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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: End of the story

   August 11, 1998 -- There was no joy in Sabreville over the news that a Hall of Fame hockey player had announced his retirement on this date.

   Pat LaFontaine said his NHL playing days were over, ending a 15-year career that was spectacular. While the news of the retirement of a New York Rangers usually doesn't cause much of a reaction in Buffalo, this one certainly did.

   LaFontaine spent his first eight seasons with the New York Islanders, but then was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in the midst of a contract holdout. LaFontaine fit in perfectly, scoring a personal-best 148 points in the 1992-93 season while teaming with linemate Alexander Mogilny. What's more, LaFontaine was quickly adopted by the community, proving himself to be a valuable good-will ambassador for the team.

   The two sides should have lived happily ever after, but fate didn't allow it. He suffered a severe concussion early in the 1996-97 season, and missed the rest of the seaosn. An ugly dispute about LaFontaine's health followed in the fall of 1997, and the Sabres opted to trade him to the Rangers.

   The center had 62 points in 67 games for the Rangers, but suffered another head injury there and was forced to retire.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Take two

   August 10, 2009 -- Sometimes there really are second acts in American life, despite what F. Scott Fitzgerald said.

   Ask Mike Grier.

   The forward returned to the Buffalo Sabres on this day. The unrestricted free agent agreed to a one-year contract with the team on this day.

   Grier was acquired from the Washington Capitals for a prospect in 2004. He was a popular player, in part because he was a hard worker, and stayed through 2007. Then it was on to the San Jose Sharks as a free agent, averaging about 12 goals a year there over three seasons.

   But when his contract ran out in California, Grier opted to come back for a couple of more years. The forward scored 38 points in two seasons in his second go-around with the Sabres.

   At last word, Grier was waiting for some injuries to heal before making a decision about the upcoming season. Maybe there will be a third act.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Five million and counting

     August 9, 1998 -- The Buffalo Bisons played and won on this day, but that wasn't the big story in terms of the International League.

     The long-time baseball circuit reached a milestone by hitting 5 million fans in a single season. The IL became the first minor league to reach that number. The Bisons pitched in with a crowd of 10,665 for a Sunday afternoon game during a win over Pawtucket.

     The minor leagues had realigned that season, and the American Association passed away with its teams going to the IL and the Pacific Coast League. Three weeks later, the International League hit another milestone by going over six million in attendance, and finished at 6,481,906. The Bisons chipped in with 768,749 fans for the season, which set an International League record.

     James Betzsold put on a show for the Bisons' fans that day. He hit two home runs and came within a few feet of adding a third.

     "All I can do is go out, work hard and hope good things happen," Betzsold said to The News' Mike Harrington. "My attitude is the same every time -- just try to hit the ball hard. You can't go to try to hit a home run because it's not going to happen."

     The Bisons went 81-62 and won the International League North title, and then took the IL playoff title before losing to New Orleans in the Triple-A World Series.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: CFL vs. AFL

     August 8, 1961 -- For those seeking the oddest game in the history of the Buffalo Bills, this day featured the leading candidate -- in preseason, no less.

     It was the day that the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League played the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. It was the only meeting in history between teams from the two leagues.

     The contest took place in Hamilton's Civic Stadium (changed to Ivor Wynne Stadium in 1971) before a crowd of 12,000 curious fans. The game mostly was played under CFL rules and was won by the Tiger-Cats, 38-21.

     Richie Lucas and Johnny Green both threw touchdown passes for the Bills, while Art Baker had a three-yard touchdown run. Elbert Dubenion also reportedly looked good for Buffalo.

     Three different quarterbacks threw touchdown passes for Hamilton, including Bernie Faloney's two TD throws. Yes, the Tiger-Cats even scored a rouge, or single, on a missed field goal attempt.

     Buffalo went on to a 6-8 record in 1961, last in the AFL East. Hamilton made it to the Grey Cup game, but lost in overtime to Winnipeg in the first such CFL title game to need extra minutes to reach a conclusion.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: The best in the business

   August 7, 1977 -- This date marks the anniversary of the opening of the Peace Bridge. About 100,000 turned out for the ceremony, which was broadcast coast-to-coast on radio in 1927.

