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Post Time: It's Derby Week!

By Gene Kershner

Happy Derby week, Buffalo! The Sabres are finished playing hockey, the NFL draft is in the books, so we're ready to rev up the Triple Crown coverage here at The News. I'll be heading to Louisville on Wednesday to be on the backside Thursday morning. Our Derby week coverage will include the following:  

Wednesday:
Post Position draw and quotes from key connections (Sports, Ink)

Thursday:
Preview of the Kentucky Oaks (Sports, Ink)

Friday:
Kentucky Oaks post-race wrap-up (Sports, Ink)

Saturday:
Derby advance and selections (Print and online)

Saturday:
Live blog from Churchill Downs (Sports, Ink)

Sunday:
Post-race commentary (Print and online) 

Be sure to bookmark the Sports, Ink horse racing link so you can follow our Derby coverage throughout the week up to the 139th Run for the Roses.  

Derby Notes

There were some interesting twists and turns under the Twin Spires on Monday morning as three horses dropped off the Derby trail and two new entrants have emerged. Bob Baffert announced that Govenor Charlie and Code West would not be running, leaving him without a Derby starter for the first time since 2008.

Todd Pletcher announced that the owners of Winning Cause decided to pass on the race and look to other potential spots including the Preakness, the Peter Pan and the Marine Stakes at Woodbine. Pletcher has also yet to announcewho will be riding Charming Kitten which should be announced on Tuesday, likely to be Edgar Prado. 

The Baffert and Pletcher defections opened two gates for potential starters. Golden Soul, who started  last weekend as the No. 23 horse on the Derby leaderboard, found himself in the race. Golden Soul, the fourth place finisher in the Louisiana Derby, is owned by Charles Fipke, who will also have Blue Grass winner Java's War in the Derby.  

Finally, it appears that the last entrant will be Fear the Kitten, with only 6 points, entered by trainer Mike Maker. Alan Garcia will have the mount on Fear the Kitten, who has finished fifth in his last two races.  [UPDATE: Late entry by New York-bred Giant Finish, trained by Anthony Dutrow, who will ship from Fair Hill on Wednesday and arrive at Churchill on Thursday to claim the 20th and final gate. Thus, Fear the Kitten is now on the outside looking in. - GK]

The big buzz of the Monday morning workouts was the four furlong breeze put in by Phipps' Stables' Orb who went :47.8 at the distance. Working in company with his stablemate Overwhelming, Orb broke off just behind him before pulling even on the turn before drawing away several lengths clear through the stretch.  The Florida Derby winner galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.80.  

Lines of Battle will arrive on Wednesday from overseas and will hit the track on Thursday after clearing quarantine. Jockey Ryan Moore will have the mount for one of Europe's best trainers, Aidan O'Brien on the UAE Derby champion.

There will be plenty of television coverage of the Derby as NBC Sports and the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) plan over 14 hours of coverage. The Derby post position draw will be televised on NBCSN at 5 p.m. to kick things off.  

If you missed it last Friday, be sure to check out my Degrees of Separation blog and our Derby spreadsheet with facts, figures and the latest information has been updated through Monday's additions and defections.  

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

Collins to sit down with Stephanopoulos

Steph

By Greg Connors

It didn't take long for Jason Collins to agree to his first TV interview.

The NBA free agent, in a story published online today by Sports Illustrated, became the first active male player in a major team sport to announce that he is gay.

News came this afternoon that Collins' first TV chat since his revelation will be with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America."

In a Mixed Media column this month, I had speculated about who might do the first interview when this sort of story broke. In my mock broadcaster draft, I had Bob Costas, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts on my board.

I whiffed on the Stephanopoulos pick. I guess I overlooked the intangibles of the former White House aide, and the guy does have a great motor.

Collins' story is very much worth reading. A quote on his coming out:

"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, 'I'm different.' If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."

