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Post Time: Fall racing to set table for Breeders’ Cup

By Gene Kershner

Summer racing has come to an end with the closing of the Saratoga and Del Mar meetings, but horse racing fans and bettors have plenty to look forward to as we are only eight weeks away from the Breeders’ Cup (BC).  This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at beautiful Santa Anita Park, located outside of Los Angeles for the first of a two-year run on Nov. 2-3.

The summer meets have set up some interesting scenarios leading up to the Breeders’ Cup and will provide enough pre-Cup drama that should build to a great weekend of racing in Arcadia, Ca. in November. So as the Fall Championship meet starts at Belmont this weekend, Keeneland’s boutique meet will open next month and just to north, Woodbine will provide several key races as preps for the BC.

What are some of the key matchups, races and lingering questions that will be answered in the next 56 days?

-- The Cotillion Handicap at Parx on Sept. 22. Last year’s 2-year-old champion My Miss Aurelia made her comeback from injury at the Spa winning a non-graded $100K stake to remain undefeated. She will face off against Questing, who comes off two Grade 1 wins at the Spa in the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama. Questing won impressively in the Alabama, drawing away from a classy field of 3-year-old fillies by over nine lengths. The matchup will take place in Bensalem, Pa. at Parx Racing in the Cotillion Handicap, run at an eight and one-half furlongs for a $1 million purse.

-- Who will emerge in the Handicap Division? The Bill Mott-trained 4-year-old To Honor and Serve held off a slow-breaking Mucho Macho Man in last weekend’s Woodward Stakes at the Spa and those two horses will represent the strongest East Coast horses. To Honor and Serve will most likely run in the Kelso at Belmont next. Wise Dan has had an impressive season and will be a horse that can’t be overlooked. On the west coast, Game On Dude ran second in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and was last year’s runner-up in the BC Classic. Look for a potential jockey change on the Dude from Chantal Sutherland to Rafael Bejarano. Lastly, I’m a big Ron The Greek fan and he should be a juicy price even though he has won the Stephen Foster and the Santa Anita Handicap this year. Both the Greek and Flat Out are scheduled to return in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at the end of the month at Belmont on Super Saturday according to Mott.

-- Will Royal Delta defend her Ladies’ Classic crown? She won last year’s Distaff finale as a 3-year-old, but has struggled after returning from a trip to Dubai where she ran against the boys and endured the roughest of trips in the $10 million Dubai World Cup. She finished seventh and returned to the U.S. to win the Delaware Handicap in July, but was fully extended to do so. She was upset in the Personal Ensign on the day after the Travers at the Spa after the race was hers for the taking when rival It’s Tricky nearly fell coming out of the gate. How she progresses toward this year’s Ladies’ Classic will be closely watched.

-- Can the decimated 3-year-old division produce a BC Classic challenger? With only Alpha and Dullahan still around (and winning) since the Derby Trail, there doesn’t appear to be a clear cut 3-year old that can pose a challenge in the Classic.  While Dullahan defeated older horses (including Game On Dude) in the Pacific Classic, most hold out the fact it was done on polytrack, where he’s also won a Grade 1 at Keeneland in the Blue Grass Stakes. His connections are currently undecided, but look to be pointed to a turf race before the BC. Alpha will go to the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 22 restricted to 3-year-olds and will bypass Belmont’s big Grade 1 race the Jockey Club Gold Cup, where he could have faced older horses for the first time.

-- Major turf racing galore at Woodbine and Keeneland leading up to the BC. Woodbine will host both the Woodbine Mile (next weekend) and the Pattison International (mid-October), representing key races in the BC Mile and BC Turf divisions. The International usually attracts a fair amount of international horses that travel to North America to prep before the BC. Keeneland will host the Queen Elizabeth II, the same weekend as the International at Woodbine and is one of the signature races of the fall meet in Lexington.

-- Did we see the 2-year-old Juvenile champion at Saratoga? Most likely he’ll be a Todd Pletcher-trainee, as the meet winning trainer won 23 two-year old races at the Spa, 21 of which were maiden victories. Those that could challenge include Archwarrior, Hopeful champion Shanghai Bobby, Palace Malice, and Micromanage just from Pletcher’s barn. Spurious Precision, winner of the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Fortify, second place finisher in the Hopeful round out the promising juveniles who ran at the Spa.

It should be an interesting eight weeks leading up to Santa Anita, and we’ll try and keep you up to date every Friday.

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: Perry Fewell

(Born September 7, 1962) - It’s fair to say that there’s a soft spot in the hearts of most Buffalo Bills’ fans for Perry Fewell. He was put in a very tough situation here.

Fewell grew up in North Carolina, and went to Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, N.C. He played four years there and was one of the Bears’ best players.

He landed a job as a special assistant at North Carolina University in 1985, and worked his way through the college ranks -- Army, Kent State and Vanderbilt. Then it was to the NFL, where he was an assistant with the Jaguars, Rams and Bears.

