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Post Time: New Horseplayers TV show to debut

By Gene Kershner 

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Hello from Hallandale Beach on the east coast of Florida and the home of Gulfstream Park, site of this weekend's Eclipse Awards. I'm down here to emcee the annual ThoroFan Awards breakfast this morning where owner Cot Campbell will receive the second annual ThoroFan Award. Guest speakers at today's event include Brent Comer from Stonestreet Farm and caretaker of Rachel Alexandra as well as Groupie Doll's owner and trainer, Mandy Pope and Buff Bradley. It's sure to be a nice event in its first year as an official part of the Eclipse Awards.  I'm the treasurer of the fan-based member organization which is a qualified 501(c)(3) entity.


Next Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 10 p.m. ET on the Esquire TV network (Time Warner - 114; Dish - 191; DirecTV - 235 and FiOs - 160), a new series called Horseplayers will premiere featuring handicappers across the country that culminates at last year's Breeders' Cup in a reality-based setting. Two of the handicappers featured in the new series include National Handicapping Contest champions John Conte (2009) and Michael Beychok (2012). I had the fortune of introducing Beychok last January at the inaugural ThoroFan Awards event. He won the 2012 NHC by a single dollar in the last race of the competition and subsequently purchased and retired the horse that brought him the handicapping crown.

The Esquire network is a joint venture between NBCUniversal and the Hearst Corporation, and was formerly known as the Style network. The show takes you from Churchill Downs to Saratoga to Santa Anita, and each episode follows a group of handicappers as they travel the country in search of instant riches – and compete for the title of America’s top handicapper. One of the handicappers on the show is Peter Rotondo, 38, a Vice President - Media and Entertainment for Breeders' Cup Ltd. I caught up with the stylish Rotondo earlier this week and had a little Q&A session about the new show, which also features his father, Peter, Sr., as one of the handicappers in the cast.

Post Time: Tell me how the show came to be and were you part of the group that initiated the idea?

Rotondo:  I qualified for the 2012 NHC and went to Vegas with my Dad and his best friend, Lee Davis. Bryan Pettigrew and Keith Chamblin from the NTRA were hosting a production company who was interested in Horseplayers and the NHC. Long story short – they mic'd us up (and a few others) for the weekend, created a sizzle reel. They pitched it to various networks and Esquire bought it and greenlit the pilot. The pilot turned into a 10-episode series!

Post Time: What was your first reaction when approached to be part of the show and the tie-in to your position at the Breeders' Cup?

Rotondo: My first reaction when the show became a "reality" was nervousness. I'm not exactly someone who wants to be in front of the camera (though everyone I know reading this just rolled their eyes), I'm comfortable behind the scenes in the TV landscape (as my role has been for many years working with ESPN and NBC). On the other hand, my Dad and Lee are made for TV, so I was going to do whatever I could to make it happen!  As far as a tie in to work at the BC, I cleared with Senior Management and they were very supportive. Most of the 'work' was on the weekend, so didn’t really interfere too much with my day to day job. Plus, I think the more exposure we can bring to the game the better we're all off and being close to the project made more sense than distancing myself from it.

Post Time: What’s something that viewers will be surprised about when they see the show?

Rotondo: Hmm…good question. I'm not sure. I think the hardcore fans of racing will like it to a point – I think they'll want to see more handicapping strategy and wagering but the "reality" is that the show needs to develop the characters before trying to explain handicapping and betting in detail. If the show takes off, you'll see a lot of wagering and handicapping discussion. I think the casual fan or reality television viewer that knows nothing about racing may find the characters interesting and, for the most part, the show destroys the stereotype of the typical horseplayer.

Post Time: What was it like being on a reality show with your father?

Rotondo: It was a blast. He's 64 but has so much energy so I know my role was to just get him going so he can be himself! He and Lee are truly crazy and everyone who spends time with them has a hysterically good time. I hope that comes across through the season – they put the "real" in "reality!"

Post Time: What will appeal to the casual sports fan when watching the show?

Rotondo: I think the risk and reward will appeal to the casual sports fan. I'm not sure the show is geared toward "sports" fans – maybe more toward the gamblers (think World Series of Poker) and at the same time the rest of the public as the curtain is lifted on something many people don't know much about.

Post Time: Out of the cadre of handicappers on the show, who impressed you the most?

Rotondo: Not to disparage my fellow cast-mates but Christian Hellmers impressed me the most. He is an amazing handicapper, exceptional tournament player and literally operates on a different "level" than everyone else. You'll have to watch to see what I'm talking about!

Post Time: Is there talk of a second season?

