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Post Time: Black-Eyed Susan attracts rock solid field

By Gene Kershner

      Seven fillies will vie for top honors in the $250,000 Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Friday afternoon as a prelude to Saturday's Preakness Stakes. The race has been run since 1919 when it was known as the Pimlico Oaks. It was renamed in 1952 as an acknowledgement to the state flower of Maryland, which ironically doesn't bloom until June. The official drink of the Preakness goes by the same name.

Five other stakes are on the 13-race Friday card, which also includes the inaugural Female Jockey Challenge and the Lady Legends for the Cure, a parimutuel event featuring eight retired female riders. The Black-Eyed Susan will be run at 1 1/8 miles and is Race 10 on the card. The race will be televised live by Versus at 4 p.m. Friday.

     The 87th renewal of the Black-Eyed Susan has attracted some rock solid fillies; let's take a look at them and how they rate coming into the race (trainer, jockey and morning line odds in parenthesis):

      1 -- Royal Delta (Mott, Lezcano, 3-1). This lightly raced filly comes into the race third off the layoff for trainer Bill Mott after firing in a big allowance win at Keeneland last month. She looks to avenge her defeat at the hands of 4-Wyomia in Tampa in March. She faces graded company for the first time and the Empire Maker filly should have no trouble with the distance. She's been training lights out at Belmont Park and is generating a lot of buzz. She receives a 6-pound weight break to 2-Hot Summer and 4-Wyomia.

     2 -- Hot Summer (Fawkes, Dominguez, 5-2). Trainer David Fawkes had a terrific winter and brings Hot Summer to Baltimore after an impressive victory in the 1-mile, Grade 3 Comely at Aqueduct. The only race in which she missed the board was in her 2011 debut in the Grade 2 Davona Dale, where she was beaten more than 15 lengths at Gulfstream Park.

     "You have to throw that race out. It wasn't the way I wanted her to be ridden," Fawkes said. "I think when she comes from off the pace; she's a much nicer horse. I thought she would benefit from a race back, and she did."

     The Malibu Moon filly out of Summer Delight also comes in third off the layoff and shouldn't have a problem with the 1-1/8 mile distance. "There's always a question when a horse stretches out, but she's bred to run long and I think she will," Fawkes said. "She's the kind of horse that will do anything you ask. She'll switch it off if you want her to. Hopefully, she'll just break and I'm sure Ramon will do a good job, get her relaxed and go from there."

     3 -- Coax Victory (Lawrence, Gomez, 8-1). Has raced against tough opponents in the past and has ducked no one. She finished third in her last race at Keeneland, 5 1/2 lengths behind the speedy Turbulent Descent. She's mainly run in sprint races, as this would be only her second route race in her 11th career race. Looking elsewhere.

Wyomia works      4 -- Wyomia (Garrison, Leparoux, 9-5). She is the only runner to have a workout over the Pimlico track (left). She's been on site since May 10. "Nobody's bothered us, that's for sure," trainer Curtis Garrison said. "It's been kind of nice. We wanted to get her used to the track and kind of get acclimated to the weather; so far, so good. Everything looks good to go with her. She's a pretty classy filly. She always handles everything good." She was beaten a length in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland on April 9, when jockey Freddie Lenclud lost an iron as she split horses and still managed to finish second. She's the one to beat in the Susan.

     5 -- Buster's Ready (Pletcher, Velazquez, 8-1). It's not every day you can get this trainer/jockey combo at 8-1. Bettors let Aikenite go off at 13-1 on Derby Day last weekend and paid for it dearly. Johnny V has big plans this weekend and could garner his fourth Black-Eyed Susan title, which would tie him with Chris McCarron for the all-time lead. With a win, Pletcher would have his third BES title. This filly has the late run and if a speed duel is employed on the front end, this one will be coming late. The More Than Ready filly sports a bullet 4-furlong workout on May 14, so she seems to be peaking at the right time.  Dangerous.

     6 -- Love Theway Youare (Cho, Rosario, 15-1). Winner of two in a row, this Arch filly ships in from the left coast to take on a formidable crew. Love Rosario aboard and coming in off two straight wins. This will be the filly's seventh race this year. Does she still have enough gas in the tank? She's another one with decent late speed that will look to pick up the pieces if the race falls apart.

