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Post Time: Top racing moments of second half

Winter racing is off and running at Aqueduct, Hollywood, Turfway Park and the Fair Grounds, tracks that die hard racing fans and horseplayers will follow over the coming months. It’s as good a time as any to look back at the best moments of the second half of the year through the eyes of this turf writer.

While there was no race with as big a purse as the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I just can’t find a way to put it in the top five moments of the second half of 2012. So here goes….

1. The dead heat in the Travers. While it wasn’t the most competitive field that the Midsummer Derby has produced over its historic past, the second dead heat (the first was in 1874) produced some great racing drama that is rarely captured with a national television audience tuning in on NBC. It was a superb moment for thoroughbred racing. The story was compelling with the long shot Golden Ticket (33-1) hitting the wire simultaneously with race favorite Alpha.

2. Jim Rome winning a Breeders’ Cup race. A proponent of racing since he started owning horses under the Jungle Stables moniker, this could be one of the bigger moments of the racing year. His filly, Mizdirection, rolled down the hill to victory at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on day two of this year’s championship weekend. He spent no less than two hours talking about racing on his national television show the following Monday.

3. Dullahan rolling home in the Pacific Classic. In a major upset, Dullahan closed late to win the Pacific Classic at Del Mar defeating older horses such as Game On Dude and Richard’s Kid on the polytrack where the surf meets the turf. It gave the 3-year-old crop a little more street cred after most of the year’s stars had fallen by the wayside via injury after the Triple Crown trail wrapped up.

4. The thrilling finish to the Cigar Mile. In a photo finish that was decided by a head bob, Stay Thirsty showed his versatility in nipping Groupie Doll at the wire. Groupie Doll was attempting to become the first filly to win the Cigar.  You have to give trainer Buff Bradley props for his sporting try to win the one turn mile at Aqueduct last weekend. Stay Thirsty had never run at the mile distance in 16 career races and added a valuable Grade 1 to his resume before heading off to the breeding shed.

5. Havre de Grace brings $10 million at Fasig-Tipton sale. In a classic “Just get the bread, Fred” moment, and 30 bids later, the daughter of Saint Liam garnered a cool $10 million in the sales ring at the Fasig-Tipton sale in November. The sales price was the third highest price for a broodmare in a public auction. The 2011 Horse of the Year was purchased by Whisper Hill Farm and sold by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm. She had nine wins from 16 career starts and $2,586,175 in earnings.

The second half of the year produced some great racing moments and clearly turned the corner from the hangover related to the unfortunate ending to the Triple Crown season.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jason Pominville

(Born November 30, 1982) -- Jason Pominville wasn’t an instant star in the National Hockey League. It took him some time to become one of the Sabres’ most dependable performers.

The winger played for Shawinigan of the Quebec league in junior hockey, where he was a top 10 scorer. That caught the attention of the Sabres, who picked him in the second round in 2001.

Pomvinville arrived in Rochester in 2002, and only had 13 goals in his rookie season there. He finally arrived for Buffalo for good in 2005-06, and he had 18 goals in 57 games. The winger scored a series-clinching short-handed goal against Ottawa in the playoffs that year.

From there, Pominville became a fixture. He scored 20 goals or more in six straight seasons, capped with 34 in 2006-07.

Pominville is durable, having played in 335 straight games at one point in his career. He signed a five-year contract extension that took effect in 2009, so he should be a Sabre for a while.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Nicely played

The organizers of the Turkey Trot deserve a little postrace recognition. I can't say I heard any complaints, and I didn't see any problems. The runners seemed to enjoy the good weather, there was room to breathe in the Convention Center after the race, and buses came along in short order to transport some of the athletes back to North Buffalo.

When I checked out the list of finishers, I was happy to see the name of Jack Hesslink at the bottom of the list. Mr. Hesslink was one of my gym teachers while I was in high school back in Clarence in the Stone Age, and it's good to see him out for a walk while in his 80's for the Trot. He's still setting a good example for the rest of us.

The calendar is about to flip, but the race calendar still has some events. The list is from

* Reindeer Run, Medaille College in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 880-2130. We wondered what this race would do with Forest Lawn closing its facilities to races. Race officials took the logicial route - cross the street to Delaware Park. Just be careful, kids, when crossing the 198.

* Holly Jolly, 4190 N. Buffalo St. in Orchard Park, 12 noon on Saturday, 830-6713.

--- Budd Bailey



This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Brad May

(Born November 29, 1971) -- All together now, it’s “May Day.”

Brad May will always be fondly remembered by Sabres’ fans. He was the team’s first-round draft choice in 1990, and the Sabres had hopes that they had drafted a tough customer with a scoring touch and some leadership ability.

