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Rest in peace, Dan Wheldon

The thing that always struck me about Dan Wheldon was that "he gets it." 

The guy was obviously a natural talent in a race car, and with his good looks and smooth manner of speaking, he seemed to be born to talk in front of cameras, too.

The "he gets it" comment is one that media folks will throw out once in a while. When it's used, at least the way I use it, it's not just about someone being amenable to the media, about someone being a "good quote." Those things help, of course, and both could certainly be applied to Wheldon.

But truly getting it goes beyond a snappy one-liner or smiling at cameras. Wheldon had a sense of place, purpose and perspective that made him not just a champion of auto racing but a tremendous ambassador for his sport. 

The best example I remember, and I'm certainly not alone here, is how he represented his sport and the Indianapolis 500 after winning the 2005 race which would become known as Danicamania's coming out party. He also was quite eloquent in talking about fatherhood before and after his Cinderella victory in this summer's Indy 500.

I did a story from Watkins Glen International's Indy Car stop in 2006, just after Sam Hornish had won the Indy 500. With the win putting Hornish in the unofficial position of spokesman of his series, I spent part of the story discussing how well Wheldon had done in that regard.

Here's an excerpt:

After open-wheel racing has struggled in two separate circuits (IRL and Champ Car) for a decade, the IRL has seen a resurgence in the last two years thanks in part to the emergence of Danica Patrick (15th among 19 drivers in practice).

A year ago this week, Wheldon was the series' perfect spokesman in the midst of Danicamania, saying in just about every interview how proud he was to have won "the greatest race in the world" and revving the hyperbole engine loudly by calling it the "biggest sporting event in the world."

Wheldon relished the role so much he even wore a T-shirt that read "I actually won the Indy 500" after rookie Patrick seized magazine covers by becoming the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before she finished fourth. The T-shirt was more fun than sour grapes, but no matter the recipe it was great PR. It's hard to picture the reserved Hornish pulling a similar stunt.

"He's obviously a different personality than me," said Wheldon, 27. "I think he'll represent the Indianapolis 500 very well -- Sam's a good role model for everyone involved."

When asked about his teammate taking on the role of Indy 500 champion, Castroneves said with a smile, "The good news is, he's definitely improved his personality a lot." He was clearly joking, but it's not something one would say if one were talking about, say, the ebullient Wheldon.

As the 5-foot-9 bubbly British-born bachelor with short spiky blond hair zipped his way down to his pit stall Friday in a motor scooter -- most drivers use them to get around the track -- he playfully waved his fist at a team member of a competitor before mock-karate-kicking another bystander.

A few minutes later, the 6-foot, Elvis-like sideburn-wearing Hornish, 26, smoothly drove his scooter down the same path, with wife Crystal riding piggyback."

The entire story is here.

Rest in peace, Dan Wheldon.

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

Post time: Longshot Filly Steals International at 22-1

By Gene Kershner

TORONTO – A great day of thoroughbred turf racing was capped off by a 22-1 filly capturing the $1.5 million Pattison International at Woodbine Race Track. Sarah Lynx ($46.90), the lone filly in the 16-horse field, stole the $900,000 first place check and became the first filly in 23 years to capture the coveted International crown.

You could say it has been the year of the filly at Woodbine, earlier this year, Inglorious won the prestigious Queen’s Plate, the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown. Sarah Lynx, the lone filly in the field, carried 123 pounds, was ridden by Christophe Soumillon. The French jockey crossed the Atlantic to ride his first ever International mount after winning the Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.

The filly, mid pack for most of the race, came through on the inside on the yielding turf course as the field turned for home. She grabbed the lead shortly thereafter and drew away from the field while Soumillon gave her a hand ride the rest of the way, winning by four lengths over last year’s International winner, Joshua Tree. The two dollar exacta returned $659.50 with 11-1 Joshua Tree and the $2 trifecta including third place finisher Treasure Beach paid a whopping $3,699.

The winning margin was the largest since 2005, and was 2-1/2 lengths behind the International record set by the great Secretariat in 1973. The victory was a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race and automatically qualified Sarah Lynx for an all-expenses paid trip to Louisville on November 5 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Earlier in the day, Regally Ready ($21.60) won the $500,000 Grade 1 Nearctic Stakes and earned a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. He won a very close photo over Bated Breath, the 2-1 post time favorite. He’s two for two at Churchill Downs, so keep an eye on this one as the Breeders’ Cup approaches next month. Trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Corey Nakatani, the four year old gelded son of More Than Ready completed the six furlongs in 1:11.35.

