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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jim Braxton

   (Born May 23, 1949) -- The Buffalo Bills had two very good running backs in the early 1970s. One went on to fame, fortune, and eventually infamy. You may have heard of O.J. Simpson. His partner in the Bills' backfield, Jim Braxton, was pretty good as well.

   Braxton played running back and tight end during a fine career at West Virginia, and he even did some kicking for the Mountaineers. That all got the attention of the Bills, who drafted him in the third round in 1971.

   Shortly after Braxton's arrival, Simpson's career took off. That wasn't a coincidence. Braxton was an excellent blocker who could offer a second running threat out of the backfield when needed. He ran for 494 yards in 1973, when Simpson broke 2,000 yards.

   Braxton stayed in the fullback spot for the Bills through 1978, when he moved on to the Miami Dolphins in midseason. Braxton finished with almost 3,000 yards rushing in his career.

   He died of cancer in Buffalo in 1986. He was 37 years old.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Tony Hunter

     (Born May 22, 1960) --  A few names come up with a discussion begins about the greatest tight ends in the history of the Buffalo Bills. Back in 1983, we probably would have guessed that the discussion would have started and ended with Tony Hunter.

     Notre Dame has spotlight Hunter's talents during a great career in South Bend, Indiana. He had impressive size and speed, and was considered a sure bet for professional stardom. It was a happy day for Bills' fans, then, when Hunter fell to Buffalo with the 12th pick in the first round of the draft. By the way, that was two picks before the Bills took Jim Kelly.

     Hunter worked his way into the lineup as a rookie, catching 36 passes. The number went to 33 the following season, but he was still considered a big-time talent.

     That's what made it so surprising when he was traded. Hunter went to the Rams in a deal that brought Vince Ferragamo here. Hunter only lasted two years with the Rams and was out of football after the 1986 season.

     The final career numbers: 134 catches in 47 games and nine touchdowns.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Dave Wannstadt

     (Born May 21, 1952) -- Not too many people have been on both sides of the rivalry between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. Dave Wannstadt is in the small class.

     Wannstadt grew up in Pennsylvania and played college football at Pittsburgh with Tony Dorsett. After spending a year on injured reserve for Green Bay in 1974, Wannstadt moved into coaching. He started as a graduate assistant at his alma mater under John Majors, and won a national championship in 1976.

     From there it was on to Oklahoma State, Southern California and Miami (Fla.), where he and head coach Jimmy Johnson won a national championship in 1987. When Johnson left for the Cowboys, Wannstadt followed along.

     The Bears hired Wannstadt to be their head coach in 1993, but he lost his job after the 1998 season. It was off to Miami for Wannstadt, as he served as defensive coordinator under Johnson again and then moved up to be the head coach of the Dolphins when Johnson retired. Then it was on to be the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

     In January 2011, Wannstadt was hired as the Bills' assistant head coach. He was promoted to defensive coordinator a year later.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Phil Hansen

     (Born May 20, 1968) -- It's fair to say Phil Hansen is the best player to come out of Oakes, North Dakota. Come to think of it, he might be the most famous person ever to come out of Oakes, a town of 1,856 at the last census.

     Hansen played college football at North Dakota State University. It's fair to say he made an impact, with 41 sacks. He contributed to two national championships at Division II.

     Scouts usually don't make it to Fargo, but the Bills obviously completed that trip. He was selected in the second round of the 1991 NFL draft.

     He spent 11 seasons as a member of the Bills, and was a solid member of some very good Buffalo teams. Hansen finished with 61.5 sacks, which ranks third on the team's all-time list, and is the last Bills' player to be inducted on the Bills' Wall of Fame.

   Hansen has different goals now that he's in retirement. He lives in Minnesota and is running for the State Senate this year.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Live from the Preakness

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Good afternoon from Pimlico Race Course and Happy Preakness Day! It’s the longest racing day of the year, in fact the first race went off at 10:30 a.m. this morning and there is a full card of 13 races, including five graded stakes races and two non-graded stakes.                                                                                                                                                                                 

Yesterday, with a decent crowd of over 32,000 racing fans, In Lingerie won the Black-Eyed Susan and Alternation took the Pimlico Special in the day’s two major races. InfieldFest has been rocking since 10 a.m. this morning, with bands scheduled to play throughout the day, including Wiz Khalifa and Maroon 5.