     7 -- Art Of The Hunt (Campitelli, TBD, 20-1). A hometown filly who will be trying to win one for the locals. Funnier things have happened on big race days, but she seems to be in over her head in here.

     Royal Delta's training has her fit and she seems ready to tackle Wyomia in Friday's feature. In addition to playing my top three selections in exacta and trifecta tickets, I'll box my top four in a $0.10 superfecta play (a four-horse superfecta box bet has 24 combinations so a $0.10 superfecta bet costs $2.40).

Post Time Selections:

1 -- Royal Delta; 2 -- Wyomia;  3 -- Buster's Ready; 4 -- Hot Summer.

Good luck and let's go cash some tickets!

Wyomia Photo Credit - Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

     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: A grand time at the park

     May 18, 1990 -- It took a couple of years for a Buffalo Bisons player to hit a grand slam in the team's new ball park. Orlando Merced did his best to make the occasion a memorable one.

     Merced launched the homer at then-Pilot Field in a 7-2 victory over the Nashville Sounds. Before this one, only one player Ñ Orestes Destrade Ñ had ever homered to the center-field side of the 384-foot sign in right-center. 

     This one was much more impressive. It was well over the fence in right center, and landed an estimated 420 feet from home plate.

     "It was the first one of my career," Merced said about the slam to The News' Bob DiCesare. "I was pretty happy as I ran around the bases."

     But it wasn't the longest homer of his Bison career. Merced had ripped a 452-footer into the parking lot earlier in the season.

     Merced reached the majors with Pittsburgh later that season, and stayed with the Pirates through 1996. Then he bounced through six other teams before leaving the game in 2003.

--- Budd Bailey

Jason McElwain speaks at Niagara Falls H.S.

Everyone knows the story of Jason McElwain. Diagnosed with Autism at 2 years old, he's the one that drilled six three-pointers in just four minutes of Greece Athena's Senior Day game in 2006. It was one of the most uplifting moments in the history of sports, one that won J-Mac an ESPY. Serving as the team's manager, he was given a chance to play and didn't disappoint.

On Monday and Tuesday, he spoke to kids in Niagara Falls. Through the "Men of Excellence" program, girls basketball coach Mike Esposito and vice principal Eddie Scott brought J-Mac to NFHS.

Check out Wednesday's paper for the story but here's a clip from J-Mac's Q & A segment:


---Tyler Dunne

This Day in Buffalo Sports History -- Go-go-gone

     May 17, 1966 -- It's almost difficult to believe, but a Hungarian-born kicker was one of the great "revolutionaries" in the history of pro football. Twice.

     Pete Gogolak came to America and tried out for the Cornell football team as a kicker. Everyone looked at him oddly at first, because he kicked the ball from the side of his foot. Gogolak's soccer experience prompted him to take that approach.

     It seemed to work pretty well for him. He joined the Buffalo Bills in 1964, and became one of a key part of the Bills' teams that won championships in 1964 and 1965. Soccer-style kickers eventually came to dominate the sport.

     In the spring of 1966, Gogolak had played out his option and was a free agent. No player of consequence had jumped between the American Football League and the National Football League until that point. But the New York Giants needed a kicker ... badly. Bob Timberlake had kicked for the Giants in 1965, and was a particularly dismal 1 for 15 in field goal attempts.

     On this date, the Giants signed Gogolak to a contract. It was the first shot in an escalation of the war between the two football leagues. (According to legend, one NFL owner told Giants' owner Wellington Mara, "If I had known you wanted a kicker that badly, I would have given you one.)

     All of a sudden, the AFL teams were raiding NFL teams in retaliation, and the price of talent went sky-high. By June, the two sides reached a merger agreement, and peace was restored. Gogolak stayed with the Giants through 1974, completing a good and significant career.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Last gasp

      May 16, 2007 -- The Buffalo Sabres didn't go too quietly into the night in their playoff series with the Ottawa Senators this particular night.

