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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: "Choo Choo" Coleman

(Born August 25, 1937) -- Ask any baseball fan who around for the first year of the New York Mets, and he or she certainly will remember Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman. His baseball career even had a good-sized stop at the train station in Buffalo, so to speak.

The catcher signed as a free agent with the Washington Senators in 1955. He was born in Orlando and spent parts of the 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1959 seasons there. Coleman eventually landed in the Phillies’ system and made his major league debut for them in 1961.

Coleman landed on the Mets for 1962 through the expansion draft, and hit. 250 in 55 games. Broadcaster Ralph Kiner loved to tell the story about how he asked Coleman on a postgame show about how he got his nickname. Expecting a long answer, he received instead an “I don’t know, Ralph.”

Coleman came to Buffalo in 1964. He hit .285 here in 73 games, as he split the catching duties with Norm Sherry. He stayed to hit .247 in 54 games the next season.

Choo Choo played a couple of more years in the minors before retiring at the end of the decade. He reportedly owned a Chinese restaurant in Florida.

-- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Travers day stakes races highlight card

By Gene Kershner

In addition to the $1 million Travers Stakes on Saturday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course, the New York Racing Association has carded some terrific graded stakes races that will precede the main event and will be televised nationally on NBC (Ch. 2, 4-6 p.m. EDT). While the Travers itself may be lacking in star power due to the injury-riddled 3-year-old division, the undercard has more than enough firepower to make it a great day to watch the races and look for the big score.

Keep an eye out on some of the races earlier in the day, more than one superstar has emerged out of a 2-year-old maiden special weight on Travers Day.

Let’s take a quick look at the three other graded stakes making up the guaranteed $1 million Pick-4 sequence that ends with the Travers.

Race 9: Grade 2 Ballston Spa – The logical horse in this race (and most likely overbet) is Zagora (5-2), who has meet leading rider Ramon Dominguez in the irons, a Grade 1 winner who captured last year’s Diana at the Spa.  The 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up has several other horses that are capable of stealing the race from Zagora. I fancy Tapitsfly (7-2), the 5-year-old mare who always shows up for the big races and has top turf jockey Javier Castellano aboard. The Tapit mare has never missed the board in seven outings at the 8-1/2 furlong distance. I’m finding it hard to not include Hungry Island (3-1) and Summer Soiree (9-2) on my multi-race play. How can you go wrong with the four top turf jockeys on your ticket (Dominguez, Castellano, Johnny V and Julien Leparoux)? I’m going four deep here.  If the track comes up wet, the MTO (main track only) entry of Acting Happy (2-1) is a must use.

Race 10: Grade 1 Test – This is where I’ll skinny down my ticket as two horses in here look to be far above the others. The 2-1 morning line favorite Contested shortens back up to 7-furlongs after trying the 8-1/2 furlong Mother Goose where she succumbed in the late going. Rafael Bejarano in to ride Liaison in the Travers gets his first mount on the Ghostzapper filly for trainer Bob Baffert. The other horse I’ll use in here is Book Review (5-2) for trainer and Mechanicville N.Y. native Chad Brown. She comes off two top performances but tries graded company for the first time. Her race two back was a one mile affair where she lost by 3 3/4-lengths to the Alabama winner Questing, who freaked in last week’s action.

Race 11: Grade 1 King’s Bishop – Typically my favorite race on the Travers day card. Last year’s edition was an exciting photo finish where Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion Caleb’s Posse nipped Uncle Mo at the wire. This year’s 7-furlong affair looks to have another stellar field of thoroughbreds. The Pick-4 usually provides us with at least one upset winner and this is the race I’ll go five deep in to try and catch a price. I’ll use the two logical favorites, local product Currency Swap (5-2) for Saratoga-based trainer Terry Pompay and the speedy Trinniberg (7-2), the Grade 2 Woody Stephens winner. We’re willing to give Baffert’s Gun Boat (5-1) a pass after a poor effort in the Amsterdam, based on a solid workout on Aug. 19 and with his regular jockey Bejarano back in the saddle. The two long priced horses we’ll throw into the mix is Ever So Lucky (12-1) who has Johnny V aboard and is cutting back in distance and sports two bullet workouts within the last two weeks and Unbridled’s Note (10-1). The latter comes off a third place finish in the Amsterdam behind Currency Swap and Todd Pletcher’s Doctor Chit (5-1). We think that she is ready to move forward and could be an upset possibility in here. He rocked a huge workout on Aug 20 and looks fit to roll for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Race 12: Grade 1 Travers – The Post Time advance story on the Travers will be in the Saturday print edition and we’ll include our top two selections (Alpha and Nonios) to round out our Pick-4. Check out our thoughts in tomorrow’s News.