Post Time: Degrees of Separation - Derby 139

By Gene Kershner 

We're eight days from the Run for the Roses and it's time for the annual Degrees of Separation post where we separate the contenders from the pretenders some fun divisions. I've been putting this list together for the past five years and gave a preview last week during a telephone interview on a "Racing Across America" telecast on Capitol-OTB in Albany with Equidaily's Seth Merrow before today's full unveiling.

It's a light look at the current qualifiers based on the current leaderboard, a week out and before the post position draw to help segregate the horses I'm high on versus the throw-outs come Derby day. Before we jump into Derby 139, let's take a moment to review some of my better (and really bad) quotes from past Degrees of Separation posts.

2009

Mine That Bird: "Slowest of the slow" (Not my best work)

2010

Super Saver: "Really warming up to this one. Pletcher's best chance to wear the roses. Sports Monarchos' sire, his dam sire is A.P. Indy, so he has the pedigree AND the King of Churchill in the irons. Dangerous." (Don't say so myself)

Ice Box:  "If there's a pace meltdown, he will be around to claim a prize." (Make that an ice cold exacta, baby)

2011

Animal Kingdom: "Really loved his move in the Vinery Spiral Stakes, but he looks more like a dynamite turf horse than a Derby champ." (Oops)

Shackleford: "Really would have loved to see him in the Preakness versus the Derby, hope the race doesn't wreck him, looks like a monster." (Bingo)

2012

I'll Have Another: "I dig this horse. His daddy, Flower Alley, had a troubled trip in the 2005 Derby  and is a Travers winner and BC Classic runner-up. Could be my top pick - we'll see how he draws on Wednesday." (Drew 19, dropped him into second tier…ugh)

Bodemeister: "With Baffert, Big Beyers and a Bodacious pedigree, how can you keep him off your tickets. My only worry is he gave his best effort one race too soon. He could be the most dangerous Triple Crown threat of the group." (Close on this one)

So let's get down to business and reveal our 2013 Degrees of Separation for Kentucky Derby 139:

The AMC Gremlin Division: My father bought my mother an American Motors Corporation (AMC) Gremlin back in the 70s and it was a thing of beauty. Bright red, sleek gold stripes, the works. Problem was...it just wasn't fast. These are the  horses that represent this division, and qualify as my throw-outs:

Frac Daddy:  Slow speed figures won't get it done in Louisville. Plus can you really see the name Frac Daddy as a regal Derby champ?

Falling Sky: Don't mind me, just happy to be here.

Vyjack: Nice horse at 8 1/2-furlongs, hope the race doesn't wreck him.

Winning Cause: If he wins, it'll be a losing cause on my end.

The Pamela Anderson Divison: This is the spot where horses have made it to the Derby starting gate by winning on the faux dirt and will most likely not make due on the real stuff under the Twin Spires.

Java's War: Winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (polytrack) with a last to first effort. While I respect him, and will have him underneath (a la Paddy O'Prado and Dullahan) he's not going to win the Derby.

Black Onyx: If he wins, it will be Black Saturday for my wallet.  The Spiral Stakes winner is facing a much tougher group on the First Saturday in May then he did at Turfway.

Charming Kitten: Turf horses love the poly at Keeneland and he qualified via a third place finish in the Blue Grass. (See TwinSpired and Derby Kitten for reference).

The George Costanza Human Fund Division: These are the horses that will be taking in a lot of money and have a little (or a lot of) hype, but will be unmasked in the Derby and I don't see them being a factor.

Mylute: Just like Pants on Fire two years ago, with Rosie in the irons, this horse will garner some action at the windows from the female set. She'll get more prime time than Mel Kiper during draft week as she tries again to become the first female  jockey to win the Derby.

Overanalyze: Can you tell I'm not sold on the Arkansas Derby? Using as a negative key race, if there's such a thing.

Govenor Charlie: As potentially the lone Baffert horse in the field, he could seriously take some cash at the windows. What about Bob?

Normandy Invasion: I don't get what everyone loves about this one? He'll be the wise-guy horse who takes a lot of money at the windows and ends up being a huge underlay. I'm not getting sucked in this year.