     The Sabres had lost the first three games of their series with the Senators, but took Game Five by a 3-2 score in Ottawa. That meant the series was going back to Buffalo.

     "We didn't want to end our season here," Sabres center Paul Gaustad said to The News' Tim Graham. "With the group of guys we have here, we really didn't want that to happen. We wanted to win this game. It was huge for us, but it's another do-or-die the next night. Every game is going to be do-or-die for us, but we haven't given up all year, and we're not going to give up now."

     Buffalo's power play had been terrible in the series, but Maxim Afinogenov struck to get the Sabres' sleeping offense started. Chris Drury and Derek Roy also scored. Then it was just a matter of holding on to gain the road victory.

     "It's a momentum change," Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder said. "Now they're going to get the tough questions by the media. Now, we're coming into our barn. It's going to be a different kind of mind-set."

     Ottawa held up just fine, winning Game Five.

--- Budd Bailey

WNY Open canceled

The Adams Golf Western New York Open scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday at Niagara Falls Country Club has been canceled.

A message on the Western New York PGA website announces the cancellation, and says refunds will be issued. It does not give a reschedule date or list a reason for the cancellation.

So, if you were planning on heading out to NFCC tomorrow, roll over and hit the snooze button.

---Jay Skurski

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Slow start

      May 15, 1975 -- You never forget your first time, and today marks the anniversary of the first game the Buffalo Sabres ever played in the Stanley Cup Finals.

     Too bad for the Sabres that it didn't turn out more memorably.

     The Sabres played the Flyers in Philadelphia in Game One, and one of the team's problems became readily apparent after a while. Scoring was going to be a problem in the series.

     It was a strange game. Neither team scored in the first 40 minutes. Then Philadelphia scored four times in the third period to take a 4-1 win.

     Bernie Parent was terrific, making 27 saves. Gerry Desjardins wasn't as good as he faced 22 shots. Bill Barber had two of the Philadelphia goals.

     By the way, Parent made for a great trivia question of sorts. Goalies often wear number one, but he was the last one to wear it as the starting netminder on a Stanley Cup champion.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Closing in

      May 14, 1999 -- The Buffalo Sabres were about ready to get back to the National Hockey League's Final Four on this night.

     The Sabres defeated the Bruins, 3-0, to take a 3-1 lead in the playoff series. One more win would put Buffalo back in the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year.

     "We want to go to Boston and finish them off," said Vaclav Varada, who had a goal in the win. "If we don't win in Boston, we feel we can come home and beat them."

     Michael Peca scored a short-handed goal with 8:21 left to wrap the game up. Alexei Zhitnik actually got credit for the game-winer, tallying on the power play, and Dominik Hasek had 24 saves in a routine shutout.

     The Sabres had beaten the Bruins seven times out of nine during the course of that season.

     "We're exactly where we want to be," Sabres forward Brian Holzinger said. "Their backs are really against the wall. Now, it's up to us to put the final nail in the coffin."  

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Triple Crown trail turns to Baltimore

By Gene Kershner

It’s that time of year when hope springs eternal for thoroughbred racing fans.  The two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is when dreams of a Triple Crown champion start dancing in our heads. It’s been 33 long years since Affirmed crossed the wire ahead of his rival Alydar at Belmont Park to claim the last Triple Crown in 1978.

Only 33 horses have been eligible to win the Triple Crown entering the Belmont Stakes, but just 11 have succeeded. But don’t count your chicken wing until it’s sauced, as there is plenty of work to be done.

Animal Kingdom becomes the next hope for achieving racing immortality by stringing together two more victories. The next hurdle for the Derby champ will be the Preakness Stakes run over 1 3/16 miles at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

He’ll likely face fresh new shooters like Norman Asbjornson, Mr. Commons and Dance City, all colts who failed to achieve the graded stakes necessary to earn a Derby starting gate. He’ll most likely face a different pace scenario than he did in Louisville, where the early fractions were fairly ordinary by modern standards.  He will be the one horse that his competitors will be targeting and aware of the entire race; no more running under the radar for Animal Kingdom.

