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Post Time: Summer racing in the rear view mirror

By Gene Kershner

The end of the Saratoga and Del Mar meetings signals the end of summer and the lead in to the
Breeders' Cup World Championships to be held at Churchill Downs on November 4-5 in Louisville. The racing world will now turn to Santa Anita, Belmont Park and Keeneland for the final prep races before the season culminates with the Cup races under the Twin Spires.

As we exit summer racing at two of the most successful meets in the business, here are some
wishful thoughts:

* Here's hoping both Havre de Grace and Blind Luck take their talents to the Breeders' Cup
Classic against males. It would give the race some needed luster after the retirement and
hoopla created with Zenyatta last year.

* It was an extremely difficult spot for Uncle Mo to come back and run a 7-furlong Grade 1
sprint after a four month layoff. His effort, in my eyes, gets better and better each time I
watch the replay. Here's hoping Team Repole takes a shot at one of the Breeders' Cup races.

* The Ladies Classic (Distaff), sans the two aforementioned super fillies, could set up the 3-
year old filly divisional championship should Royal Delta and It's Tricky face off.

* I'm a proponent of moving the Breeders' Cup after a rotation of the big three (Churchill,
Santa Anita and Belmont) to another venue every four years. Woodbine, Arlington, Lone Star and Monmouth come to mind as desirable locations.

* I heard NYRA head honcho Charlie Heyward on Steve Byk's satellite radio show At The Races
state that one of the reasons Belmont was passed over for the 2011 Breeders' Cup was the lack
of quality dining facilities/luxury boxes. He mentioned on air that during Belmont Stakes day
he had some of the BC board tour the current dining facilities upstairs on the second and
third floors. The Board members present were impressed but stated that they didn't realize
that these places existed within Belmont's infrastructure. I'm sure Charlie will sharpen his
pencil next time he submits a proposal.

* In four short years, since opening in September 2007, Presque Isle Downs has a Grade 2 race
on its schedule, the Presque Isle Masters, which will be run on Saturday afternoon at the
Erie, Pennsylvania track. I spoke with Jim Cornes, Stakes Coordinator at the track who told me
one of the horses was actually ‘FedEx'd‘ into Presque Isle on Thursday through Memphis. When
it absolutely, positively has to be there ...

* One of the most popular traditions at Fort Erie Race Track continued on Labor Day as
Francine Villeneuve took a jump into the infield pond after winning the Puss N Boots Cup on
Kettle Rapids. The race had been originally scheduled to run on the turf course but after
heavy rain over the weekend the event was moved to the main dirt track.

Total attendance for the Saratoga meet (39 days with racing canceled on Sunday, August 28 due
to Hurricane Irene) was 871,772, down 0.7 percent from 878,284 for the 40-day meet in 2010.
Daily average attendance of 22,353, however, was up 1.8 percent from 21,957 in 2010.

* Mark Oct. 1 on your racing calendar. Belmont Park will host Super Saturday featuring five
Grade 1 races, including the all-important Jockey Club Gold Cup, where some of the 3-year old
crop will face older horses for the first time.

* There is some great racing on tap this weekend from Presque Isle, Belmont and Turfway Park.
Here's to cashing some big tickets!

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: A half to remember

     September 9, 1979 -- Roland Hooks might have made some National Football League history on this day. He may have put up the oddest statistical line by a running back.

     The Bills' halfback carried the ball five times in the game. He went for touchdowns on four of them. And it gets better. He scored on all four of his carries in the second half.

     It was a rather wacky day at Rich Stadium with the Cincinnati Bengals in town. Neither team scored in the first period, and both teams had a touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter to leave the game at 10-10 at the half.

     In the third quarter, Hooks scored on runs of 3 and 32 yards. He went for two more TDs in the fourth quarter, with runs of 4 and 28 yards. Joe Ferguson was terrific as well, but not that terrific. He was merely 16 of 21 for 282 yards and no interceptions. Buffalo rolled to a 51-24 win, its first victory in a 7-9 season.

     Hooks was a good reserve running back throughout his seven-year career. He'll always remember the time he scored four of his 12 career touchdowns in one half.

---Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Television stars

If you ran in the Corporate Challenge in June, there's a small change you might see yourself on television this month. "Running," a television program that aires on the Yes Network, devotes a small (emphasis on small) segment to the Buffalo portion of the series in this month's show. There are a few shots of the start and of the turnaround at Gates Circle. Those who began at the front might have the best chance of saying, "Say, that's me on television."

Meanwhile, I learned a little something about chips this week. I didn't know that the technology allows us to measure a time down to a hundredth of a second. It's not a completely perfect system for close finishes, since it can't measure when a runner first crosses the plane of the finish line with any part of his or her body (think leaning into a finish line tape), but it's good enough to settle most disputes.