May moved into the lineup in 1991. He was tough - 309 penalty minutes as a rookie. But it took a while for him to show he could score a big goal. It came in 1993, as his overtime goal finished off a sweep of the Bruins to give the Sabres their first playoff win in a decade.

May stayed in Buffalo through 1998, when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for Geoff Sanderson. The left winger bounced to Phoenix, back to Vancouver, over to Colorado and then to Anaheim, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2007.

In 2009, May played the 1,000th NHL game of his career ... against the Sabres. That’s pretty good for someone who battled chronic shoulder problems. May eventually retired in 2010.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jeff Datz

(Born November 28, 1959) -- All sorts of baseball players have gone on to manage the Buffalo Bisons over the years. Jeff Datz was one of the more successful at it.

Datz was a catcher who played at Glassboro State College in New Jersey, which is now known as Rowan. He was drafted by the Reds in 1981, but didn’t sign. Then the Astros grabbed him in the 19th round a year later.

The backstop bounced around the minors for a while. A move to the Tigers did get him to the majors, briefly. Detroit got him into seven games in 1989, and he went 2 for 10 at the plate.

In 1994, Datz moved on to managing. He reached Buffalo in 1998, leading the Bisons to a 81-62 record. Datz returned the next year, and the Bisons had a .500 season.

Datz moved up to the Indians’ coaching staff for several years. Last season he worked as a coach for the Seattle Mariners.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Joe Mesi

(Born on November 27, 1973) -- The Joe Mesi Story might be the greatest “What if?” in Western New York’s boxing history.

Baby Joe was born in Tonawanda and went to Sweet Home High School. He didn’t even take up boxing until he was 19 years old. After winning a state Golden Gloves championship, Mesi eventually moved into the pro ranks.

His first fight was in 1997 in the Apollo Theater in New York, and Mesi knocked out Duane Cason Allen in the first round. The wins kept coming - 28 in a row. There was talk of a title shots and multi-million dollar bouts in the Bills’ stadium.

Then fate got in the way. Mesi beat Vassily Jarov in Las Vegas, but suffered a head injury along the way. Mesi’s career came to a halt as he lost his license. He eventually did fight again and won seven more bouts, but eventually retired in 2007.

In 2008, Mesi’s career took an odd turn as he ran for public office, losing a State Senate race. He did land a post with the Democratic Senate majority.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Dave Hannan

(Born November 26, 1961) -- If you could pick someone to score one of the biggest goals in Buffalo Sabres history, you probably wouldn’t choose a veteran known more for his defense than his scoring. Dave Hannan was in the right place at the right time.

The forward was not a typical hockey success story. He was born in distant Sudbury, Ontario, and played for three different junior teams. Hannan was picked very late in the 1981 Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That started him on a career that bounced him around a bit. It included stops in Edmonton and Toronto, and he even played on the 1992 Olympic team for Canada that won a silver medal.

Hannan came to Buffalo from Toronto in 1992, and spent four fine seasons here. He’s best known, of course, for scoring an overtime goal in the middle of the night against New Jersey in Game Six of the 1994 playoff series.

From there, Hannan moved on to Colorado and helped the Avalanche win a Stanley Cup. That was his second Cup. He played one more year for Ottawa and retired in 1997.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Ray Bentley

(Born on November 25, 1960) -- Football player, coach, announcer ... children’s book author. No one can say Ray Bentley’s story is typical.

Bentley was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he’s spent much of his life in that state. He went to college at Central Michigan, and was good enough to turn pro. But he didn’t do it in the NFL; the linebacker joined the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League in 1983. He spent three seasons in the USFL, including one in Oakland.

When the USFL folded in 1986, the Bills scooped him up. He saw plenty of action in his first two seasons, and then was a starter much of the time from 1988 to 1990. Bentley played one more year in Buffalo in 1991 before moving to Cincinnati in 1992, where he completed his career.

Bentley did some broadcasting work before coaching the Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena Football League for two years. Since 2009, he’s worked as a radio personality in Grand Rapids and been a high school football coach.

In his playing days, Bentley wrote children’s books about “Darby the Dinosaur.” He’s said to be working on a novel.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Ryan Fitzpatrick

(Born November 24, 1982) -- You probably realize that Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t take the standard route to the National Football League. Only in football is a Harvard graduate a curiosity.

Fitzpatrick was one of the great athletes in the history of Highland High School in Gilbert, Arizona, lettering in three sports. He even threw a 99-yard touchdown pass in a game; that school record won’t be broken.

Fitzpatrick moved on to Harvard, seeing spot starts in his first two years. He became the full-time starting quarterback in 2003, and was a standout as a junior and senior. Fitzpatrick was the Ivy League’s player of the year as a senior, when he ran for more than 1,000 yards.