The Afleet Alex Divison: Horses that won't win the Derby, but will have to be respected and could hit the board. Those qualifying here have the potential to become a Classic winner down the road in either the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes.

Palace Malice: Late charger who seems to be a Belmont horse to me. I like him very much, and will keep an eye on his draw, his daddy Curlin won the Preakness and was nosed out of the Belmont.

Oxbow: Still waiting for this one to show up. Thinking it may be in the Belmont where he may savor the Test of a Champion.

The Brett Favre Division: The horses that are bound for this division are those I just can't make up my mind on as we sit one week out from the Run for the Roses. Include them, exclude them, indecision has set in.

Goldencents: Like Creative Cause last year: I'm in. I'm out. I'm in. I'm out. Solid pedigree, strong west coast horses this year have me leaning towards including with my top horses. Derby rookie jockey Krigger makes me nervous.

Itsmyluckyday: Could be the fastest of the lot, and sat atop my Derby list for most of the winter. Good chance he ends up on top of my tickets, waiting to see what he looks like on the track next week.

Will Take Charge: There are lots of questions looming that include a long layoff from the Rebel, distance challenges, ran his top during the last race. I think I just talked myself off of him.

Lines of Battle: Qualified in Dubai on the Tapeta and has the best distance Tomlinson in the gate. He has pedigree on his side, just not sure how he'll handle the dirt for the first time. I will most likely hedge by playing underneath in the exotics. 

The Charlie Sheen Division: The horses I think have the best chance at...wait for it...winning!

Orb: Likely favorite after his two big wins at Gulfstream with matching Beyer Speed Figures. He'll be on top of my tickets.

Revolutionary: One of the two Pletcher horses that have made the Sheen for me. Departing flattered him via his impressive win at Hawthorne last weekend, and he picks up the king of Churchill in Calvin Borel in the irons. What's not to like?

Verrazano:  He's either a potential superstar or he's going to finish last and flop badly. I don't think we've seen his best yet and there is definitely another gear available. Best shot in the field for a Triple Crown.

That's a wrap on this year's degrees of separation. It always helps me to flesh out the field this way, as you can't bet 'em all, so this gives me a way to segregate the field prior to the big day.

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

Running notebook: Touching gesture

I had to work late on Saturday night, so I missed the ceremony - if that's the right word - that marked the group run concerning the Boston Marathon tragedy at Delaware Park early Sunday morning. I showed up a little after 10 a.m., and was very impressed by all the runners in attendance. I ran a couple of laps, and every so often I had to stop and chat with someone I knew - including some runners who had been in Boston.

My favorite story of the day came when I heard someone who wasn't able to finish the race because of the bombing was given a previous year's medal by another runner. Makes you proud to be a runner.

I'll have the story of one runner's trip to Boston in Sunday's column.

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

* Buffalo Undy 500, Delaware Park, 9 a.m. Saturday, (202) 628-0123 x104. This attracted a crowd last year, so it's here for Round Two.

* Saps Run, 10K, 31 N. Main St. in Franklinville, 9 a.m. Saturday, 372-8184.

* Kaleida Spring Into Fitness 5K, 100 High St. in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 859-7069. It's a new course this year, perhaps because of some of the construction in the area.

* BPAC 6-Hour Distance Classic, Northtown Center in Amherst, 8 a.m. Sunday. It takes a special type of athlete to try this one.

-- Budd Bailey

Video: The return of soccer star and Rochester native Abby Wambach

Abby Wambach says the opportunity for her to return and play for the Flash in front of fans and family is a real blessing.

Live from First Niagara Center: Bandits vs. Knighthawks

6:53 p.m. - What more could you ask from a lacrosse game? Everything on the line for both teams. A record crowd in the house.

OK, maybe the weather could be warmer. But the Bandits and Knighthawks are ready to go at 7:30 p.m. If you aren't here, you can watch the game on the CBS Sports Network.

As you hopefully read today, the Bandits are out of the playoffs if they lose tonight. They will play Philadelphia somewhere in the first round if they win. Rochester wraps up a playoff spot with a win, but would need help from Minnesota if it loses.