The big Preakness news yesterday was the change in the mount on Tiger Walk from Kent Desormeaux to Ramon Dominguez. Desormeaux failed a Breathalyzer test at Belmont Park yesterday and was removed from all of his mounts. Tiger Walk’s connections moved quickly to secure another mount for their Preakness starter. We landed on Team Valor’s Went The Day Well in this morning’s paper and we’ll use him as a key to most of our wagers on the Preakness. I’m also warming up to Creative Cause as a horse that could hit the board in today’s big race. 

Mario Gutierrez has two mounts on the undercard before he attempts to keep I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown hopes alive. He raced on Camelia Rose in the third (on the turf) in the Grade 3 Gallorettte  where he missed the board at 9-1, and has a mount on Boxeur Des Rues in the Grade 1 Dixie (Race 11), both for Reddam Racing LLC, the owners of the Derby winner. We’ll keep an eye on how he does in both of those races, being new to the track having only raced on it over twice (both wins on Thursday) in his young career. 

We’ll keep you posted on what’s going on at the track (and the infield) throughout the day, in addition to playing some rolling Pick-3’s all afternoon. We’ll get things started with Race 6 (the $100K Chick Lang) which goes off around 1:50 p.m. 

12:40 p.m.: Race 4 just finished and it included two horses that were initially considered for the Preakness, 4-Paynter and 3-Brimstone Island. They finished 1-2, dueling throughout the race with Paynter taking the honors for Zayat Stables, Bodemeister’s owners. 

Race 5 is a 5-furlong turf sprint (not my specialty), so I’m going to lay off that race, we will report back after Race 6, the Chick Lang, which will be run over 6 furlongs and has eight horses entered. For Buffalonians, please note the 1-Scaramagna is owned by Crossed Sabres Farm, so you may want to make a hunch play. I also like 3-Innocent Man and 4-Laurie’s Rocket to challenge in this one.

1:55 p.m.: 8-Il Villano with Jose Luis Flores in the irons wins for trainer Susan Crowell wins Race 5 and pays $9.20 and completed the 6-furlongs ins 1:10.40. He wins over my two selections Laurie's Rocket and Innocent Man to complete a $1 trifecta that paid $28.80.

Race 7 is an allowance race turf route for 3-year-old fillies and mares. 8-Happy Choice is the 9-5 morning line favorite and appears to be class of the group for Pin Oak Stable and trainer Graham Motion. It's been rather chalky so far here at Pimlico with the highest priced winner so far being 3-1 winner 14-Wire Funds before Il Villano won the 5th at 7-2.

Race 8 is the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap at 6-furlongs and kicks off the $0.50 Jackpot Pick-5. I'm keen on three horses, 7-Hamazing Destiny (the likely chalk), 8-Bandbox and 1-Immortal Eyes.

If you were wondering, today's lunch fare included baked ham, fried chicken and wait for it....crab cakes. When in Maryland.... 

2:05 p.m.: Wiz Khalifa is really loud. He's doing some serious rap in the Infield. The scene is pretty incredible. It's where prim and proper meets crowd surfers. I'm going to head over and see what's going on. If I don't show up in the next hour and fifteen minutes or so, please alert the authorities to put out an APB....we'll be back to look at the guaranteed $1 million Pick-4 before Race 9.

3:35 p.m.: I made it back alive. Barely. Actually, I watched the last two races from the Turf Terrace. Incredible viewpoint on the inside of the track between the sixteenth and eighth poles. I highly recommend it, should you ever attend the Preakness. You sit under a tent, there are plenty of televisions and you have a great view of the stretch drive.

We're putting a little Pick-4 ticket together and we'll start the James W. Murphy Stakes with 1-Easy Crossing, 2-Skyring and 10-Gold Megillah to get it started. I really like the 10 horse with Johnny V aboard for Graham Motion. Let's try and get through this first leg and get serious!