Rotondo: Not yet. I'm just trying to get thru Tuesday!

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

'30 for 30' doc directed by Buffalo native debuts at 9 tonight on ESPN

"The Price of Gold," revisiting the 1994 national figure skating championships drama involving Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, is set to air on ESPN at 9 p.m.

The News' Greg Connors previewed the documentary earlier this week.

The filmmaker behind it, Nanette Burstein, is a Buffalo native and Nichols School graduate. She was recently interviewed by about the documentary.

Here is the trailer from ESPN:

Live from First Niagara Center: Bandits vs. Rock

7:07 p.m. - Can the second weekend of a season be an important one for a team playing an 18-game season?

Probably not. Still, the Buffalo Bandits need to show something in their two games that are coming up. Buffalo hosts Toronto tonight, and then plays in Philadelphia on Sunday.

The Bandits are coming off an opening night loss to the Wings. Now they play two divisional opponents. An 0-3 start would not be a good sign.

Coach Troy Cordingley will make a couple of changes to his lineup. Aaron Wilson and Chad Culp are in. David Brock and Joe Resetarits are out.

Anthony Cosmo is back in goal. He's under the microscope as well, although he didn't have much help two weeks ago.

For Toronto, old friend Chris White is on injured reserve and won't play tonight. The Rock did make one interesting move this week, signing Nick Diachenko to their practice squad. Diachenko was the Bandits' first choice in last fall's draft (2nd round). He did not make the Buffalo roster, but landed a spot with Toronto.

7:13 p.m - And congratulations to Kurtis Wagar, who became a new papa this week. He even tweeted a picture of him with his brand new daughter shortly after her arrival. Kurtis probably was pleased with her timing - he didn't have to miss a game.

7:29 p.m. - We may be playing the "smallest crowd since ..." game tonight. Buffalo had 13,564 in its home opener. That was the smallest crowd since March 8, 2008. Since the Bandits lost the opener, and Friday nights traditionally don't draw as well as Saturdays, we may have to go back a little further in that department. Buffalo's last four-digit crowd was on April 4, 2004, but we'll beat that tonight.

By the way, the wrestlers beat the Bandits to the Saturday night date this week.

7:46 p.m. - Only one goal so far, and it went to Toronto. Stephan Leblanc scored on the power play. Buffalo hasn't been too sharp in its passing so far and missed some opportunities as a result. Toronto hasn't been overwhelming either.

7:52 p.m. - Two early power-play goals have given the Rock a boost. Toronto has added two other goals, and now lead by 4-0. Cosmo was a little shaken up on the last goal, but will stay in the game. One of the goals was Colin Doyle's 400th as a member of the Rock.

7:59 p.m. - A dreary first period for the Bandits, who couldn't get much going. Toronto has a 4-0 lead and there's not much electricity in the building after those first 15 minutes. That's the 32nd time in team history that the team has been shut out in a period.

8:07 p.m. - No news is bad news for the Bandits. Buffalo still hasn't scored with 9:47 to go in the second quarter. Toronto is stuck at four for the moment, but the Rock has tried a ton of spectacular passes lately. The plays are just missing, but Toronto is still beating Buffalo to those loose balls. At the other end, many Bandit shots have been at long range and been swallowed by goalie Nick Rose.

8:12 p.m - Ryan Benesch ends the drought by scoring from close range. He scored on a three-on-two break. Buffalo had only gone an entire half without scoring, and that record is again safe.

8:16 p.m. - Buffalo's momentum after the goal lasted 37 seconds. Leblanc struck again to make it 5-1, Toronto. Cosmo has made a few good saves lately. 

8:28 p.m. - Halftime here. Toronto is up, 6-2, with Benesch scoring both Buffalo goals.

8:42 p.m. - Back to work.

8:48 p.m. - No scoring in the first six minutes. Steve Priolo of the Bandits had a good look on a 3-on-1, but hit the post. Cosmo had been quite solid for the most part tonight, and the defense in front of him has been better. But the offense is still missing.

8:56 p.m. - More of the same in the past few minutes. Both goalies have been stopping everything in sight. Naturally, this sort of stretch doesn't help the team trailing by four goals.

9:01 p.m. - Say, the Bandits have exploded. They have scored two goals in less than two minutes to cut the lead to 6-4. Steve Priolo and Benesch do the honors. And the Rock haven't done much on offense in a while.

9:04 p.m. - Yikes. It's 6-6 after goals by Chad Culp and Mark Steenhuis. And it stays that way at the end of the third quarter, with Toronto taking a major penalty that has 3:51 left. We've got ourselves a ball game.