Looking back, it was a nice weekend for racing. I got good feedback about the new Hall of Fame race, and the Fleet Feet 15K also was said to have gone off nicely. Full disclosure -- I'm on the Hall of Fame board. A fellow board member asked me about improvements for next year, and I immediately said, "Start the race at 6:30 p.m. instead of 7 -- more daylight that way." It seemed to go over well. Be sure to ask John Beishline, or any of the other inductees, to let you see his Hall of Fame watch.

By the way, the Fleet Feet race was a runner of the year qualifier. Here are the latest  standings courtesy of buffalorunners.com. Nine down, three to go.

On the calendar, the Wendelville Harvest Moon Run was the last night weeknight race of the year. We're starting to run out of sunlight for such events. But Saturday might be the busiest day of the year. There probably is a race close to you. Here's the list for the weekend, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Peace Festival 5K, 493 Center St. in Lewiston, 9 a.m.Saturday, 297-5831.

* Brothers of Mercy Bavarian Fest 5K, 4520 Ransom Road in Clarence, 9 a.m. Saturday, 759-7808. I did this race last year (it was a different weekend in 2010); Tillman Road might be the most peaceful part of a race course in Western New York as it is next to a nature preserve.

* Headway Walk, Run & Wheel 5K, 329 Erie St. in Buffalo (Erie Basin Marina), 9 a.m. Saturday, 408-3101. I heard that applications have been a little slow; this might be a chance to claim a medal.

* Nativity of Our Lord 5K, 4414 S. Buffalo St. in Orchard Park, 10 a.m. Saturday, 662-0595.

* Run with the Angels 5K, 24 Shoshone Dr. in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 834-7120 x306. I ran this race last year, and it was a nice event. Good, flat course too.

* Derby Fair 5K, 7431 Erie Road in Derby 10 a.m. Saturday, 947-0945.

* Finn McCool 4 Mile Odyssey, Cazenovia Park in South Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 830-6703. This is part mud-run, part obstacle course. Sounds like it could be fun for some.

* Strides for Stewart 5K, 1715 Bedell Road in Grand Island, 10 a.m. Sunday, 830-9515.

* Dash for Dad 5K, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 844-5500.

* Bobby Grenga Memorial Scholarship 5K, Goat Island in Niagara Falls (Lot #3), 5 p.m. Sunday, 754-4599.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Familiar faces

     September 8, 1963 -- Think Jack Kemp had that date circled on his calendar?

     Kemp had been acquired by the Bills in one of the most famous transactions in history. The quarterback had led the Chargers to two championship games in 1960 and 1961. Then in 1962, Kemp had a finger injury, and the Chargers tried to sneak him through waivers in September because of roster issues.

     Oops. The Bills were paying attention and claimed him for $100. Kemp didn't play against the Chargers in 1962, as Warren Rabb got the start.

     By 1963, Kemp was healthy and had claimed the starting job in training camp. At first, Kemp reportedly wasn't enthusiastic about leaving San Diego, and the Chargers were waiting to host the Bills in the season's first game.

     San Diego's offense was held in check, but the Bills couldn't muster up enough offense to win the game. The Chargers took a 14-10 decision. Kemp was 17 of 33 for 220 yards, but did throw three interceptions. Fred Brown had Buffalo's only touchdown, scoring on a 4-yard run.

     The Bills went 7-6-1 in 1963, and then won the American Football League championship in the next two years.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Taking charge

   September 7, 1986 -- A fan at Rich Stadium on this season opener was ready. He already brought a sign reading, "Kelly is God." That's high praise for someone who hadn't played an NFL game yet.

   When that game was done, most agreed the fan in question had overstated the case. A little.

   Jim Kelly played his first game as a Buffalo Bill on this day, as the New York Jets came to Rich Stadium. Kelly had signed the previous month after the demise of the United States Football League, and the Bills were hoping Kelly could lead them out of the wilderness that stretched back about five years.

   The quarterback tried his hardest that day. He was 20 of 33 for 292 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Despite not having all of training camp to prepare for the NFL season, Kelly showed that quarterback would be a strength and not a weakness for the Bills for the first time in several years.

   As for the game, the Jets had a good passing game of their own that day. Ken O'Brien was 18 of 25 for 318 yards. Al Toon and Wesley Walker both caught touchdown passes, and New York went on to a 28-24 win.

   But at least better times were ahead for the Bills. And how.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: At his peak

   September 6, 1980 -- In the world of thoroughbred racing, Secretariat was about as good as horses could get. In harness racing, the same could be said for Niatross.

   The pacer set 15 world records in a two-year career. Some came on one-mile tracks while others came on half-mile tracks. It didn't seem to matter; Niatross would have won on the Skyway.

   What's more, one of his greatest performances came at Batavia Downs. Niatross took part in the race for the Hugh Grant Cup before almost 10,000 fans.

   The track record was 1:58.1, set by the legendary Bret Hanover in 1966. Niatross didn't just beat the record, he destroyed it. The horse ran a 1:55 for the mile. Driver Clint Galbraith said it was one of Niatross' greatest performances and easiest runs.