The biggest news out of the morning shootaround was the calf injury of John Tavares. He did not fully participate in the workout, and was questionable for tonight's game. We'll see if you pops up on the list of scratches.

Darris Kilgour said he expects Anthony Cosmo will be in goal tonight, barring any complications from his concussion from two weeks ago.

7:13 p.m. - Scratches are full of surprises. Tavares is in the lineup, and Kurtis Wagar is in the starting lineup. Hmmm. Steve Priolo, who was supposed to have a hearing on his league suspension, is also playing.

Luke Wiles, Derek Hopcroft and Hayden Smith will sit.

7:26 p.m. - The Bandits just introduced their fan of their year. Words fail me in trying to describe his suit.

7:31 p.m. - Just retweeted a photo of the suit @WDX2BB, so take a look. And if you aren't following me, you can help me get to 200 followers (I'm at 199).

7:38 p.m. - Bandits had a moment of silence for those who affected by events in Boston.

7:47 p.m. - Can't ask for a better start out of Buffalo. Bandits lead, 2-0. D. Smith and Wilson with the goals. And as I type, Craig Point narrows the lead to 2-1.

7:56 p.m. - Shawn Williams and Dhane Smith have the lead up to 4-1.

8:01 p.m. - Matt Vinc has faced seven shots so far and made three saves. Buffalo has 4-2 lead at the TV timeout.

8:12 p.m. - John Tavares' goal was wiped out after review. We are tied, 4-4, after 15 minutes. Rochester has to feel relatively good about taking a shot early in the game in terms of the energy of the full house, and coming back to tie.

8:22 p.m. - This game definitely has settled down. There hasn't been much action in the first five minutes of the second period. Have to think that would help the Knighthawks.

8:27 p.m. - Matt Vinc has broken the NLL record for saves in a season. He went past 644 by Rob Blasdell  of Albany in 2002. Consider yourself a trivia expert if you knew that and didn't live in Rochester. 

8:32 p.m. - Dan Dawson has scored two goals in a row for the Knighthawks. That makes it 6-4, Rochester. And that's five straight goals for the Knighthawks.

8:38 p.m. - Bandits have given up runs of 11 goals in a row, 9 and 8. Rochester is at six and counting.

8:39 p.m. - Power-play goal by Wilson puts an end to that streak. Buffalo needed that one badly.

8:43 p.m. - We go to halftime with Rochester leading, 7-5. I go to the radio booth for an interview with John Gurtler.

9:02 p.m. - We're back. Buffalo could use the boost of a power-play goal to start the third quarter.

9:07 p.m. - They got that power-play goal, Shawn Williams dribbling one in. It's 7-6 with 9:39 left in the third quarter. Bandits playing with a little more energy. And now, in tribute to Mike Harrington, we have the blooper reel on the video board.

9:17 p.m. - Hat trick for Craig Point, who has been outstanding for the Knighthawks. It's 8-6 with 4:50 to go in third quarter.

9:25 p.m. - Billy Dee Smith just ran over a Rochester player on a two-on-one break and scored to cut the lead to 8-7.

9:28 p.m. - Joel McCready increases the Knighthawks lead to 9-7 after three quarters.

9:38 p.m. - Bandits trail, 10-8, with 9:52 to go.

9:53 p.m. - Two minutes left, and it's still 10-8. Time is now a factor, as the cliche goes.

9:58 p.m. - Steenhuis goal isn't enough. Bandits lose 10-9. Season is over.

11:51 p.m. - My two stories on the game will be posted on line in the near future. (The notebook features a conversation with John Tavares about his future.) Short version - after a good start, the Bandits had a long stretch where they couldn't get enough done. They rallied in the end but fell short. If this sounds like a description of the entire season, you are thinking like I'm thinking.

For those of you wondering, Darris Kilgour said he saw signs of progress at the end and hopes he's lucky enough to take on the challenge of continuing the rebuilding the team as head coach next season. I don't think 6-10 and missing the playoffs will go over well in a town with such good fan support. Could be an active offseason, although it will be too long for everyone's tastes.