Fewell landed as the Bills’ defensive coordinator in 2006. Then in 2009, Dick Jauron was fired in midseason, and Fewell was hired on an interim basis. Buffalo played hard in going 3-4, and Fewell was popular. But the Bills cleaned house after that season.

You’d have to say he landed on his feet, though. Fewell became the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, and won a Super Bowl ring last year. Maybe it will result in him getting a full shot at a head coaching job in the NFL some day.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: What time is it?

One of the big subjects of conversation at the Wendelville race on Wednesday night was, oddly enough, Paul Ryan. That's right -- the Republican candidate for Vice President.

As you may have heard, Ryan first said his time for his only marathon was two hours and 50-something minutes. That's very impressive. Then Runners World did a little checking and discovered that his time was actually 4:01:25.

Ryan backed off his statement on Tuesday with this quote: "I hurt my back when I was in my mid-20s, so I had to stop running. And so obviously, my perception of races and times was off,” he said. “I thought that was an ordinary time until my brother showed me a 3-hour marathon is, you know, very -- crazy fast. I ran a 4-hour marathon."

The talk at the race Wednesday centered around one key point: Runners remember their times. They can even be boring about personal bests and first marathons, etc., but they know them cold.

My guess is that the slip-up isn't likely to be a factor in the election. I'm not sure how runners vote. Still, it's not good to be associated with jokes along the lines of "Paul Ryan told me tonight that he ran the 5K in 12:35."

Changing the subject drastically, get well wishes go out to Dick Sullivan, a fixture on the local running scene forever. Dick had some health problems recently and had to spend some time in the hospital, but he is said to be recovering nicely. Brother Ted says Dick has his eye on running the Turkey Trot.

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

* Finn McCool 4 Mile Odyssey, Cazenovia Park in Buffalo, 8 a.m. Saturday, 830-6703. Dan Horan is promising new obstacles for this year's event. Personally, an 8 a.m. start is a big obstacle for me (which is what happens when you work at night).

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

* Run for Life 5K, 4928 Seneca St. in West Seneca, 9 a.m. Saturday, 864-4571.

* Run with the Angels 5K, 24 Shoshone Dr. in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 834-7120 x306. The students at Holy Angels come out and support this race, giving the field a youthful look.

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

-- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: A different type of tournament

We've had the World Junior Hockey Tournament in Buffalo, as well as the Triple-A All-Star baseball game and the National Lacrosse League All-Star Game. Now circle your calendar for another good event, the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in 2015.

The event will actually be split between the Syracuse area and Buffalo's First Niagara Center in Sept. 2015. The opening rounds will be held at the Tsha'Hon'nonyen'dakhwa' Onondaga Nation Arena near Syracuse. Then the semifinals and finals will be here.

The Iroquois Nationals will be the host of the event. They were admitted to represent the Native population in New York State, Ontario and Quebec.

On the world stage, indoor lacrosse essentially has two tiers. There's Canada, the United States and the Iroquois Nationals, and then there's the rest of the teams. Those three teams are packed with players who participate in the NLL. Canada won the title in Prague in 2011 over seven other teams. Therefore, it's safe to say the semifinals and finals ought to be very good games between teams filled with talent ... and we'll get to see it here.

It will raise an interesting question. Will the fans here root hard for the USA, even if there are some Bandits on Team Canada or Iroquois? I would think so.

Meanwhile, Bainbridge Sports tweeted tonight that the Bandits have reached an agreement with goalie Kurt Wagar. With Mike Thompson retiring, Buffalo obviously would like a little competition for the second-string job behind Anthony Cosmo. Wagar was essentially the third goalie for Philadelphia last season, playing less than 30 minutes, and once was a backup on the Orlando Titans. Wagar sent out a tweet saying essentially that he wasn't quite done with the sport yet.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Alex Escobar

(Born September 6, 1978) -- Sometimes professional sports careers don’t work out as well as planned, particularly when a change of culture is involved. Exhibit A is Alex Escobar.

The outfielder from Venezuela was signed at the age of 17 by the New York Mets in 1995, and played in the Gulf Coast League briefly that season. At the age of 19, Escobar put up some big numbers (.310, 27 HR, 91 RBIs) in Class A in 1999 and became one of the Mets’ best prospects.

Escobar got up to the majors briefly in 2001, but spent all of 2002 on the injured list with a torn ACL. Then he went to the Indians in a major deal that sent Roberto Alomar to the Mets.

Escobar was assigned to Buffalo for the 2003 season, and was a powerful addition to the lineup. He hit 24 homers for the Bisons, and drove in 78 runs in only 118 games. The next season, Escobar divided his time between Cleveland (spare outfielder) and Buffalo before he was lost to the White Sox on waivers.

The outfielder missed another full season in 2005, which was fatal to his chances. He played his last major-league game with Washington in 2006, and bounced around the minors until the end of his career in 2008.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Dave Dryden

(Born September 5, 1941) -- It’s never easy being a brother or sister to one of the all-time greats in a sport. It’s particularly difficult if you choose the same sport as he or she does.

