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Post Time: Divisional questions still up in the air

By Gene Kershner

With Super Saturday upon us at Belmont Park this weekend and some key races at Santa Anita, including the Norfolk and the Goodwood Stakes, many divisional championship scenarios are soon to be uncovered. Of course, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships ultimately will have a big determination on who will surface as the champions in each of the key categories to be awarded next January at the annual Eclipse Awards.

So what are some of the questions going into this weekend a month out from the Breeders’ Cup World Championships?

1. Will Stay Thirsty surface as the leader in the clubhouse of the 3-year old colt division with a win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup?  The winner of back to back stakes during the Saratoga meeting after finishing a game second in the Belmont Stakes, Stay Thirsty is poised to seize the 3-year old division with a victory. With Derby champion Animal Kingdom shelved since the Belmont and no other colt winning more than one key race, a third consecutive victory could seal the deal for Mike Repole’s colt.

2. Can Royal Delta defeat Havre de Grace in the Beldame and corral the 3-year old filly division? After capturing the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan and the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, Bill Mott’s filly has control over the 3-year old filly division, but faces a tough test in Horse of the Year contender Havre de Grace on Saturday. She will most likely go on to the Ladies’ Classic from here. Interesting Mott chose this spot over the $750,000 Cotillion Stakes at Parx where Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty and Acorn/CCAO winner It’s Tricky are headed this weekend.

3. Is Havre de Grace’s next step to go on to the Classic if she wins this weekend’s Beldame? After defeating males in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga, she returns to face fillies and mares this weekend, but has bigger things on the horizon should she continue her winning ways. She became only the second female to win the Woodward in its storied history.

4. Will Drill dominate the Norfolk Stakes and move into the favorite role in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile? Drill tries the dirt for the first time in his rematch with Creative Cause. He looks to be the real deal and a horse to be dealt with in the Juvenile.

5. Is Acclamation a threat to capture the Breeders’ Cup Classic? A horse not well known on the East Coast, he has had great success over the current year. He goes in this weekend’s Goodwood and has already qualified for the Classic with his win in the Pacific Classic last month at Del Mar. He’s only run on dirt in two of his 27 career races, so his effort over the Santa Anita strip will be a key to watch. Coil and Game On Dude will try and unseat him as the west coast threat in the Classic.

6. Will Uncle Mo move forward in the Kelso off the King’s Bishop? Mike Repole has stated that he is taking Mo to the Classic and not the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He and trainer Todd Pletcher have chosen the one-turn Kelso mile at Belmont over the Jockey Club Gold Cup as his prep for the Classic. He is working lights out, but the classic distance could be his ultimate downfall. Repole will take the chance though, and I’m looking forward to Mo running big this weekend.

It should be an exciting weekend of racing on both coasts, so stay tuned as the divisional leaders emerge.

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

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: This one counted

   September 30, 1973 -- Most people associated the opening of Rich Stadium with the preseason game against the Washington Redskins on August 17, 1973. But it's the regular season games that count in the standings and deserved to be noted too.

   The Bills started the 1973 season on the road for the first two weeks, beating New England and losing in San Diego. Finally, they got to play for real in their new playpen. The end zones weren't used that much on that particular day.

   A sellout crowd watched John Leypoldt kick a 42-yard field goal in the first quarter, and that was all the scoring in the first 45 minutes of play. Leypoldt added two more three-pointers in the fourth quarter, which was enough to keep the Bills ahead when Al Woodall hit Jerome Barkum with a 34-yard scoring pass. That's the way it ended -- Bills 9, Jets 7.

   That year will always be associated with O.J. Simpson, and he was merely very good. The halfback ran for 123 yards on 24 carries. Larry Watkins ran for 78 more yards as Buffalo ran for 208 yards.

   Quarterback Joe Ferguson's biggest job that season at times seemed to be handing the ball off to Simpson. He was 7 for 17 for 74 yards with one interception in the game.

   By the way, Joe Namath missed that game for the Jets because of a separated shoulder. It was the third of four seasons in which "Broadway Joe" did not play in most of New York's games.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Looking behind and ahead

The reports were good on last weekend's new half-marathon in Lewiston. A couple of people thought staging a 5-kilometer race at the same time got a bit confusing at the end, but that's probably easy to fix. Nice to have it on the calendar.