It's been another interesting season. I appreciate the kind words of readers/fans throughout the season. Let's do it again in January.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Around the park

Beth Weinberg posted this on Facebook under "Boston Marathon Solidarity Run." Lots of area runners apparently will gather at Delaware Park on Sunday morning to show their support. Here are the details from organizer Beth Weinberg:

There is no sense to be made of what happened in Boston this week, but so many of us are looking for a way to help. 

Please join me this Sunday morning in Delaware Park to take a few laps around the park, hang out and appreciate springtime in Buffalo, and make a donation to the American Red Cross or the One Fund.  The Red Cross provides emergency relief to our brothers and sisters in our community and around the world, whenever and wherever it is needed.  The One Fund has been set up to benefit the victim...s of the Boston Marathon bombing.

We'll have a water and snack station set up (by the Nottingham entrance of the golf course side), and I'll post more details as they are firmed up.  If you'd like to make a donation right now, please visit http://www.redcross.org/charitable-donations or http://onefundboston.org/.

#RunForBoston shirts are available through You and Who, with all profits going to the One Fund.  Shirts ordered before Friday at noon will be available for pickup at the event.   youandwho.com/run-for-boston.html

There will be an after-party at the Liberty Hound from 12:30pm-3:00pm, and a donation will be made to the One Fund for every pint sold. 

The Central Park Grill will also be holding an after-party, and will be making a donation to the One Fund.

While we won't be selling food at the event, Lloyd the taco truck will be on Nottingham for brunch.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”  ― Fred Rogers
Only one other race on Sunday - the Take-Off for Learning at the Jamestown/Chautauqua Airport. Starting time is 9 a.m.
--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Weekend racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

Some thoughts on the horse racing scene over morning coffee… 

With the bombings in Boston on Marathon Monday, high profile sporting events are sure to be on high alert and the folks running the Kentucky Derby have already taken action. Churchill Downs released new security measures on Thursday in a press release, including increased gate screenings, Do's and Don'ts lists and a catchy new phrase "See Something, Say Something," prompting fans to report any   unusual activity. 

It doesn’t appear that any of the horses lining up for tomorrow's Lexington Stakes (worth 20 points to the winner) are gearing efforts towards the Kentucky Derby. It looks to be more of a springboard to the Preakness possibly, but who knows, once an owner gets a whiff of Derby fever. The horse currently sitting in 20th place on the point leaderboard, Charming Kitten, has 20 points. My  handicap of the race can be found at ThoroFan's Handicappers' Corner this week. 

Speaking of Charming Kitten, should he get in, that would make five Derby starters for super trainer Todd Pletcher. He started five horses in the 2007 Run for the Roses (finishing in the 6,8,9, 18 and 20 spots).  A month and a half ago it appeared he and California-based trainer Bob Baffert would have close to half of the field, but it looks as though Baffert will have only one entry, Govenor Charlie, the Sunland Derby winner.

While I was initially critical of the Illinois Derby being left out of the Derby points qualifying races, organizers at Hawthorne Race Course have made the most of the slight, by moving the date back to this weekend. By moving the date back a few weeks, they created a scenario where the race has become a prep race for the Preakness, which is four weeks out.  The race has attracted some decent horses including Departing (7-2), Pletcher's Abraham (8-1) and Dale Romans' Dewey Square (8-1) in a full field of 14.

The Daily Racing Form reported yesterday that Fort Erie management is looking to move the Prince of Wales, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, from its traditional Sunday spot to a Tuesday afternoon on July 30. While they may attract the better riders from Woodbine, who are off on Tuesdays, the weekend players who typically will dive into the Fort Erie pool in the half million dollar race, may not be so inclined on a Tuesday night at 7 p.m. It's a risky move, but Fort Erie management is counting on it being a slow night (i.e., Saratoga is dark) in the racing world.