   It's an appropriate day, then, to recognize a big day in the history of Fort Erie Race Track, which has been attracting Americans fans of horse racing for generations.

   On the 50th anniversary of the Peace Bridge's opening, Fort Erie convinced some of the greatest jockeys in North America to "cross over the bridge" and take part on All-Star Jockey Day. A crowd of 16,172 turned out for the event, and wagered $1,233,483 … a record at the time.

   Some mighty big names showed up for the festivities. Start with Sandy Hawley, who learned the business after giving up thoughts of becoming a plumber for a living. Hawley became a top jockey in Toronto, and then in Canada, in virtually no time at all in the 1960s. He moved to the United States from there, but was still a frequent visitor to Fort Erie.

   Then there's Bill Shoemaker, one of the most famous jockeys of all time. He won a Kentucky Derby in 1955 and in 1986. Shoemaker also took nine other Triple Crown races.

   The list also included Avelino Gomez, Ron Turcotte, Jeff Fell, Jean Cruget, Robin Platts and Angel Cordero Jr. No doubt about it … if your horse lost on that day, chances were good it
wasn't the rider's fault.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Going, going, gone

  August 6, 1994 -- John Hope was a second-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1989. It's fair to say he didn't live up to expectations, as the 6-foot-3 pitcher never spent a day of his 10-year pro career in the major leagues.

   He did, however, have a nice if brief moment with his bat … one that devoted Bison trivia experts might remember.

   Hope had a home run in a game against Louisville, thus becoming the first Bisons' pitcher to homer at Pilot Field since the stadium opened in 1988. It was a solo shot, so he had one of his three RBIs for the season on one swing. Hope was a .211 hitter that season, going 4 for 19. Remember, pitchers only bad in the minors when two National League affiliates are matched.

   Hope didn't have a particularly good year on the mound for the Herd. He went 4-9 with a 3.87 earned-run average. The right-hander started 17 of his 18 games that year.

   By the standards of that team, though, Hope was a good-sized winner. Only four pitchers won more than four games for the Bisons that season. One of them was Tim Wakefield, who went 5-15. He went on to become a big part of the Boston Red Sox history after that.

   The Bisons went 55-89 under Doc Edwards that season. That put them six games into the cellar in the American Association.

 --- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: All tied up

     I attended the Police Chase for the first time in a while on Wednesday night in Delaware Park. The featured attraction is always the 2-mile handcuff race, in which partners are tied together. It's very impressive to see good runners time their strides well enough to make the run go smoothly. I have enough trouble alone.

     Speaking of trouble, I apologize for getting the starting time of the race at the Niagara Falls Italian Festival wrong in some editions of last Sunday's paper. I fixed it for most of the newspapers, but I'd hate to think many people showed up for a 10:30 a.m. race instead of 10. The actual start of the race was at 10:12, so my guess is that almost all made it.

     Coming up on Sunday is a story on how races deal with extreme heat. There has been plenty of practice at it over the last few weeks.

     Now, here's the weekend schedule, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

     * Coach Capuani Cross Country Kickoff Run, Frontier high School in Hamburg, 9 a.m. Saturday, 926-1720.

     * Taste of Lancaster/Fire Fighters for Food 5K, Central Ave. (near Clark) in Lancaster, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 684-4818.

     * Pennies to Heaven 5K, 767 Ridge Road in Lackawanna, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, 822-4781. Plenty of turns on this course in Holy Cross Cemetery.

     * St. Christopher Summerfest 5K, 2660 Niagara Falls Blvd. in Tonawanda, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, 907-5928. Two Saturday night races? That may be a record.

     * Stephen's Cross-Country Run, 6K, Long Point State Park in Bemus Point, 9 a.m. Sunday, 488-0788.

     * Ultra 12-mile and 4-Mile Trail Run, Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, 574-0888.

