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Post Time: Wide-Open Derby looms

By Gene Kershner

This weekend's results on the road to Louisville didn't detour off the path we've seen time and again during this topsy turvy Derby prep season. The last two major prep races didn't disappoint with two bombs, Archarcharch ($53.20) won the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and Brilliant Speed ($40.20) captured the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course.

The current cutoff of graded earnings is $250,000 and the horse in the No. 20 and last spot, Jaycito, runs next weekend in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes to try and solidify his position in the gate.

Blue Grass

In reviewing my analysis post-race, we pointed out that several key races led up to the Blue Grass. We concentrated on the G3 Palm Beach with Joes Blazing Aaron and Queen'splatekitten. We should have paid better attention to Hallandale Beach which produced the winner and third place finishers. The horse finishing third in the Hallandale, Brilliant Speed, came from last place in a sweeping move at the top of the stretch to win the Blue Grass. The horse that won the Hallandale and was subsequently disqualified to third, King Congie (Post Time's third selection), finished in the show spot behind Twinspired on Saturday.

Interestingly, the top seven finishers of the Blue Grass all were coming out of Gulfstream Park turf races. Since Keeneland instituted polytrack in 2007, the winner of the Blue Grass has finished no better than eighth in the Derby. Granted, Street Sense used it as a final prep before winning the Derby, finishing second after losing a photo finish to Dominican. Candidly, we don't see the Derby winner coming out of this race.

Arkansas Derby

On the other hand, the Arkansas Derby has been terrific producing horses that excel in the Triple Crown races. Prior to the weekend, Post Time had the winner Archarcharch ranked No. 11 in his Derby Dozen poll submission. Floating up to a 25-1 from his morning line of 12-1, Archarcharch found an opening at the quarter pole and swung outside to overtake the leaders. He moved into fourth on the graded earnings list and ensured himself a spot in the gate in Louisville.

After watching the replay several times on Sunday, what really caught my eye was the late closing surge by the Mineshaft colt, Nehro, who finished second and passed the winner after the wire. Both horses have pedigrees that suggest that they can handle ten furlongs, we'll be keeping a close tabs on these two as we approach Derby day.

While The Factor fizzled and his connections later disclosed he displaced his palate during the race when being held back by jockey Martin Garcia, it appears he will be a horse out on the lead at the Derby. We're sure trainer Bob Baffert doesn't mind not having the pressure of being the morning line favorite on the first Saturday in May, and he learned that the strategy employed in the Arkansas Derby certainly won't work on Derby day.

Bubble Horses

Several horses now either need to help themselves (Jaycito in the Lexington) or that will require help to get into the Derby. The next five horses on the Derby 137 "bubble" are Santiva ($242,397), Watch Me Go ($235,500), Shackleford ($212,000), Twinspired ($197,500) and Silver Medallion ($184,334). Silver Medallion will try and qualify for a starting gate in next
weekend's Lexington Stakes.

Finger Lakes Opening Day Trip Report

 Post Time took a ride down the New York State Thruway to Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack to take in opening day. A steady rain didn't dampen the spirits of many horseplayers eager to take in 2011's first live card of racing. Nine straight 4 and 1/2 furlong races didn't leave much to the imagination, in addition to the muddy/sloppy track conditions played havoc on horseplayers.

Finger Lakes and a group of enthusiastic racing fans, the Western New York Racing Club enticed Daily Racing Form publisher Steven Crist to make his inaugural visit to the Canandaigua location. Crist came to town at the urging of the Club's leader, Peter Borrelli, and later spoke at a fundraiser dinner benefitting the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program. Post Time spent some time with both Crist and Borrelli and lauded them both for their efforts to enhance thoroughbred retirement.

In addition to the Crist appearance, Finger Lakes received accreditation by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance program. Safety and Integrity Alliance Executive Director Mike Ziegler said the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program is the "top such program we have ever reviewed."

Finger Lakes received the Alliance's 20th racing facility accreditation in a recent review of its safety practices. The track received "Best Practice" ratings in post-race veterinary examinations, safety vest usage, substance abuse and addiction prevention, catastrophic injury planning and procedure, anabolic steroid testing, jockey disability support, and aftercare and transition of retired racehorses.

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

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Braves advance

     April 18, 1976 -- The Buffalo Braves had never won a playoff series in their first five years of play, and it didn't look good for year number six, either.

     Buffalo had a first round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, a three-game miniseries that was the basketball equivalent of Russian roulette. The Braves went to Philadelphia for Game One and won, but then returned to the Aud and got smoked, 131-106.  

