlongs. After perusing the past performances we decided to go fairly deep in the first two legs and slim our main ticket down to two selections in the Fountain of Youth. If you follow along the Derby trail you know that the 3-year-olds are very unpredictable and surprises lurk every weekend. This weekend could be no different. Let's get after it.

First Leg -- Race 8 Davona Dale Stakes

     The Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes is named after the 1979 Kentucky Oaks winning filly.  She also won the elusive New York Triple Crown that same year taking the Acorn, Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, all Grade 1 races. She was the only filly to win the Kentucky Oaks, the Black Eyed Susan and the New York Triple Crown and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1985.

This year's edition also has some spice as 8-Pomeroy's Pistol (6-1 ML) is eligible for the $2.2 million Black-Eyed Susan bonus, since she won the Forward Gal in January. Should she add wins in the Davona Dale and the Gulfstream Park Oaks to her resume, she will have a shot at the big bonus in the Black-Eyed Susan on May 20 at Pimlico. Ramon Dominguez flies in from New York to ride the filly that has been running well over the Gulfstream strip.

We'll include her in our Pick Three as her connections will no doubt be looking to keep the bonus possibility alive in her third race off the layoff. After reviewing the Forward Gal replay, a late closing 9-Dancinginherdreams (5-2) looked like she would have overtaken Pomeroy's Pistol with another furlong. She had a bullet work on the 21st for trainer John Ward and keeps Julien Leparoux aboard.
We'll include the very competitive 5-R Heat Lightning (5-1), trained by red hot trainer Todd Pletcher. Johnny Velasquez, winner of a record five Davona Dales, has the mount on R Heat Lightning. We'll play a small backup ticket with 4-Oh Carole, winner of two straight who has the pedigree to be competitive in this race.

Second Leg - Race 9 Hutcheson Stakes

     The Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes is a 7-furlong sprint with a $150,000 purse.  The winner will pick up a check for $90,000 of valuable graded earnings and will have to consider whether stretching out in the Florida Derby and a shot at Kentucky Derby is worth it. This appears the most difficult race in the sequence. Any one of five or six horses would not be a surprise crossing the wire first, so we'll go deep here to stay alive to the Fountain of Youth.

My base handicap before looking at the morning line odds, favored two longer shot horses, 2-Madman Diaries (6-1) and 8-Black N Beauty (8-1). Madman Diaries comes in off a long layoff, but off a fourth place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf where he led most of the way before giving way in the stretch of the one mile race. He looks dangerous at this distance based on past performances and the Ward/Sanchez combination is solid. Black N Beauty tired in the one mile Holy Bull after superfast early fractions, giving way in the final furlong. Anytime I leave Desormeaux off my ticket he beats me; not on Saturday.

We'll include the morning line favorite 3-Travelin Man (5-2), who had a big speed figure in breaking his maiden, even though we're not high on him, but every time I've written we'll wait and see on a horse he beats me; not on Saturday. I'll also put in 6-Little Drama (20-1), the Calder shipper in this leg for David Fawkes, who will try and rekindle the Big Drama magic with Jersey Joe Bravo in the irons.

Lastly, we'll include 10-Royal Currier, who has done nothing but improve over his seven lifetime races. He comes in third off the layoff and is reunited with Elvis Trujillo, who rode him to two wins and two places at Monmouth last summer, one victory from post 11. He has the ability to go wire-to-wire for trainer Patricia Farro.

Third Leg - Race 10 Fountain of Youth Stakes

   The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes is the key Derby prep race for the weekend and has drawn eight for a nice $400,000 purse and most likely a spot in the Derby 137. The big favorite will be Post Time Derby Dozen No. 1 horse, 7-To Honor and Serve (8-5), winner of the Grade 2 Nashua and Remsen Stakes last fall at Aqueduct. His work tab shows that he is fit, but the layoff and short price will make me lay off him in the main Post Time Pick Three play. We'll keep him on a backup saver ticket which will keep our total play under $40.

1-Soldat comes out of an allowance race where he crushed the opposition on a sloppy track by more than 10 lengths his first race back from placing in the aforementioned Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Trainer Kieran McLaughlin is on fire over the last two weeks, winning four of his last nine races. He broke his maiden in a Grade 3 turf race at Saratoga. He's faced top-notch competition and has held his own, he would not surprise by winning this one going away.