Be sure to read in Sunday's News the story about how a local runner has learned to appreciate that morning job more than ever in the past year.

Here's the calendar, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Autumn Challenge 5K (trail), Sprague Brook Park in Glenwood, 9:30 a.m. Saturday. It's part of the Erie County Autumn Festival.

* The Meghan Memorial 5K (cross country), 4432 Bayview Road in Hamburg, 9:45 a.m. Saturday, 926-8805.

* 10th Annual Maggie Lee Memorial Run, 5K, Delaware Park in Bufalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 883-5396. This is a nice little race, and not only because I won an age-group award last year.

* Timon Fall Challenge 5K Run, 601 McKinley Parkway in Buffalo, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 826-3610. I know people who show up just for the cheesecake.

Some Western New York runners are headed to Syracuse for the Syracuse Festival of Races. There is some money for the taking in this event, some done on a random basis. We'll see if the idea of cash as a door prize catches on.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: One to remember

     September 29, 1968 -- It might be the single-most amazing result in the history of the Buffalo Bills, particularly in hindsight.

     Let's set the scene for this game. The Bills had already lost their first three games in the 1968 season, including a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals -- an expansion team playing the third game in their history.

     Just to make it more interesting, the opponent at War Memorial Stadium was the New York Jets. As students of football history know, that Jets' team eventually went on to win the Super Bowl in January, 1969.

     The Bills stunned the Jets, 37-35. How did it happen? Start with the Bills' secondary, which returned three interceptions for touchdowns. All were at least 45 yards long, and Tom Janik took one pick 100 yards for a score. Ben Gregory hadthe other Buffalo touchdown, and Bruce Alford added three field goals.

     New York's Joe Namath threw for 280 yards and four touchdowns that day, and also had five interceptions. New York outgained Buffalo, 427-197.

     It was Buffalo's only win of the season. The Jets finished 11-3, and you know the rest.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: O.J. contributes to a win

     September 28, 1969 -- O.J. Simpson was used to winning when he was a Heisman Trophy winner at Southern California. He had to wait a little while to get that winning feeling as a member of the Buffalo Bills.

     Simpson probably wasn't expecting immediate success, since he joined a team that went 1-12-1 in 1968. Still, he had to wait through two losses with the Bills during his rookie season. Then, Buffalo came through with a 41-28 victory over the Denver Broncos.

     What's more, Simpson had a lot to do with the victory, which came in Buffalo's third straight home game. The rookie ran for 110 yards on 24 carries, his first 100-yard game as a pro. He also caught five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.

     The Bills scored 38 points in the middle two periods to win going away. Jack Kemp was 19 for 38 for 249 yards and three touchdowns. One of the scoring passes was a 55-yarder to Haven Moses, while Wayne Patrick scored on a 4-yard run and Butch Byrd returned an interception 12 12 yards for a score.

     Denver's leading rusher was its quarterback; Pete Liske ran for 32 yards. It was an eventful day for Liske, who was 17 of 45 for 289 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions.

     The coach of the Broncos that day? Lou Saban.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Ram tough

   September 27, 1970 -- The American Football League and National Football League had fully merged by the time the 1970 season rolled in. That meant for the first time ever, the Buffalo Bills would get to play some NFL teams in games that counted.

   The schedule-maker didn't do the Bills any favors in their first AFL-NFL matchup. The Los Angeles Rams came to town.

   The Rams had plenty of talent in that era under legendary coach George Allen. Roman Gabriel was the quarterback, and he was something of the Ben Roethlisberger of his time in terms of power. The rest of the roster was littered with stars such as Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Tom Mack, Bob Brown, Jack Pardee and Richie Petitbon.

   The Bills were in a rebuilding phase at that point. Their biggest addition was Al Cowlings, a defensive end who played with O.J. Simpson at Southern California.

   The Rams didn't knock the Bills into Lake Erie, but they certainly controlled play. They took a 19-0 win in War Memorial Stadium. Rookie quarterback Dennis Shaw of Buffalo, a second-round pick, was 13 of 18 for 143 yards but couldn't generate any points. Simpson ran 14 times for only 24 yards.