     The teams returned to Philadelphia, and the game came down to the final seconds of regulation. Bob McAdoo was fouled in the final minutes with his Buffalo team down by two points. Philadelphia's fans tried moving the basket by shaking the supports, and McAdoo claimed that he was shooting at a moving target that night. Still, he made both free throws to send the game into overtime.

     Thus inspired, the Braves went on to a 124-123 win over the 76ers. They advanced to the second round to play the Boston Celtics.

     That Braves team mostly used six players -- McAdoo, Randy Smith, John Shumate, Jim McMillian, Ernie DiGregorio, and Ken Charles. Don Adams also saw a little action off the bench. Buffalo ran out of gas against the Celtics, losing in six games, but that Braves team did record the only playoff series win in Buffalo's NBA history.

   For more on that Braves' season, click here.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Destiny denied

      April 17, 1977 -- The Sabres seemed more or less destined to win the Stanley Cup at some point when they reached the Finals in only their fifth year of play in 1975. Better things had to be ahead for this young team, right?

      In 1976, the Sabres lost a tough, six-game series to the Islanders, thanks in part of a fluke goal by Bert Marshall -- a low-scoring defenseman. OK, things happen. 

     But on this day, the Islanders beat the Sabres again, this time in four straight games. Game Four's score was 4-3, the same as Game Three and not too much different from Games One and Two (4-2 in both cases). Bill MacMillan had the goal for the Islanders; it was the last in his NHL career.

      No one knew it at the time, but the Sabres' window for winning a title was closing for a while. The Canadiens were in the midst of a dynasty that would label them as one of the greatest teams in hockey history. If the Sabres couldn't even get past the Islanders, how did anyone expect them to knock off the Canadiens and challenge for the Cup?

      Buffalo's General Manager, Punch Imlach, thought some new leadership would help the team. The loss to the Islanders marked the last game ever coached in Buffalo by Floyd Smith.

--- Budd Bailey

Live from HSBC Arena: Bandits vs. Blazers

7:05 p.m. -- Good evening from tonight's "other game" in Buffalo. I know, the Sabres are attracting most of the attention this evening. But we've got a pretty good lacrosse game in store.

If you missed it, Colorado beat Calgary last night, so the Bandits have a chance for the best record in the league. They need to win their last two games. A win tonight (or next week if necessary) gives them the East title. Calgary has the tiebreaker over Buffalo, so the Roughnecks have the edge if the two teams finish with the same record. So the Bandits have a good reason to play hard down the stretch, no matter what.

It's already been an interesting warm-up session. Brett Queener fell to the ground for the Blazers. He had to be helped off the carpet by a trainer. It looked like an ankle injury. Since he was already in the lineup, it will be interesting to know if he can be replaced if he can't go. Meanwhile, both Casey and Ryan Powell are scratched from the Boston lineup. There is no word on injuries for the Powell brothers. It's at least possible they are getting a little rest now that Boston has the fourth playoff spot and could go no higher in the standings.

Buffalo will scratch Ben McCullough, Kyle Clancy and Travis Irving. (By the way, Irving talks about his first year in the league in tomorrow's Bandits' Notebook. Nice guy.) Roger Vyse is back after missing a few games with an injury.

Looks like we'll have about 16,000 or so in the building, although some may be hanging out in front of the television monitors to watch the hockey game. The huge "Stanley Cup Playoffs" banners are hanging above the scoreboard.

Oh, gotta mention one other thing. Someone told me that one of the Bandits' championship banners had the wrong year on it. I looked from the back side when coming in tonight. Sure enough, one side of a banner that most people see reads 1992 for a championship. But the other side reads 1993.

7:37 p.m. -- One banner is about to go up with the right number on it - 16. Rich Kilgour is having his number retired on it.

7:43 p.m. -- Assistant GM Derek Graham was asked about the number retirement the other day. He said usually, it seems, the team that gets honored goes on to lose the game. We'll see how he does on that thought.

7:51 p.m. -- Looks like Boston has shown up. The Blazers have taken a 2-1 lead in the first four minutes.

7:53 p.m. -- The Flyers have evened the series with a 5-4 win over the Sabres. If you'll excuse a hockey stat on a lacrosse blog, history (since 2004) says the higher seed wins 50 percent of the time when splitting the first two games. So that series is now a coin flip.

8:02 p.m. -- Back to lacrosse. The Blazers have a 3-2 lead with 3:18 left in the first quarter. Brandon Francis has his first goal of the season for Buffalo. Think he'll start demanding more playing time. Brenden Thenhaus had the other score. Not much to choose between the two teams so far.