At a $0.50 increment, the ticket (4x2x5x2) will cost $40.

Good luck and let’s cash some tickets!

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: Ken Priestlay

(Born August 24, 1967) -- Baseball has a term for a player who is too good for the minors and not quite good enough for regular duty in the majors -- a “4-A” player. If that term was used in hockey, Ken Priestlay would be a good fit for it.

Priestlay was drafted by the Sabres and exploded in his last year of junior, scoring 145 points in 72 games for Victoria. That earned him a shot with the Sabres in 1986-87, where he scored 11 goals in 34 games.

During the next three seasons, Priestlay split his time between Rochester and Buffalo. He never failed to average more than a point per game with the Americans.

Priestlay left the Sabres organization in 1990, joining Team Canada. He signed with Pittsburgh and played in 49 games for the Penguins in 1991-92. That earned him a Stanley Cup ring. It also was his last stop in the NHL.

However, the speedy center wasn’t done with hockey. He played five years with the Sheffield Steelers in England. Priestlay’s high point was getting 98 points in 36 games in 1995-96.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Flat enough?

A question came up during last Saturday's Run for Hope in Tonawanda. Is that the flatest race course in Western New York? It has to be a candidate. There is a very small incline going north to south on either side of two miles, but that's about it. I would think the other candidate might be the Canalfest 4-Mile Run in Tonawanda, which goes right along the water. The Bob Ivory Run isn't exactly rugged, but there is a slow if long incline up Colvin.

Lots of runs coming up, some of which will have some hills. Here's the rundown from Buffalorunners.com:

* Checker's Athletic Club Mueller Mile, 1 Mile, Main St. in Tonawanda, 7 p.m. Thursday, (617) 312-3457. This draws an elite field, but it's fun for slowpokes like me to run the distance as well. It's the only chance of the year to run a mile in competition, which is why it's a Runner of the Year race.

* Tops 5K and 10K Run for Roswell, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 635-5221. This race took no time at all to grow. They got the bugs worked out by the second time around, and attracts a big crowd. No one goes away hungry, either.

* Run for the Shelter 5K, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday. This is a new race. Registration and starting line are by the tennis courts, by the way -- the application didn't say.

* Tomato Trot 5K, Evangola State Park in Irving, 9 a.m. Sunday, 861-8041

-- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jeff Manto

(Born August 23, 1964) -- Becoming a great player in a minor league city is a mixed blessing. Most baseball players would prefer to be more of a major-league journeyman. Still, there’s no doubt that Jeff Manto was one of Buffalo’s all-time greats.

Manto passed up a chance to sign with the Yankees when drafted out of high school, and eventually landed with the Angels after a stop at Temple University. He worked his way up to the AAA level by 1989, but started bouncing through a variety of organizations.

Manto had some major-league service time, but couldn’t quite stick for long in many cases. He came to Buffalo in 1997, and fit right in. Manto had 20 homers in 221 at-bats.
It was more of the same after that. He hit 23 homers in 62 games in 1998, 23 homers in 66 games in 1999, and 13 more homers in 2000.

Manto squeezed out 289 games in the majors, but Buffalo will always be special for him. He’s a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Travers draw complete, Alpha instilled as favorite

By Gene Kershner

The post position draw was held this morning at Saratoga Race Course for the 143rd running of the $1 million Travers Stakes and Alpha was instilled as the 5-2 morning line favorite. The field of 11 will be sent postward on Saturday afternoon as part of NBC's (Ch. 2, 4-6 p.m.) "Summer at Saratoga" series.

Nonios (4-1), who finished second behind Paynter in the Haskell Invitational last month, was made the second choice and Neck 'n Neck (9-2) is the third choice.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was pleased with the draw of Post No. 6 for the Bernardini colt, but hopes his horse can avoid the issues he has dealt with in the past during the gate loading process. He will be one of the first horses loaded in the gate on Saturday afternoon based on his draw.

We will on site in Saratoga this weekend, be sure to look for print articles on Saturday and Sunday's editions on the big race.