   A website dedicated to Niatross ranks the Batavia Downs race as the horse's second-greatest night in his career.

   There were plenty of good nights to choose from. Niatross ran 39 times, and won 37 of them, earning more than $2 million.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Down to nine teams

Sometimes it doesn't pay to go on vacation. In this case, I didn't get the word until now that the Boston Blazers had announced they were suspending operations for the 2012 season.

It's tough to spin this development as anything but bad news.

The Blazers couldn't make the economics of playing in the Boston Garden work. The rent is quite high, and it's difficult for a team playing eight home games a year to make up the cost of opening the building in a place like Boston.

So, they suspended operations for 2012. That usually means death, as several National Lacrosse League teams over the years have said they were coming back after a year -- and didn't. The Blazers will try to be the exception to that rule.

The timing isn't too good either. There is some time to rework the schedule, naturally, but the league will have to think over its divisional alignment. Does it stick with two divisions, or just go to one? How many teams out of nine should make the playoffs? I always figured a "national" league should have at least 10 teams, and we've slipped below that now.

In the meantime, the Blazers did have a ton of talent and underachieved a bit last season. The league is about to get at least 10 percent more competitive as each team loads up with more talent.

The dispersal draft is on Friday. Philadelphia will go first, and the Bandits will have the sixth pick. If you know the Bandits' roster, you know that Dan Dawson, Casey Powell and Josh Sanderson represent a ton of talent. And that's just for starters. Would the Bandits be interested in veteran goalie Anthony Cosmo? Defender Kyle Rubisch? Forward Kevin Buchanan?

Stay tuned.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Slip sliding away

   September 5, 1949 -- The Buffalo Bills just couldn't figure out a way to defeat the Cleveland Browns.

   This was the All-American Football Conference, and the Browns were easily the best team to play in that league. They had won the championship in 1946, 1947, and 1948 under soon-to-be legendary coach Paul Brown.

   The Bills opened the '49 season with the Browns. They gave up a touchdown pass by Otto Graham, and then went on a tremendous run. The Bills scored four straight touchdowns to take a 28-7 lead. It looked as if the Bills would defeat Cleveland for the first time in league history.

   But the Browns used Graham's short-pass attack to get within seven points, 28-21. Then Cleveland had the ball on the Buffalo 38 with two minutes to go. The Browns moved the ball to the Bills' 2, and then Mac Speedie caught a touchdown pass. Lou Saban -- that's right, the future Bills' head coach -- kicked the extra point.

   "No, no, no! It can't be! We were 21 points ahead!" Buffalo's Jim Breuil said.

   The Bills started 1-4-1, finished 5-5-2, lost a playoff game to the Browns and folded when the NFL-AAFC merger for 1950 didn't include them.

--- Budd Bailey 

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Welcome, Thurman

   September 4, 1988 -- Opening Day doesn't have the same ring to it in football than it does in baseball. Still, it's a great time to start making judgments about rookies.

   There were plenty of thumbs-up signals by Bills' fans on this day after watching Thurman Thomas play his first game in a Buffalo uniform.

   You might remember Thomas suffering through the NFL draft the previous April, as he waiting to see where he finally would be taken. Thomas eventually went to the Bills in the second
round.

   It didn't take Thomas long to make an impact. In fact, he scored his first professional touchdown in the first quarter of the first game, a home contest against the Minnesota Vikings.

   Thomas finished the day with 18 carries for 86 yards and the score. Jim Kelly was 17 of 31 for 204 yards, while Andre Reed caught eight passes for 78 yards. The Bills finished with a 13-10 win. It was the first time that the Bills had won on Opening Day since 1982.

   We heard a lot about those three players in the years ahead, as they sparked the Buffalo offense to four straight Super Bowl appearances.

-- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Getting a chance

   September 3, 2006 -- One of the great Cinderella stories in Buffalo Bills' history begins on this date.

   Fred Jackson was a heck of a running back in college. He ran for 1,702 yards and scored 29 touchdowns in 2002 for Coe College in Iowa. In fact, Jackson was a two-time conference most valuable player at Coe.

   But greatness at a Division III school is not a ticket to the NFL. Jackson played for the National Indoor Football League in 2004 and the United Indoor Football League in 2005. The Suoux City Bandits eventually retired his number.

   After a stint in NFL Europe in 2006, Bills' general manager Marv Levy gave his fellow Coe graduate a look in training camp. On this date, Jackson was placed on the practice squad roster.

   He didn't get on the field in 2006, with his NFL debut coming in 2007. Jackson's first start came against the Washington Redskins, as he picked up 82 yards rushing and caught four passes.

   Jackson's productivity went up in 2008, as he rushed for 571 yards. That was a good warm-up for 2009, when he went over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time. The running back had 2,516 combined yards for the year, one of the best totals in NFL history. Jackson got caught up in a crowd at running back for a while in 2010, but eventually he finished with 927 yards.

--- 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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