   As for the Rams, Gabriel was 15 of 28 for 202 yards, while Willie Ellison ran for 90 yards and a touchdown. Los Angeles just missed the playoff that year with a 9-4-1 record, while the Bills ended up 3-10-1.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Smart addition

   September 26, 1989 -- The chances of picking up a future Hall of Fame player for nothing are few and far between. Yet that's exactly what happened to the Buffalo Bills on this day.

   It wasn't exactly big news at the time. The Bills announced that they had placed cornerback Derrick Burroughs on injured reserve because of a neck injury. Buffalo filled the roster spot by signing free agent James Lofton, who was said to be a backup for Andre Reed and Flip Johnson.

   Lofton had turned in nine excellent seasons with the Packers after he arrived in 1978. He qualified for the Pro Bowl seven times. Then Lofton spent two years with the Raiders, but was let go. His production had dropped off, and NFL teams wondered if this fabulous athlete had something left in the tank.

   He certainly did. Lofton only caught eight passes in 12 games in 1989, but that was just a warm-up. The receiver caught 35 passes in 1990, averaging about 20 yards per catch. Obviously, Johnson wasn't missed after that. Lofton then caught 108 passes over two years in 1991 and 1991. He could still stretch the field at the age of 36, and was a big part of Buffalo's no-huddle offense in that great era.

   Lofton moved on for one more season with the Rams and Eagles in 1993. Ten years later, he went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after catching 764 passes for 14,004 yards. 

--- Budd Bailey

The Real Deal still has lofty goals

Former undisputed world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield made the interview rounds Friday and Saturday during an appearance in Western New York for the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.

Holyfield, "The Real Deal," turns 49 next month but has a title fight lined up for Dec. 17 against WBA champ Alexabder Poventkin in his quest to do the unthinkable --- become the oldest boxer to unify the three major world heavyweight titles.

He also talked about his role in a documentary he helped present at the festival.

 

 

---Miguel Rodriguez

(@miggyrod33 on Twitter)

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: A long career

   September 25, 2007 -- Jim Lorentz arrived in Buffalo in a trade with the New York Rangers in 1972. He stayed for more than 35 years.

   Lorentz was a member of some very good Sabre teams before retiring in 1978. Then he eventually made the move to the broadcast booth. He appeared on both radio and television over the years -- almost 30 of them, to be exact.

   The timing of his retirement announcement was a bit odd, since the start of the season was right around the corner.

   "It happens to a lot of athletes before the start of a season," Sabres' executive Larry Quinn said. "You look in the mirror and say, "I can't go anymore.' It happened to Jim. I don't think Jim knew really until it was time to get on a plane back to Buffalo."

    Lorentz, 60, had been in the hockey business for 43 years. He exited quietly, not even giving interviews about his departure at the time.

   "It was his decision. Totally," Quinn said. "I'd love to have him back. He didn't want to do it anymore. There was no other issue."

   Harry Neale eventually came along to replace Lorentz on the Sabres' broadcasts.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Going downward

   September 24, 1967 -- Those seeking a sign that the glory days of the Buffalo Bills in the 1960's were over found quite a few on this date.

   The Bills, who were coming off an appearance in the AFL championship game the previous January, dropped a 23-0 decision to the Patriots in War Memorial Stadium. The remarkable part of the story is that it marked the first time the Bills had ever been shut out.

   Tom Flores had a game to forget at quarterback for Buffalo. He was 11 for 30 with five interceptions. Keith Lincoln picked up 41 yards on 13 carries, while Art Powell caught four passes.

   Jim Nance of the Patriots rumbled for 185 yards and a touchdown, and halfback Larry Garron caught four passes including a touchdown pass from Babe Parilli.

   At least Buffalo made a little history that day. The 10-millionth fan in the history of the American Football League passed through the turnstiles that day.

   The Bills had hopes of getting off to a great start, because their first four games were at home that season. They finished that stretch 1-3, after a loss a week later to the Chargers. From there the Bills were on their way to a 4-10 season. They wouldn't recover until 1973.

--- 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.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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