8:04 p.m. -- By the way, I heard today that if the Bandits give up a total of 14 goals in their final two games, they'll tie the league record for fewest goals allowed in a 16-game season. OK, it's down to 11 more now. I'll have to check that for next week.

8:08 p.m. -- The score stayed at 3-2, Boston, after a period of play. Mike Thompson has played well in goal for Buffalo, and his friendly goalposts have helped him out a couple of times as well.

8:19 p.m. -- John Tavares just tied the score, 4-4, with a nice goal. The pass from Tom Montour wasn't perfect, but Tavares adjusted on the run and caught it anyway. He came in alone on the right side and beat goalie Anthony Cosmo from close range.

8:29 p.m. -- Just did some checking while waiting for a goal to be reviewed -- the Bandits are 22 goals away from tying the record for goals allowed in a season (132 vs. 154). They have a real shot at that, of course. Funny how the Eastern teams give up fewer goals than the ones out West. Different style, perhaps? Still 4-4 with 4:32 in the half.

8:42 p.m. -- We had something of an offensive explosion in the final minutes of the half. Boston had the better of play, and took a 7-5 play. Tracey Kelusky had a great goal, taking a blind, backhanded shot from the shot. But Boston turned it up a bit. By the way, there were no penalties called in the half. That's the first time that has happened this year. Wonder if it has ever happened in a Bandits' game?

9:00 p.m. -- It's nine o'clock on a Saturday, and the regular crowd shuffles, um, back in. Still not much life from the Bandits on the offensive end tonight. But there's plenty of time for a spurt as the second half opens.

9:04 p.m. -- The referees do have whistles. We have had a couple of penalties called in the early going. The Bandits still trail, 7-6.

9:09 p.m. -- Kevin Buchanan scored a power-play goal, and Dan Dawson fought off a couple of Bandits to add an impressive even-strength goal. Boston has a 9-6 lead with 8:16 to go in the third quarter.

9:16 p.m. -- The Bandits have allowed three straight goals to fall behind, 10-6. Mike Thompson is out, Angus Goodleaf is in. It's probably a team shake-up move more than anything, but Buffalo has turned flat lately.

9:18 p.m. -- Kevin Buchanan -- four goals, four assists. Dan Dawson -- two goals, six assists. It's fair to call them difference-makers so far.

9:28 p.m. -- The Bandits showed a little life in the final minutes of the third quarter, but they are still down, 10-7.

9:34 p.m. -- Whoops. The Blazers have come out flying in the fourth quarter, scoring three straight goals to go up, 13-7. Goodleaf isn't getting much help.

9:51 p.m. -- Boston has a 14-9 lead with 4:35 to go. It would take something close for a miracle to turn this one around. First place overall is going .... going ....

10:00 p.m. -- Delaying the "gone" part, Brandon Francis just started slugging with the Boston bench. Wondered if frustration would bubble over.

10:09 p.m. -- Bandits lose, 16-9. First place overall is gone.

11:46 p.m. -- But first place in the East is the Bandits'. Toronto somehow lost in Edmonton, 18-14, so Buffalo has clinched the division title. The Bandits will play Boston again in two weeks, depending on when the Sabres play, and if they win they would stay at home for round two. Any championship game involving Buffalo but not Calgary would be here.

However, another night like this one and the Bandits won't get out of the first round. Their most one-sided loss of the season wasn't pretty. They'll get to tune up next week against Rochester.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Morning shootaround

It was easy to guess what was topic number one during this morning's workout in HSBC Arena: Friday night's results.

The Colorado Mammoth did itself and the Bandits a big favor with a win over the Calgary Roughnecks. Not only did Colorado wrap up the fourth and final playoff spot in the West, but it opened a door for the Bandits.

If Buffalo wins its last two games, it will pass Calgary and become the first team in the overall standings. That would mean that the Bandits would never have to leave home in the postseason, a potentially good-sized advantage. If Buffalo wins one of its remaining two games, it would clinch first in the East but have to go to Calgary if those two teams met in the final.

This is all getting a bit ahead of the story, even if it does give Buffalo a goal for both of its last two games. Job one comes tonight when the Boston Blazers come to town at 7:30. Darris Kilgour reports everyone is just about healthy; Roger Vyse may return to the lineup tonight and Frank Resetarits could play next week if needed.