If you missed it last weekend, Wes Welker, the newest member of the Denver Broncos and notorious Bills killer, saddled a horse named Undrafted in last weekend's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at  Keeneland. He finished next to last after setting the pace early on. It was the first time the colt, purchased by Welker as a $50,000 yearling, finished out of the money.  

Both Woodbine and Finger Lakes open this weekend, a sure sign that spring has arrived. The $1 million Queen's Plate has been moved back from its traditional weekend; typically run the last weekend in June.  I have to believe the issues over the winter at Fort Erie may have had something to do with pushing back the race date for the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. It is scheduled for Sunday July 7 in Toronto.

Finger Lakes will open its 162-day meet on Saturday afternoon with a nine-race card. The biggest race on the Finger Lakes calendar is the $150,000 New York Derby, set for June 1 in Canandaigua. 

Major league baseball didn't do the Triple Crown any favors, scheduling an afternoon home game for the Baltimore Orioles smack dab in the middle of the Preakness card. The Orioles are scheduled to play the Rays at 4:05 p.m. on May 18.  

Older horses make the Derby trail take a back seat on Saturday evening when the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic will be run at Charles Town in West Virginia. The big purse has attracted top horses such as Game on Dude and Ron the Greek, as well as last year's CT Classic champion, Caixa Eletronica and the Big Cap runner-up Clubhouse Ride

Two weeks to the Derby,next weekend we'll feature our Degrees of Separation post which will start segregating the horses into pretenders and contenders. 

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

Post Time: Derby trail leads to Keeneland and Oaklawn

By Gene Kershner 

We’re inching closer to Kentucky Derby weekend as we are a month away from the First Saturday in May and the last two races of the second leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series are upon us tomorrow. The Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn highlight this weekend and will be featured on NBC (Ch. 2, 4:30 p.m.) as the final telecast leading up to Derby day. The two races will be worth 100-40-20-10 points to the top four finishers in completing the most lucrative stage of the Series. 

I've posted my Kentucky Derby spreadsheet which currently lists the top 15 contenders on the Championship Series leaderboard with some interesting statistics as we head towards the First Saturday in May. I developed the sheet several years ago to try and collect valuable information including pedigree, speed figures, distance and wet Tomlinson figures and post position statistics in the Run for the Roses. 

This week's interesting news surrounded key jockeys and the decision made by John Velazquez, who was injured on Sunday afternoon, to choose Verrazano over Orb. Joel Rosario will ride the Florida Derby winner, who could be the favorite on May 4.  

Bluegrass Stakes 

The Bluegrass has drawn a large and deep field of horses trying for a last gasp attempt to qualify for the Derby. The race to be run on Keeneland's polytrack has an interesting group of 3-year-old colts, some who have never run on anything but turf or dirt trying to capture the biggest race of the spring meet in Lexington.  A horse who made this year's Derby wings column on the mild list is Rydilluc (pronounced Ry-Dill-Luke) who is 4-1 on the morning line.

Trainer Gary Contessa is sky-high on the Medaglia d'Oro colt who has won three straight on the turf, including the Palm Beach Handicap at Gulfstream by over three lengths.  "You know, watching him  rain in the morning, he does everything with ease.  His stride is probably one of the greatest strides I’ve ever seen in a horse in 30 years of training horses," said Contessa during this week's press  conference with the national racing media.  

Rydilluc drew post 13, a post that Contessa was prophetic about earlier in the week during the press conference. "My lucky number is 13 and if I got post 13, I’d just feel it was karma.  I think from out there, if a horse is acting up in the gate, you’re not going to be sitting in that gate for five minutes; you’re going to be in and out fairly quickly," said Contessa. Sometimes you get what you wish for. 

His main competition will be morning line favorite Uncaptured (7-2, 30 points), trained by Mark Casse, the second place finisher in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on the polytrack last month. The Canadian-bred horse sired by Lion Hart has won four of six races on all-weather surfaces and has shown that he can win on dirt winning twice at Churchill Downs.  