The post position draw including, trainer, jockey and morning line odds for the Travers can be found below:

PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Speightscity Contessa Ortiz Jr. 30-1
2 Five Sixteen Schettino Napravnik 15-1
3 Golden Ticket McPeek Cohen 20-1
4 Stealcase Casse Bridgmohan 15-1
5 Street Life  C Brown Lezcano 5-1
6 Alpha McLaughlin Dominguez 5-2
7 Atigun McPeek ME Smith 12-1
8 Neck 'n Neck Wilkes Goncalves 9-2
9 Liaison Baffert Bejarano 8-1
10 Nonios Hollendorfer Velazquez 4-1
11 Fast Falcon Zito J Alvarado 20-1

 

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: Paul Maguire

(Born August 22, 1938) -- It’s two straight days for profiling football players-turned-broadcasters. The two have very different styles.

Paul Maguire didn’t brag about it much on the air, but he was a very good college football player. He led the nation in touchdown receptions in 1959 at the Citadel, and was drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers of the new American Football League. There Maguire played both linebacker and punter. He was part of the 1963 team, which was at that point in San Diego, that won the AFL title.

Then it was on to Buffalo, where he stayed through 1970. Maguire won AFL championships with the Bills in 1964 and 1965, setting a record with three in a row. He was one of 20 men to play in all 10 years of the AFL’s life.

Along the way, he picked up a reputation as one of the funniest men in football. He worked in a variety of roles in the decades to come. Maguire did the NFL, the Canadian Football League, and college football.

Along the way, he found a home in Western New York, and always has supportive of his adopted community. The area responded when it picked him for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

Saturday night's NASCAR race at Bristol set to air on ESPN locally

If the Buffalo Bills' preseason game sells out and airs on Ch. 7 Saturday night, NASCAR fans in Buffalo will still be able to see the Sprint Cup race at Bristol.

According to an e-mail sent to The News from ESPN Communications, "arrangements have been made for the race to air on ESPN in the Buffalo area."

NASCAR coverage is airing on ABC throughout the country. If the Bills' 7 p.m. game is on Ch. 7, the entire NASCAR telecast, which begins at 7 p.m. with prerace coverage, will be aired on ESPN in the Buffalo area. The green flag is scheduled for 7:48 p.m. 

What is set to air on ESPN Saturday night? A high school football game between schools from South Carolina and Virginia. I think it's safe to say that ABC/ESPN made a great move here.

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Dick Rifenburg

(Born August 21, 1926) -- Mention Dick Rifenburg’s name around Western New York, and he’ll be immediately associated with broadcasting. In fact, some people might not even remember his work on the playing field.

Rifenburg grew up in Michigan, and he was a top player upon arriving at the University of Michigan in 1944. World War II got in the way of his career, but he came back to lead some great Michigan teams. “Rife” was an All-American in 1948.

He was drafted by the Eagles, but a serious knee injury essentially ruined his pro career. Rifenburg headed to Buffalo, where he started doing radio work at WBEN. Responsibilities multiplied when the station went into the television business.

Rifenburg worked on the radio broadcasts of the Buffalo Bills at times. He did play-by-play of the UB football team, and even hosted an all-night show at times.

Rifenburg left WBEN after 30 years, and did some teaching and broadcasting. He died in 1994, and was named to the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2007.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits' notebook: A Buffalo flavor

The Major Series Lacrosse final in Ontario is taking place right now, and it feels like I should be covering the games. It's a Bandit-fest up there.

Peterborough is going up against Six Nations for the championship, and the names are mighty familiar. For Peterborough, which has a 2-0 lead in the series, we start with John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis. Then we add Scott Self, Darryl Gibson, Chris White, Matt Giles, Mike Thompson, Tracey Kelusky, and Jim Purves. (Guess Gibson and Thompson aren't quite done with indoor lacrosse yet.) Peterborough has some other big names on the roster, like John Grant Jr. and Jordan MacIntosh.

Over on the Six Nations side, Billy Dee Smith is on defense. He is joined on the roster by Clay Hill (wonder if he'd consider coming back to the Bandits?-, Tom Montour and Roger Vyse. Colin Doyle, Cody Jamieson, Sid Smith and Rhys Duch are also around. They are coached by Bandits assistant Rich Kilgour.

It must be funny to play in two leagues in which your teammate can become your opponent, depending on what time of year it is. But the lacrosse players are used to it.

Six Nations hosts Game Three on Tuesday night. It's a bit more than two hours away from Buffalo by car, depending on how fast you drive.

--- Budd Bailey

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