I'll be on the scene with a live blog tonight. A crowd of at least 16,000 will join me in seeing Rich Kilgour's No. 16 go to the rafters as the Bandits have a uniform retirement ceremony.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: No three-peat

      April 16, 1994 -- The Buffalo Bandits had gotten used to winning in their first two seasons of play. They won the league championship of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League in 1992, and followed up with a repeat title during an undefeated season in 1993.

     The Bandits did lose during the regular season, but still sailed into the final feeling confident about the future. The opponent would be the Philadelphia Wings, which had lost the previous two championship games.

     Even though the game was in Memorial Auditorium, it was Philadelphia that left with the league crown. The Wings scored an almost incredible 26 goals in that game, winning by a 26-15 margin.

     John Tavares and Jim Veltman had three goals each for the Bandits, but neither Bill Gerrie or Ross Cowie had an answer for the Wings' Paul Gait, who was the game's most valuable player. Gait had eight goals and three assists for 11 points. Kevin Finneran of the Wings added eight assists.

      "Take nothing away from them, but what they got, we gave a lot of it to them," Bandits forward Stu Aird said. "They got on a roll, and we just didn't do anything at all to stop it. Instead, we helped fuel it with our play. We couldn't get over the hump, and we have to blame ourselves for a lot of that."

   For more on that season, click here.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Time for Boston

   It's Boston Marathon weekend. Yes, that's a huge event in Boston, but it's also a big deal in these parts. Local marathoners always flock to Massachusetts for the annual event if they can meet the qualifying standard.

   For those not making the road trip, Universal Sports is carrying the race. You can find that on line. If you have a converter for your portable TV, you can find it as one of Ch. 2's outlets. Starting time for the coverage is 9:30 a.m. on Monday; the women start at 9:32 and the elite men go off at 10.

   Meanwhile, there are plenty of races this weekend; list courtesy of Let's hope the weatherman offers a small bit of cooperation:

   * Envirun 5K, Goat Island in Niagara Falls, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 858-7897. The starting line has been moved to the east end of the island, so that while the course is the same the start/finish line is different. No matter how they do it, this is always a great course to run.

   * Feel the Spirit 5K, 921 Cleveland Drive in Cheektowaga, 11 a.m. Saturday, 380-0231. This race handed out a t-shirt with the names of the finishers from the previous year … in the order of finish. Since it had me one spot ahead of one of my best friends in running, I'm saving that shirt forever.

   * BPAC 6-Hour Distance Classic Ultra, Northtown Center in Amherst (near UB), 8 a.m. Sunday. It takes a special kind of person to run for six hours.

   * Stomp Out Stigma Run, 5K, Niagara University, 9 a.m. Sunday, 286-8510. Always nice to tour the Niagara campus on foot. The organizers always do a good job.

   * Connections Duathlon, 14 mile bike/5K run, 214 Central Ave. in Dunkirk, 673-3292.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Trail stops in Hot Springs and Lexington

By Gene Kershner

This year’s Kentucky Derby prep races have caused more than one horseplayer to scratch his head trying to figure out who will be the next colt to step up as the front runner. Last weekend’s upset of Uncle Mo caused the entire Vegas futures odds board to go into a tailspin. With the way things are going we could have upwards of 17 or 18 horses going off at double-digit odds come Derby day.

So what puzzle do we have to figure out this weekend? We head to Hot Springs and Lexington for the two major prep races and they couldn’t be any more different. At Oaklawn Park, the $1 million Arkansas Derby features one of the top contenders in The Factor, who will face 12 other colts for a chance to reach the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

At Keeneland Race Course, 12 hopefuls will try the polytrack in the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. As usual, this race attracted several horses that race primarily on turf, to attempt to score precious graded earnings on the faux dirt. One of Post Time’s Derby hopefuls, Santiva, returns as the morning line favorite to Keeneland, where he placed second in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity last October.

Let’s take a look at both races and see if we can make some sense out of the past performances.

Arkansas Derby

3-The Factor (7-5 morning line favorite) stretches out another sixteenth of a mile after his dominating victory in the Rebel Stakes last month. Bob Baffert had him working a very fast 6 furlongs on April 10, and the horse appears to be in peak shape for this tilt. He should be out on the lead early, and expect Todd Pletcher’s 9-Dance City to be pressing him early.

There are some very strong horses that will be trying to chase down The Factor, including 1-Nehro, who lost by a neck to Pants on Fire in the Louisiana Derby, and looks to have some stamina and some decent works under his belt. 8-Alternation was fractious in the gate in the Rebel, and actually knocked a tooth out of 5-Sway Away’s mouth, and ended up as a gate scratch. He steps up in class here and is one of the big question marks in the race.