P.S. InfieldFest is in high gear. There is easily more people here today than last year. I'm sure the fact that Adam Levine (sp) and Maroon 5 is here, certainly helps the cause.

4:00 p.m.: Hello Skyring, thanks for coming. Oh yeah, that's 8-1 on the D. Wayne Lukas colt by English Channel with Joel Rosario in the irons. That's a good start to our Pick-4.  We're three deep in the Grade 3 Dupont Distaff (1 1/6-mile race on the turf) with the favorite 2-Absinthe Minded, second choice on the morning line 5-Awesomemundo; and Pletcher's 8-Love and Pride.

If you're looking ahead to the Dixie (which has been my Achilles Heel over the years in the Pick-4 here), I went four deep with 3-Hudson Steele, and three outside horses ridden by accomplished turf jockeys, 9-Air Support, 10-Forte Dei Marmi (trained by Woodbine-based Roger Attfield) and 11-Casino Host.

Let's keep this mojo going!

5:12 p.m.: Well, that worked out just nicely, thank you. We have four in here so let's keep our fingers crossed. This is the race that haunts me, so you might want to play 7-Smart Bid who is lingering around 7-1.

5:24 p.m.: Take that Achilles Heel! We're still breathing in the Pick-4 as the Todd Pletcher-trained 3-Hudson Steele rated nicely for Javier Castellano and pounced at the top of the stretch to win going away. So we're live to two horses to the Preakness! We have 5-Went The Day Well (my pick for the paper) and 9-I'll Have Another (have to root for the Triple Crown, c'mon!). We'll give you the will-pays when they are released. Have to tell you that my heart skipped a beat when track announcer Dave Rodman said that Smart Bid was making a big move on the far turn.

5:30 p.m.: 50 cent Pick-4 will pays into the Derby horses are: 5-Went The Day Well ($534.55), that works), 6-Creative Cause ($416.70), 7-Bodemeister ($163.60), 8-Daddy Nose Best ($1,277.10), 9-I'll Have Another ($233.10) and 10-Optimizer ($11,932.45).

5:35 p.m.: Early odds for the Preakness: Bodemeister - 5-2; I'll Have Another - 3-1; Went The Day Well - 9-2; Creative Cause - 6-1. I played a $1 trifecta with 5,9/5,6,7,9/2,5,6,7,9 and an exacta box of 5,6,9. As you can see I've soured a bit on Bodemeister.

5:57 p.m.: We're 21 minutes to post and Bodemeister has gone down to 2-1 on the board and I'll Have Another remains at 3-1, with Went The Day Well drifting up slightly to 5-1. The crowd is definitely buzzing (some more than others) with anticipation of the big race. It's been a pretty hot day overall with temperatures in the 80's most of the afternoon. A nice breeze has been blowing though, keeping it so it's not completely unbearable for the horses.

6:05 p.m.: Well it looks like Bodemeister is going to hold as the favorite. Check back with us after the race for a quick recap! Good luck to all!

6:23 p.m.: Hell yeah! Folks, we have a shot at the Triple Crown!

6:28 p.m.: Start spreading the News, we're heading to New York City, baby! Will the 34-year drought end? Mario Gutierrez with a brilliant ride on I'll Have Another ($8.40) passing Bodemeister in deep stretch to win the Preakness. Bonus: We have the Pick-4 for $233 and the $1 trifecta for $35. I love this game.

That's a wrap from Pimlico folks, check out tomorrow's paper for my recap of the race.

 --Gene Kershner

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

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: London Fletcher

     (Born May 19, 1975) -- No one can say that London Fletcher doesn't put in his dues on the job, no matter where he is. The linebacker has played for three teams over the course of his career, and once he was finished with his rookie season he's missed one start in 13 years.

     Fletcher's real name is actually Fletcher-Baker, with the Baker used to honor his late grandmother. Then it was on to John Carroll University, and was the nation's top Division III linebacker as a senior. But the odds seemed long that he'd make any impact in the pros.