His career led to the Rams taking him in the seventh round. After two years in St. Louis, Fitzpatrick was traded to the Bengals. There Ryan mostly backed up Carson Palmer. There wasn’t much of a future there, so Fitzpatrick joined the Bills as a free agent in 2009.

He and Trent Edwards divided the starting job in 2009. Edwards was gone in 2010, and Fitzpatrick has been the starter ever since. He signed a six-year, $59 million contract with the Bills in 2011.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Will the Big A become the Doll House?

By Gene Kershner

It’s been a wacky week, starting with a run on Twinkies, the Big Ten adding two teams to become a 14-team conference, and concluding with Hewlett-Packard taking an $8.8 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) write-down primarily related to a 2011 acquisition. It’s no different in the world of thoroughbred horse racing as Groupie Doll will attempt to enter the history books. She would become the first filly to ever win the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Saturday afternoon. In other major race of the weekend, Shackleford will make his final career start in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap late this afternoon at Churchill Downs.

By and away, the Cigar Mile is one of my favorite races of the year. Held at the Big A (Aqueduct Racetrack) in Ozone Park, N.Y., the one-turn mile race is the last of the biggest races on the New York Racing Association calendar. Groupie Doll (8-5), the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner, will attempt to win her fourth Grade 1 race of the year and potentially entering the Horse of the Year equation for Eclipse Award voters.

Groupie Doll was assigned 118 pounds, two pounds less than Coil (8-1), a Grade 1 winner, looking to bounce back from his seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint who was designated the colt carrying the most weight. Trainer Buff Bradley wasn’t even thinking Cigar Mile after the Breeders’ Cup victory. “I wasn’t looking for another race for her; I wasn’t looking for a race against boys,” said Bradley. “I thought that trip [to and from California] might knock her back a little, but they had the parade of Breeders’ Cup champions here at Churchill last weekend and she was just feeling so good. We took her to the track to train her just to let her down a little. I never even thought about the Cigar Mile until that weekend.”

The Cigar will also feature 2011 Travers winner and second choice Stay Thirsty (7-2) and 2010 Cigar Mile winner Jersey Town (4-1) in addition to Coil and Groupie Doll. Hymn Book, Buffum and Associate will round out the seven horse field. Last year’s contest featured a win by To Honor and Serve who held off a late charging Hymn Book after fast early fractions. This year’s edition could prove to be historic should Groupie Doll off the victory. It will be her first start at the distance since she finished second against males in an optional claiming race in Florida in January. 

Stay Thirsty will be looking to add the Cigar Mile to his impressive resume. “It would be a huge win for him,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of the Cigar Mile. “For a horse that’s already accomplished a lot, especially a Travers winner, to also show the versatility to win at a mile would be a feather in his cap.” Ramon Dominguez will ride Stay Thirsty who drew the rail.

The Grade 1 Clark drew a field of 10, including Todd Pletcher’s Mission Impazible (5-1) Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy (8-1) and Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Pool Play (5-1) a horse who savors the Churchill strip, winning last year’s Stephen Foster Handicap. Those three will be trying to send Shackleford off to retirement on a losing note. Jesus Castanon, who rode Shack in a winning effort in last year’s Preakness, regains the mount after giving way to New York-based riders Ramon Dominguez and John Velazquez in his last four efforts.

The Met Mile winner would love to close out his career with a win at historic Churchill Downs, but some pundits are questioning his connections choice to run in the two-turn Clark, to be run over 1 1/8-miles (5-1-2-0 career mark at the distance) versus the one-turn (3-1-2-0) Cigar Mile.

The Clark also includes former Queen’s Plate champion Eye of the Leopard (20-1), who finished third in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie Race Track in 2009. Take Charge Indy returns to the scene of his last race, a 19th place finish in the Kentucky Derby where he suffered an ankle chip. He comes off a huge workout over last weekend and will try and regain the form he showed early in his 3-year-old season in Florida.

Another 3-year-old trying to establish himself with a Grade 1 win is Super Derby winner Bourbon Courage, (15-1) who finished second last out in the Indiana Derby. It should be a fun race to watch and see who emerges, last year current Horse of the Year favorite, Wise Dan, won his first ever Grade 1 race propelling him to a wonderful 2012 campaign.

Enjoy the races during this holiday weekend.

The field for the Grade 1, $350,000 Cigar Mile Handicap:








Stay Thirsty 



T A Pletcher




J R Velazquez


R E Dutrow, Jr.




E Castro


T Albertrani



Jersey Town

J Castellano


B Tagg



Hymn Book

J Rosario


C R McGaughey




M Garcia


B Baffert



Groupie Doll

R Maragh


W Bradley


Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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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.