The gate issues obviously had a negative effect on Sway Away and he should be rolling late, and if the pace is really hot up front, it could set up perfectly for him to pick up the pieces late.

2-Elite Alex, who has had nothing but trouble in every race since his maiden win, puts blinkers on for trainer Tim Ritchey. Post Time is willing to give this horse one more chance, only to see what he can do with a good trip. The talent is there, but he seems to not be able to get out of his own way on the race track.

1 – The Factor 2 – Nehro 3- Sway Away 4 – Elite Alex

Blue Grass Stakes

Post Time focused on three key races for a number of the entrants in the Blue Grass. The Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park on the turf featured 4-Joe’s Blazing Aaron, who wired the field at 13-1 and held off a late charging 12-Queen’splatekitten, the Ontario-bred who we may see later this summer in the Canadian Triple Crown series and 1-Newdad who finished third.

The next race was also at Gulfstream, the $100K Hallandale Beach, where West Point Thoroughbreds’ 2-King Congie was disqualified for veering out in the stretch after running an impressive race (and costing Post Time a fat Pick 4 in doing so).  5-Brilliant Speed finished third (moved up to second on the DQ) in the race only a length behind.

Lastly, 3-Santiva and 8-Willcox Inn finished second and third, respectively, in the aforementioned Breeders’ Futurity last October at Keeneland at a mile and 1/16, both closing from way back in the back. With the short stretch at Keeneland, neither horse can afford to give up as much ground on Saturday as they did in October.

The other horse that is interesting in here is 7-Twinspired, who ran third on the polytrack at Turfway Park last month in the Grade 3 Vinery Spiral Stakes to Derby bound horses Animal Kingdom and Decisive Moment, losing by six lengths. Turfway shippers have historically performed well on the Keeneland synthetics, so we’ll keep an eye on Twinspired as post time arrives.

Post Time will be siding with Joes Blazing Aaron to set the pace and not be passed, with Queen’splatekitten and Santiva closing to round out the trifecta. I would use King Congie and Twinspired underneath in exotics in the third and fourth slots.

1 – Joes Blazing Aaron 2 – Queen’splatekitten 3 – Santiva 4 – King Congie

We’ll be heading to Finger Lakes for opening day and will provide a trip report in Monday’s blog along with a recap of the two big stakes races.

Good luck and 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 and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Completed comeback

      April 15, 1946 -- Championships aren't that common in Western New York. When one comes, it should be remembered.

     The Buffalo Bisons figured to be the favorites for the championship of the American Hockey League in 1946. They were coming off a regular season in which they went 38-16-8, the best record in the AHL. Buffalo's 84 points led the East by 22 points.

     The AHL had a rather unusual playoff system back then. The Bisons beat Indianapolis Capitals in five games, and then had a bye in the second round. Buffalo sat and watched while Cleveland beat Pittsburgh, two games to one.

     All of that winning in the regular season didn't help the Bisons in the Calder Cup Finals. Cleveland won three of the first four games and looked poised to take the Cup. But Buffalo rebounded to take Games Five and Six.

     Then, on this date, the Bisons won the Calder Cup with a 3-2 victory before 9,445 in Memorial Auditorium. Fred Hunt, a name associated with Buffalo hockey for decades, led the team in scoring that regular season with 70 points. Murdo McKay had 63 points, while defenseman Roger Leger had 57 points.

-- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Farewell, old friend

      April 14, 1996 - In hindsight, Memorial Auditorium picked a good year for its farewell. The Sabres were out of the playoff race as their last game in the 56-year-old building approached. That meant, at least, that fans in the Aud could ponder their memories of the building rather than think about a playoff win.

      That they did on a memorable night for all concerned. The Sabres beat the Hartford Whalers, 4-1, to finish a 33-42-7 season. Then current players teamed up with the Sabres alumni and their fans to say good-bye in a 30-minute ceremony.

      "I tried my best -- I think probably some (tears) snuck out," said Seymour H. Knox III, the team's original owner. "It was an emotional evening."

      Knox's speech ended with a phrase that became synonymous with the closing of the building: "Farewell, old friend."

      At the ceremony's end, a few Sabres skated around the ice one last time. Pat LaFontaine carried the puck to the goal crease, acknowledged the roaring crowd, and tapped the puck in the net. The horn sounds, and the arena went dark. 

     "I'm very fortunate that I was able to be a part of it," Rob Ray said later.

--- Budd Bailey

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.