He certainly won’t be at odds approaching 21-1 either. Take a look at the following chart of the past 11 Preakness Stakes and the odds drop that the Derby champ encounters in Baltimore:

Year  Derby winner     Derby odds  Preak odds  Finish 

2011   Animal Kingdom   20.90               X              X

2010   Super Saver         8.00              1.90           8th

2009   Mine That Bird     50.60            6.60            2nd 

2008    Big Brown            2.40             0.20            1st

2007    Street Sense        4.90             1.30            2nd

2006     Barbaro              6.10              0.50            DNF

2005     Giacomo             50.30            6.00            3rd 

2004     Smarty Jones        4.10             0.70            1st

2003      Funny Cide          12.80            1.90            1st 

2002      War Emblem        20.50            2.80            1st

2001       Monarchos          10.50             2.30           6th

2000      Fusaichi Pegasus   2.30             0.30           2nd

There’s a solid chance that we’ll have 14 starters in the race, so we project Animal Kingdom’s odds to be somewhere in the 5-2 to 4-1 range at post time. Interestingly, no starter has won from one of the three inside posts in the last 11 years.

One of his Derby rivals, Dialed In, will be looking to capture the most money ever earned in a horse race should he win. He has qualified for an opportunity at the $5.5 million bonus offered by Magna for any horse that put together victories in the Holy Bull or Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby and the Preakness.  Now there’s some incentive for you. Dialed In, a deep closer, finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, rallying from last in the final quarter mile, but the slow pace didn’t provide an opportunity to catch the front runners by the time he started his late move.

The Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan Stakes will be run next Friday afternoon and will be televised by Versus, which did a nice job with the Derby undercard and Kentucky Oaks last weekend. An NBC affiliated network, mainly known for hockey and bull-riding, it appears to be a harbinger of sorts for racing fans as they will televise a number of stakes races from Saratoga this summer.

The Preakness day card will have 13 races and will get under way at 10:45 a.m. The graded stakes races, starting with Race 6 and ending with the Preakness, are as follows:

Race 6: Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap (6 furlongs)
Race 7: Grade 3 William Donald Schaefer Stakes (1 1/16 miles)
Race 8: Grade 3 Allaire Dupont Distaff Stakes (1 1/16 miles)
Race 9: Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap (1 1/16 miles – turf)
Race 10: Grade 2 Dixie Stakes (1 1/8 miles – turf)
Race 11: Grade 1 Preakness Stakes (1 3/16 miles)

Preakness Notes:

• Mike Smith will ride in his 13th Preakness aboard Astrology for trainer Steve Asmussen. Smith won the 1993 Preakness and has hit the board four other times.
• Dance City, third in the Arkansas Derby, will run for trainer Todd Pletcher and Ramon Dominguez will get the mount.
• Wesley Ward has taken over the training duties for Flashpoint, the fourth-place finisher in the Florida Derby and the second-place finisher in the Hutcheson. He will have Cornelio Velazquez in the irons and most likely be the horse on the lead early on.
• Robby Albarado, who lost his Derby mount on Animal Kingdom the day before the first Saturday in May, will get an opportunity to derail the Animal’s Triple Crown hopes aboard King Congie for West Point Thoroughbreds.
• Sway Away is sitting on the Preakness bubble and needs a defection of one of the top horses to make it into the starting gate.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at He posts every Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at and can be found on Twitter (@EquiSpace).

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Better team loses

   May 13, 2006 -- Entering the second-round playoff series between the Sabres and the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff had a little secret: he thought the Senators were the better team.

   "I thought they were deeper with talent up front. We were worried about their power play, which had been running real hot," he said.

   But the better team doesn't always win, and Ruff was more than happy that his team rose to the occasion. The Sabres beat the Senators, 3-2 in overtime, to complete the series win in five games.

   Jason Pominville's short-handed goal was definitely one of the highlights of his career. Sabre fans won't forget it any time soon either.

   "Once I got a step on him I had the puck on my backhand," Pominville said. "Once I saw [Ottawa goalie Ray Emery try] the poke check I just pulled it around to my forehand and had a lot of net to put it in."

   It was on to the Conference Finals and a date with Carolina.

 --- 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.