The $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes also served up a big winner. 11-1 Miss Keller and jock John Velazquez, held off the European shipper I’m A Dreamer at the wire to pay a fat $25.30. Miss Keller also earned a trip to Louisville and the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on November 4 at Churchill Downs. Trained by Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, the five year old mare finished the 1-1/4 mile course in 2:06.98.  Miss Keller, was sired by Montjeu, who also sired the International champion, Sarah Lynx.

The day had a very International feel to it, with a large number of European shippers coming over the pond attempting to win the coveted Breeders’ Cup challenge races. We now await the pre-entries for the Breeders’ Cup so we can start studying up to the first weekend in November, where divisional championships will most likely be decided.

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: Willis delivers the mail

   October 17, 2004 -- The Buffalo Bills had big hopes for running back Willis McGahee when they drafted him in the first round. On this date, the Bills started to find out whether those hopes would turn into performance.

   McGahnee made his first start in a Bills' uniform, running for 111 yards on 26 carries as the Bills defeated the Dolphins, 20-13, in Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was the first win for head coach Mike Mularkey.

  "This is what I told my O-line … "All you have to do is block the D-line. Don't worry about the linebackers, and I'll get the secondary,' " McGahee said.

   McGahee was at his best when the Bills were trying to hold on to a lead in the final five minutes. The Bills went on to march 82 more yards down to the Miami 1 before time expired, and the runner did much of the work.

   "I wasn't going to let one person tackle me," McGahee said. "That's my motto. One person cannot tackle me. It's got to be two or three."

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: A snooze-fest

   October 16, 1977 -- For those of you with enough free time to make up a list of the dullest games in Buffalo Bills' history, here's a great candidate.

   It was a rainy day at Rich Stadium, as the Bills defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 3-0. Only 27,348 turned out for this one, and the ones that stayed home might have had the right idea at least in terms of entertainment value.

   The one score came from Neil O'Donoghue, who kicked a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter. The kicker only lasted five games as a Bill, although he went on to play for Tampa Bay and St. Louis through 1985.

   The quarterbacks had a day to forget. Buffalo's Joe Ferguson was 8 of 21 for 96 yards. Atlanta's Scott Hunter, who was a member of the Bills in 1974 (he played in one game) was 9 for 29 for 95 yards and two interceptions. Elsewhere, O.J. Simpson did run for 138 yards on 23 carries.

   At least one person enjoyed the outcome, at least. Bills head coach Jim Ringo finally recorded his first win while on the job after about a year of trying. He'd get two more before exiting with a career record of 3-20.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: This time for good

   October 15, 1976 -- Who says history doesn't repeat itself? For the second time, Lou Saban resigned as coach of the Buffalo Bills on this day.

   Saban had left Buffalo after the 1965 season to take a job with the University of Maryland after leading the Bills to a pair of AFL championships. He came back for the 1972 season, and helped put the Bills back in the playoffs in 1974. However, the Bills were headed downhill once again by the start of the 1976 season, and Saban's endless itch for other pastures needed to be scratched.

   He left this time with a 2-3 record, including a loss to Jets in his last game. The move came only two days before the next contest on the schedule.

   Saban was replaced by offensive line coach Jim Ringo. It's fair to say things started to spiral downward from there. The Bills lost every single game they played for the rest of the season, finishing 2-12. They gave up a total of 103 points in their final two games, and 164 in their last four. In hindsight, it's a little surprising that Ringo was asked to coach again in 1977.

   Meanwhile, Bills' owner Ralph Wilson never appeared to forgive Saban for leaving the second time. The veteran coach never has been honored on the Bills' Wall of Fame, despite the good times he brought here.

 -- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Full international field attracts Euro invasion

By Gene Kershner

RodmanTORONTO -- This weekend a critical “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup (BC) Challenge race will be run north of the border at Woodbine Racetrack, where the 74th running of the $1.5 million Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International will guarantee a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. A record 16-horse field will go to post on Sunday afternoon (post time 5:42 p.m.) in Canada’s richest race.

NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman (left) served as the guest draw master at Thursday’s post position draw held in the trackside pavilion at Woodbine Racetrack. An annual attendee of the Kentucky Derby, Rodman was excited to be part of the racing crowd that drew a full house to see the former NBA champion.

In addition to the International, Woodbine’s Sunday card includes two other Grade 1 races.  The $1 million E.P. Taylor, a one mile and a quarter race for 3-year old fillies and mares and the $500,0000 Nearctic, for 3-year olds and upward over six furlongs round out the graded stakes on the card.

The International field is super amped with the top three finishers from last year (Joshua Tree, Mores Wells and Redwood) and three highly-regarded Europeans in Treasure Beach, Quest For Peace and Arctic Cosmos. Treasure Beach, the winner of the G1 Secretariat on Arlington Million Day, finished a well-beaten 14th in the Arc two weeks ago at Longchamp.

In addition to the previously mentioned Euros, horses shipped in from overseas include Bronze Cannon, Mikhail Glinka, and the lone filly in the field, Sarah Lynx. The last filly to win the International was Infamy in 1988.  All horses in the field will carry 126 pounds, except the 3-year olds (Celtic Conviction, Quest For Peace and Treasure Beach) who will carry 119 and the filly who will carry 123.

I spoke with the connections of two interesting long shots before Thursday’s draw. Mike dePaulo will saddle Laureate Conductor (30-1) for Bear Stables. The trainer of the winner of two of the three Canadian Triple Crown races with Pender Harbour, will try and pull the big upset on Sunday with a horse who his connections claimed for $62K back in June.

“He’s a half mile horse, he can carry the distance,” said dePaulo. “There’s not a lot opportunities to run on grass and the boss wanted to give it a try, so here we are. He had a real good last race and the soft ground shouldn’t really bother him.” He landed Luis Contreras, the winner of all three Canadian Triple Crown horses to ride for him in the International. “Contreras has rode him once and won on him. Luis knows both the horse and the course.” He enters third off the layoff, crazier things have happened and with the big field it’s unwise to discount a horse on the improve.

A horse whose running line in the Grade 2 Sky Classic jumps right out at you is Kara’s Orientation. At the second call he was 17 lengths in front of his nearest competitor and still won the mile and a quarter effort on the home track by 2-1/4 lengths. I cornered young trainer Steven Chircop to discuss his speed horse’s chances going an additional quarter mile and his jockey decision.

“He’s never run a mile and a half, but it’s in his pedigree. Nine out of 10 times if you can get a mile and a quarter you can get a mile and a half,” exclaimed Chircop. “There are two key things we have going for us, high cruising speed and lots of stamina.” Chircop was very confident in his horse’s chances and was not deterred at all when he drew an outside 14 post.

I mentioned to him that watching replays of his horse that he reminded me of former United Nations champion and the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up Presious Passion, a horse that had no aversion to grabbing an early lead. “Kara’s been compared to him a lot. When you have a speed horse you have the option to control the race. It depends on the turf course, but if he gets far enough ahead, they may not catch him!”

Chircop was surprised when he discovered his usual jockey; Emile Ramsammy took off Kara’s Orientation to ride Celtic Conviction, another 30-1 horse, so he went to his black book. “My first thought was to find out who rode Presious Passion, and when I contacted Elvis Trujillo, he already was booked to Todd Pletcher on Sunday. Word quickly spread that I was looking for a top jockey and Garret Gomez and Joel Rosario’s agents both contacted me. I decided on Rosario, he has soft hands and won three Grade 1’s last weekend at Santa Anita.”

When looking to handicap the race, you can never go wrong boxing the top Euros and throwing in a local horse or two.  I like Quest For Peace (8-1) who won at Ascot last out and is unbeaten in two tries at the distance and gets a few pound weight break as a 3-year old to win the International. You can never go wrong with a Roger Attfield horse in your mix at Woodbine, and Simmard (15-1), a neck loser in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer last month, looks the part.

Underneath in the exotics, we’ll look to use Arctic Cosmos (6-1), Redwood (4-1) and our longshot plays are Kara’s Orientation and Laureate Conductor, featured above.