Another horse that made my Wireplayers.com Derby Dozen list is Java's War (4-1, 22 points) the co-second choice along with Rydilluc. He just missed making the pollsters top 12, but would have if it had been a baker's dozen.

Arkansas Derby 

Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas will be the scene for a very competitive running of the Arkansas Derby. Three colts headline the field of 10, that will be going after the $1 million purse. This race has produced terrific champions in the recent past such as Curlin, Afleet Alex and Lawyer Ron.  

The surprising morning line favorite is the Bob Baffert-trained War Academy (2-1), a lightly raced colt who has three career starts, only one in graded competition. He ships in from the west coast for his first race away from Southern Califorina and will face a stiff class test in his third off the layoff with Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the irons.

The second choice Oxbow (5-2) currently sits in 13th place on the leaderboard with 36 qualifying points, so even if he suffers a poor showing, he should still make the gate in Louisville.  Quinquagenarian Gary Stevens has come out of retirement to seek another Derby victory for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and gets the call aboard Oxbow.  

Rafael Bejarano will fly in in to ride Overanalyze (4-1, 10 points) for trainer Todd Pletcher, who already has two colts in the Derby and also will send two colts to the gate in the Bluegrass. The Dixie Union coltcould be sitting on a big one coming in second off the layoff after a lackluster performance in the Gotham. He's won at the 9 furlong distance and should sit off the pace and try to pounce on the field at the top of the stretch.  

Falling Sky (10-1, 20 points), finished third behind Verrazano and Java's War in the Tampa Bay Derby after winning the Sam F. Davis could be a nice price for trainer John Terranova. His connections chose the Arkansas Derby over the Bluegrass to avoid "the wildcards" running in the Keeneland race. Martin Garcia takes over the ride for Jose Espinoza in a jockey change trumpeted by owner Jim Covello.  When the Bafferts ship horses to New York, they’re stabled with the Terranovas and there’s been obviously a number of times over the last few years where Martin has come east and ridden one of Bob’s horses in the big graded stakes races, and so they have a very close working relationship.  Our view is that he’ll fit the horse really, really well." 

Thoroughbred racing hits the main stage on NBC this weekend so be sure to watch the Road to the Kentucky Derby as both races will be nationally televised on Saturday afternoon. 

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

Running notebook: The long runs

A couple of notes about marathons:

The Boston Marathon will be held on Monday, and it's always a highlight of the running year. I'm always impressed just how many Western New Yorkers make the trip to run in the event. I've talked to one of them and you'll read about him in Sunday's running column.

Closer to home, Krysten Stoll has been busy setting up a Facebook page called "Cheer on Buffalo Marathoners." The idea is to generate more spectators to support the runners at the event. Sounds like a great idea. Facebookers, take a look.

The running calendar just got busy. Here's the weekend slate, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Young Life 5K Run, S4999 McKinley Parkway in Hamburg, 9 a.m. Saturday, 825-6702. No one goes away hungry from this race, and there are some hills on the course to make it interesting.

* Mathletes 5K, 1339 Indian Church Road in West Seneca, 9 a.m. Saturday, 870-8956. This race honors the memory of late school teacher Cindy Frank. If they ask runners to do some calculations along the way, I might have a chance to medal for once. By the way, this race had some organizational problems, and those in charge did a great job of putting everything together on short notice. They'll have more than 300 there Saturday.

* Health Fair 5K, North Tonawanda Middle School, 9 a.m. Saturday, 807-3715. Say, a 5K race for $10? I know some friends who might like that idea.

* Anew Run, 83 South Main St. in Jamestown, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 661-3894.

* Feel the Spirit, 921 Cleveland Dr. in Cheektowaga, 11 a.m. Saturday, 380-0231. Finally - a race on Saturday designed for those on the late shift. The people here have always been friendly and helpful.
 
* Canisius College Shoes for the Shelter 5K, Koessler Athletic Center at Canisius College, 10 a.m. Sunday, 888-2977. Note the new starting time, which no doubt is caused by a new course. It's a News Runner of the Year race, and the new course has to be flatter than the old one.

-- 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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