--- Budd Bailey

Katz fires 66

Buffalo District Individual
At Brookfield
Second Round Scores
Jake Katz 66-136
Matt Stasiak 69-140
Chris Covelli 70-141

Rounds still in progress
-- Bob DiCesare

Katz holding lead

Defending champ Jake Katz is 4 under for the day through 14 holes and still owns a 3-shot lead in the Buffalo District Individual Championship at Brookfield. Matt Stasiak is 2 under on the round and 3 under overall. Katz opened with a 2 under 70 Thursday.
--Bob DiCesare

Post Time: History looms in Sunday's Breeders' Stakes

By Gene Kershner

     The 121st running of the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, for Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds, over 1 1/2 miles on the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, will be run Sunday afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack. All 14 starters will carry 126 pounds in pursuit of the $300,000 first-place prize in the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

The main story line emanating out of Toronto is the attempt by Luis Contreras to become the first jockey in the Triple Crown era (since 1959) to win all three races with two different horses. He rode the talented filly Inglorious to victory in June in the Queen's Plate and followed that victory with Pender Harbour in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie last month.

Contreras once again picks up the mount on trainer Mike DePaulo's 9-Pender Harbour for the Breeders' and was set as the 7-2 second choice on the morning line. The race will be the gelding's first on Woodbine's terrific turf course, one of North America's best.

When I spoke to DePaulo immediately after the Prince of Wales, his main concern heading into the next jewel was not the turf course.

     "His sire's sire is Kris S so he should love grass. He is very ratable so he doesn't have to go to the lead," said the conditioner. But can he get the distance? "He's worked well on the grass (July 31, 1:00 3/5, breezing, on the Woodbine turf training track)," said DePaulo. "I think the question mark for everyone in the race is the mile and a half distance. He's coming into the race in great shape and we're going to hope for the best."

A horse that caught my eye viewing the past performances is 11-Celtic Conviction (6-1), who is by Strut the Stage, who had earned more than $1.5 million, mostly in turf route races.  Strut the Stage's sire was Theatrical (IRE), another fine turf sire who shows a Breeders' Cup Turf victory in his record. Emile Ramsammy has the mount for trainer Michael Doyle for the chestnut gelding who finished a neck out of the winner's circle in the $150K Toronto Cup last month.

If you are looking for a long-shot play, I can make a case for 8-Blackstone Bay (20-1) and the powerful trainer/jockey combination of Mark Casse and Patrick Husbands. The Stormy Atlantic sophomore broke his maiden last out with an impressive victory and stretches out for the first time.

Not only is Contreras attempting to make his mark in the history books, but several others will be seeking milestones in the Breeders'.

  A win on Sunday aboard 20-1 long shot 10-Diego Bay would move Richard Dos Ramos into a three-way tie, with Sandy Hawley and Robin Platts, for most wins by a jockey in this race, with four. Roger Attfield, who has won the Breeders' a record eight times, trains the bay Ghostzapper colt who is still a maiden after three lifetime starts.  His best effort came in his most recent start, when rallying to fourth in a 1 1/4-mile turf tilt won by 80-1 shot 1-Delawana (12-1), who is also entered in the Breeders'.
Sam-Son Farm is also in line for a record-breaking sixth Breeders' victory as trainer Malcolm Pierce sends out their maiden homebred 2-Stunning Split (15-1).

Queens'platekitten scratched out of the race on Friday morning.

 Post Time Outlook: 1 - Celtic Conviction; 2 - Pender Harbour; 3 - Blackstone Bay.

 

PPHorseJockeyTrainerOdds
1 Delawana David Moran Mike Keogh 12-1
2 Stunning Split Jim McAleney Malcolm Pierce 15-1
3 Queen'splatekitten* Eurico Rosa Da Silva Todd Pletcher 3-1
4 Crown's Path Jesse Campbell Greg de Gannes 20-1
5 Control Omar Moreno Mark Casse 15-1
6 Seawatch Slade Callaghan Josie Carroll 10-1
7 Molinaro Remarks Steve Bahen Vito Armata 30-1
8 Blackstone Bay Patrick Husbands Mark Casse 20-1
9 Pender Harbour Luis Contreras Mike DePaulo 7-2
10 Diego Bay Richard Dos Ramos Roger Attfield 20-1
11 Celtic Conviction Emile Ramsammy Mike Doyle 6-1
12 Runaway Whiz Corey Fraser Mark Frostad 30-1
13 Born to Boogie Justin Stein Catherine Day Phillips 15-1
14 Hippolytus Tyler Pizarro Mark Casse 8-1

 * -- Scratched.


     Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

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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.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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