Nevertheless, Dave Dryden should be remembered as a pretty good NHL goaltender, and not just as Ken Dryden’s brother.

Dave played junior hockey in Toronto. His first stop in Buffalo came in 1964-65, when he was a member of the Buffalo Bisons for four games. Dryden saw some playing time in the late 1960s with the Chicago Blackhawks.

When the Sabres were admitted as an expansion team in 1970, Dryden came to Buffalo. He worked his way up to regular status in his four years with the Sabres, playing 53 games in 1973-74. Dave and Ken even played against each other, becoming the first brother act to do so. Their first matchup was in 1971.

Dave jumped to the World Hockey Association in 1974, and spent a year with Chicago (he allowed Wayne Gretzky’s first professional goal) before concluding his career with Edmonton.  He’s now the chairman of a charity called “Sleeping Children Around the World.”

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: John Tavares

(Born September 4, 1968) -- Buffalo has had some all-time greats pass through its pro sports teams over the years, but few could be called the best player in their sport’s history. John Tavares just might be the exception. If not, he’s in the argument.

Tavares grew up in Toronto, the child of immigrants from Portugal. He took to lacrosse at a young age, although he did play some college football in Canada. In 1991, the Detroit Turbos had his rights, and the Bandits traded Brian Nikula for Tavares. It was the most one-sided trade in Buffalo sports history.

Tavares immediately became a star for the Bandits. He made his mark in scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to give Buffalo a heart-stopping win over Philadelphia in the championship game of the 1992 season, the Bandits’ first. The forward also contributed to the only perfect season in the sport’s history in 1993.

What’s more, he’s still playing. Tavares is coming off another outstanding season in 2012 at the age of 43. He has every scoring record in National Lacrosse League history, and has won the MVP trophy three times.

Tavares teaches mathematics in a suburban Toronto high school, and coaches the girls’ lacrosse team there in his spare time. We won’t see his likes around once he retires.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Gerry Meehan

(Born September 3, 1946) -- Gerry Meehan’s career with the Buffalo Sabres had two acts - one on the ice, one off of it. That puts him in rather select company.

Meehan started his pro hockey career when he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1963. He bounced to Philadelphia before coming to the Sabres in 1970 in the expansion draft.

Here he saw regular duty for the first time in the NHL, and did well. The center had at least 19 goals in his four full seasons here. Meehan’s goal in the final seconds of the final game of the 1971-72 season knocked the Flyers’ out of the playoffs.

After a few more stops with other organizations, Meehan retired and graduated from UB’s law school in 1982. Two years later he became assistant general manager of the Sabres under Scotty Bowman, and moved up to the GM’s job in 1986.

He stayed in that job until 1993, when he was promoted to executive vice president. Meehan left the Sabres in 1994, and moved to Toronto.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Rick Manning

(Born September 2, 1954) -- At least by one standard, Rick Manning might be the most celebrated high school baseball player from Western New York in the modern era.

Manning came out of La Salle High School in Niagara Falls. He was taken second in the major league draft in 1972. That’s rather tough to top. Manning also picked up the largest bonus in local sports history.

The outfielder spent the rest of 1972 and all of 1973 in Class-A Reno. Then it was up to Oklahoma City for a little more than a year when he was called up to the major leagues for good.

Manning wasn’t a power hitter, but in his first two years he posted averages of  .285 and .292 and played a smooth outfield. In fact, he won the only Gold Glove of his career in 1976. Manning stayed with the Indians until 1983, when he moved to the Brewers. Manning retired at the end of the 1987 season after a 13-year career.

He wasn’t done with baseball, though. Manning started working on the Indians’ telecasts in 1990, and is still on the job. That’s longer than any announcer has worked on the Cleveland broadcasts in team history.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Aaron Schobel

(Born September 1, 1977) -- On the list of underrated Bills, Aaron Schobel ranks quite highly. It’s almost as if he wasn’t fully appreciated until after he was gone.

Schobel was born in Columbus, Texas, and became a star high school football player there. He split his time between tight end, where he averaged 18 yards per catch in his final two years, and outside linebacker. That got the attention of Texas Christian University, where he had an excellent career. He was the WAC’s defensive player of the year in 2000.

Buffalo grabbed him in the second round of the 2001 draft. It didn’t take long for him to move into the starting lineup at defensive end as he started 128 of his 133 career games.

Schobel was good once he entered the NFL, but he kept improving ... although it took some time for the rest of the league to notice. Schobel landed in the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2006 (a career-high 14 sacks), and followed it up with another trip to Hawaii in 2007.

Schobel led the team in sacks with 10 in 2009, but after that season pondered retirement. The Bills released him in August, 2010, and he formally retired a few weeks later with four years left on his contract. Typically, it was a quiet and understated goodbye.

--- Budd Bailey

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