Post Time Outlook: 1 – Quest For Peace; 2 – Simmard; 3 – Arctic Cosmos 4 – Redwood

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: Not gone forever

   October 14, 1974 -- When a professional athlete is traded, that person rarely comes back to play a good-sized role in the trading team's organization. Yet that's exactly what happened when Buffalo completed a good-sized deal around the start of the 1974-75 season. Twice.

   Buffalo sent center Gerry Meehan and defenseman Mike Robitaille to Vancouver for defenseman Jocelyn Guevremont and forward Bryan McSheffrey.

   Meehan had been an original Sabre and a captain of the team, and still had some good years ahead of him although he was on some bad teams. The center had 28 goals on the 1976-77 Washington Capitals, no easy task. Robitaille served Vancouver well until an injury ruined his career; he ended up in a lawsuit over the treatment of the injury.

   Meanwhile, Guevremont proved to be a good addition to the Buffalo defensive group. He was an offensive threat for more than four years from the blue line, and helped the team reach the finals in 1975. McSheffrey only played in three games as a Sabre, but went on to become a member of the Buffalo Norsemen of the North American Hockey League in 1975-76.

   Meanwhile, Meehan later came back to the Sabres' front office and served as the team's general manager for part of the 1980's and 1990's. Robitaille found work as a Sabres' broadcaster, covering a variety of roles during the past two-plus decades.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Summer returns for a while

Say, what happened to 75 and sunny? I could have gotten used to that sort of fall running weather. It was also a good time to go on vacation, but now I'm back and ready to run again ... just in time for the cold snap that's coming soon.

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

* ECMC Lifeline Foundation WNY Runs for Heroes 5K, Delaware Park in Bufflalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 898-5881. (NOTE: THIS RACE HAS BEEN POSTPONED FOR A WEEK, DUE TO THE BAD WEATHER FORECAST.)

* Pumpkin Run 5K, 6350 Main St. in Williamsville, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 783-3356. This course is used for the Tops 5K run in August.

* Dr. Richard Sarkin Memorial 5K, Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 713-0769.

* Ridge Walk and Run, various distances, Alfred State College in Wellsville, 8 a.m. Sunday, (585) 593-5080.

* BobKat 5K, 218 Aqua Lane Park in Town of Tonawanda, 10 a.m. today, 725-7414. I believe the race director sang the national anthem last year. Let's see if he is up for an encore.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Saban gets a win

   October 13, 1962 -- Would this new coach of the Buffalo Bills ever win a game? Fans had to be asking that question about Lou Saban before the game played on this particular date.

   The Bills had started the 1962 season 0-5, putting themselves at the bottom of the AFL's Eastern Division. Week Six, though, was different. The Bills thumped the San Diego Chargers, 35-10, in War Memorial Stadium.

   Warren Rabb threw three touchdown passes (out of only five completions), including a 76-yard strike to the speedy Glenn Bass. Cookie Gilchrist notched two scores. Gilchrist and Wayne Crow both ran for more than 100 yards. In fact, Buffalo rushed for a team-record 303 yards and gained 439 total yards.

   On defense, Carl Charon intercepted three San Diego passes. The Chargers couldn't even score a touchdown until the final quarter, when the Bills were up by a 35-3 margin.

   Better times were ahead. The Bills went on a 7-1-1 run to finish the season at 7-6-1. That was only good for third in the division, but at least the team showed signs of life. This Saban fellow apparently knew what he was doing after all.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Last round

   October 12, 2007 -- We didn't know it at the time, but this was the night when Baby Joe Mesi won his last professional fight.

   The Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, Rhode Island, was not the place where many expected Mesi to end his career. His first fight came in the Apollo Theater in New York in 1997, a one-round knockout of Dwane Cason Allen. He slowly worked his way up the ladder from there, winning every step of the way.

   The Tonwanda fighter came home in April 1998 for the first time for a fight when he got a TKO over Mike McGrady at Erie CC. By 2004 the undefeated Mesi looked ready for a title shot in the near future.

   But fate, in the form of a brain injury, got in the way. He suffered that injury against Vassiliy Jirov, and didn't fight for more than two years.

   By the time Mesi came back, promoters weren't anxious to sign him to bouts. He kept winning atches against no names, which brings us to this day's fight … a one-round technical knockout of Shannon Miller,

   That raised his record to 36-0, and that's where it stands today. He was inducted into the Buffalo Boxing Ring 44 Hall of Fame in 2011.

--- 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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