The other horse to consider is 2-Gourmet Dinner in the final leg and we'll include him. This is based on the key Holy Bull race angle, where last week's Risen Star winner Mucho Macho Man finished fourth, three lengths behind Gourmet Dinner. He can handle the 9 furlongs and has been working very well during his time at Gulfstream.

Post Time Tickets:

Main Ticket $1 Pick Three:  5,8,9/2,3,6,8,10/1,2 = $30
Backup $1 Pick Three: 4/2,3,6/1 = $3
Backup $1 Pick Three: 5,8,9/2,3/7 = $6

     Look for an update to the Post Time Derby Dozen on Monday, when we unveil our selections that will be submitted to the Wireplayers.com Volume III poll.

Good luck and let's 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 and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Party-poopers

   February 25, 1961 -- It was all so perfect. St. Bonaventure had won its previous 99 home games in a row, and the Bonnies were ready to celebrate hitting the century mark. Even a Sports Illustrated reporter made his way to the Olean Armory for the party, joining the 2,200 in attendance.

   However, Niagara turned out to be a party-pooper. The Purple Eagles enjoyed beating their Little Three rival by a score of 87-77.

   It was only the second loss of the season for the Bonnies, who had been ranked in the top five of the national rankings for most of the season. They were coached by Eddie Donovan and led by All-American Tom Stith, Fred Crawford and Whitey Martin.

   Niagara came into the game at 14-4, so the Eagles were obviously no pushover. Al Butler was the team's biggest star. Niagara coach Taps Gallagher was carried off the court by his happy players after the game, and he said it was the best win in a long career.

   Gallagher stayed 31 seasons at Niagara, and he had 26 winning seasons featuring seven trips to the National Invitation Tournament.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: 77 for 99

   February 24, 1982 -- Memorial Auditorium may never have been as electric as it was on this
particular night. Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky had scored 76 goals already that season, tying Phil
Esposito's all-time record. It was almost inevitable that he'd get number 77 somewhere.

   But where? The Aud was Gretzky's next stop on the schedule. Gretzky's family and childhood friends came down from his hometown of Brantford, Ontario, for the game, and Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn took time out from filming "Best Friends" in the Buffalo area to attend it.

   Gil Perreault threatened to steal the show for a while. He had a hat trick early in the game, playing one of his best-ever games as a Sabre.

   Then Gretzky went to work after having his first seven shots on goal stopped by goalie Don Edwards. Gretzky took the puck away from Steve Patrick and came down left wing with about seven minutes to go in a 3-3 game. He beat defenseman Richie Dunn, and took a shot on goal. Edwards couldn't stop this one, giving Gretzky #77 and prompting an explosion of noise. Phil Esposito was part of a brief on-ice ceremony.

   The air in the building was definitely out of the balloon at that point, but Gretzky showed why he really was The Great One that night. He scored two more goals in the last few minutes to finish with a hat trick; he added two assists in a 6-3 Edmonton win.

   The performance gave Gretzky 79 goals in 64 games. The man knew how to rise to an occasion. Gretzky finished with 92 goals for the season. That record still stands.

--- Budd Bailey 

NLL Notebook: Calgary in trouble

There is bad news out of Calgary: owner/general manager Brad Banister of the Roughnecks painted a bleak picture of the future of the team.

"If immediate help is not given, it is unlikely we will be able to complete the current season," Banister wrote in a statement.

Banister held a news conference today asking for support from fans (tickets) or sponsors in order to keep the team going. He also has missed a payroll.

Calgary is in the middle of the league in terms of attendance at just under 10,000 per game. The most obvious source of help would be the Calgary Flames, but they are not interested in purchasing the franchise.

The National Lacrosse League has had some ups and downs over the years in terms of franchises -- and that's putting it kindly -- but it has never had a franchise go under in midseason.

Meanwhile, Rochester is fighting rumors that it is headed elsewhere, as the Knighthawks are only averaging 5,225 fans per game this season. A five-game homestand isn't helping in that sense. Washington, the defending champion, is at the bottom of the league in attendance at around 4,000 fans per game.

This ought to be an interesting All-Star break at Turning Stone Casino in Verona this weekend.

Meanwhile, John Tavares of Buffalo and John Grant of Colorado will be the captains of the All-Star teams on Sunday afternoon. The league also announced that Bandits' announcer John Gurtler will do the play-by-play on Versus, while Chris Swenson will serve as public address announcer.

--- Budd Bailey

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