     Fletcher proved everyone wrong. He signed with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent, and not only made the team but played 16 games as a first-year player. Then he moved into the starting lineup, and played with a Super Bowl champion in Super Bowl XXXIV.

     In 2002, Fletcher jumped to the Bills as an unrestricted free agent, and made an immediate impact. He set a team record for tackles with 209, breaking Chris Spielman's mark. Fletcher maintained a high standard of play for five seasons here.

     Then he jumped to Washington, and continued to play well. He was picked as an alternate in the Pro Bowl 11 times, and actually made it to Hawaii twice. Fletcher is still a fixture in the Redskins lineup.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: In Lingerie slips by in Black-Eyed Susan

By Gene Kershner

BALTIMORE, Md. – On a beautiful day at Pimlico Race Course before 32,473 sun soaked racing fans, Todd Pletcher was the big winner with an ice cold exacta in the $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, as his 3-year-old fillies In Lingerie ($9.80) and Disposablepleasure completed a $62 exacta for the five-time Eclipse winning trainer.

“That was a big effort to run 1-2 like that. I’m pleasantly happy. We wee pretty concerned at the start because one of the things Johnny (Velazquez) and I talked about in the paddock was that she might have to make a wide sweep. I think she made a big step forward to be one of the leaders in the division today,” Pletcher said of In Lingerie.

Velazquez did a tremendous riding job after his winning filly stumbled at the start, righted her and was all the best through the stretch after hitting the sixteenth pole. The Empire Maker filly won the$300,000 Grade 2 event coming off a win in the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park in March. She completed the nine furlongs in 1:52.07 and held off the hard charging Disposablepleasure by 1 ¼-lengths.

Second place finisher Disposablepleasure will be a horse to be reckoned with for the rest of the season after running a big race. Had she had running room at he quarter pole she may have threatened the winner. Pletcher was equally complimentary of his place horse. “I thought she ran a huge race. She kind of got squeezed a little bit at the top of the stretch, but she kept running and gave a real good account of herself,” said Pletcher. Jockey Javier Castellano was even more positive with his recap of the race. “I had to go around and lost momentum. I should have won the race. I had the best in there,” said the jockey.

In the 42nd renewal of the Grade 3 Pimlico Special, Alternation ($10.20) held off Nehro at the wire by a nose to claim the $180,000 first place money in Friday’s feature race at Pimlico Race Course. Alternation won his fourth straight race, after winning his first three efforts of 2012 at Oaklawn Park.

In Preakness news, jockey Ramon Dominguez will ride Tiger Walk in the 137th Preakness Stakes Saturday, replacing Kent Desormeaux, trainer Ignacio Correas IV said Friday. Desormeaux failed a Breathalyzer test at Belmont Park Friday and was removed from his three mounts on the program. He has not been suspended, but the New York State Racing and Wagering Board is conducting an investigation. “It was a team decision,” Correas said. “Ramon is a great rider. We’re happy to have him.”

Tiger Walk will be Dominguez’ 10th Preakness mount. His best finishes were seconds aboard Scrappy T (runner-up to Afleet Alex) in 2005 and First Dude (runner-up to Lookin at Lucky) in 2010.

Check back tomorrow as we'll be live blogging the Preakness day card from Pimlico, right here at the Sports, Ink blog.

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

Luthra Wins Match Play

Raman Luthra has beaten Matt Stasiak 2 and 1 to win the BDGA Match Play championship at CCB. Luthra sewed up the match with a birdie on 17.

-- Bob DiCesare

BDGA Final Tied at Turn

Raman Luthra and Matt Stasiak are all square after nine holes in the BDGA Match Play final at CCB. Stasiak has won the last two holes with pars.

-- Bob DiCesare

Luthra, Stasiak Reach Final

Raman Luthra and Matt Stasiak have reached this afternoon's BDGA Match Play title match by scoring semifinal wins this morning at the Country Club of Buffalo. Luthra (Crag Burn) defeated Michael Carrig, 5 and 4, while Stasiak (Fox Valley) rallied to a 2-and-1 win over Chris Covelli.

-- Bob DiCesare

Luthra, Stasiak Reach Final

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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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