9:15 p.m. - 11:15 to go in regulation, and it's 8-8. Toronto scored the last two goals to tie it. This all is as sudden as it is unexpected.

9:17 p.m. - The attendance checks in at 11,404 - smallest crowd since 2006.

9:25 p.m. - Only 5:41 left to play, with Buffalo clinging to a 10-9 lead.

9:34 p.m. - John Tavares got a huge power-play goal to put the Bandits ahead, 11-9. We have 1:46 left with the media timeout. It's been a thrilling final 20 minutes of play, especially for the Buffalo fans in the building.

9:40 p.m. - Bandits win a wild one, 12-10. Off to the postgame interviews.

11:44 p.m. - No big surprises from those interviewed. All were very happy to get a home victory; Troy Cordingley said he had talked about making Buffalo a tough place to play again since training camp. The stories will be posted on line shortly. Next up - Philadelphia on Sunday. Good night.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

The Eclipse Award finalists were announced on Wednesday morning and there were not a lot of surprises within the nominations for horse racing's year end laurels. The winners will be announced at the annual Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, Jan. 18. A list of the three finalists in each division can be found here. The three finalists for Horse of the Year (HOY) are Wise Dan, Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge. I posted a look at my ballot last weekend on this blog.

Some thoughts as we start heading down the Derby trail….

- My ballot wasn't too far off of the announced finalists. The one category where my top horse wasn't even on the finalists list was in the Female Sprinter category where I went with the full body of work of Cluster of Stars. My other two selections Dance to Bristol and Groupie Doll both made the final cut.

- Lots of noise surrounding the Older Male category and the inclusion of Wise Dan, who ironically won last year's Eclipse in this category. Some of the voters that have been around for some time seem to think that this is a category strictly for dirt horses.  Funny, I can't seem to find that anywhere, maybe someone can point me to where it says this category excludes turf horses?

- Interesting that Will Take Charge's late season heroics bumped him into the top three for HOY over Game on Dude, who had a solid season with his only clunker being the BC Classic.

- Glad to see my jockey selection Gary Stevens make the cut after the tremendous comeback year. He probably won't win it based on the pure numbers of Javier Castellano, but good to see him be recognized.

- Not sure why the industry announced the finalists on the same day as the Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. Why not pick a slow news day and avoid something that will dominate the sports headlines like something as controversial as the baseball hall?

- Sad that the Sham Stakes, a Derby points race at Santa Anita this Saturday, drew only four horses, three of which are trained by Eclipse finalist Bob Baffert.

- Speaking of the Run for the Roses, last month, Churchill Downs started the process of erecting a massive $12 million video board that will be 171 feet wide and sit 80 feet above the ground. It 90-foot board will utilize advanced ultra-high definition 4K technology and will be the largest outdoor screen in the world.

- Buffalo Raceway opens tomorrow night after canceling both Wednesday and tonight's races. First post is 6:40 p.m. and a new announcer, Michael Carter, will be calling the races from the Hamburg oval.

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

Video: Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment

News Sports Columnists Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan have a live show that airs on WBBZ-TV twice weekly, at 7 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

Continue reading "Video: Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment" »

Video: Highlights of Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment

News Sports Columnists Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan have a live show that airs on WBBZ-TV twice weekly, at 7 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

Continue reading "Video: Highlights of Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment" »

Post Time: Wise Dan should repeat as Horse of the Year

By Gene Kershner

This afternoon the 2013 Eclipse voting ends and on Jan. 8 we will know the three finalists in each of the various categories, including Horse of the Year. Fortunate enough to have an Eclipse ballot as a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association (NTWAB), I submitted my ballot earlier in the week. Here is my ballot and a brief summary of my thoughts when voting.

Two-Year Old Male: 1 - New Year's Day; 2 - Havana; 3 - Shared Belief

This was one of the more difficult categories for me as it was difficult to not go with the Breeders' Cup (BC) Juvenile winner, the biggest race for a 2-year-old male of the year. Havana, the second place finisher in the Juvenile and winner of the Grade 1 Champagne, had a solid year and I considered briefly. Jim Rome's Shared Belief won both of his races on polytrack, only one being a graded stake.

Two-Year-Old Filly: 1 - She's a Tiger; 2 - Ria Antonia; 3 - Sweet Reason

She's a Tiger lost the BC Juvenile Fillies to Ria Antonia via disqualification, but had the better overall year when looking at her fully body of work. A Grade 1 win in the Del Mar Debutante and second place finishes in a Grade 1 at Santa Anita and Grade 2 at Del Mar did the trick for me.

Three-Year-Old Male: 1 - Will Take Charge; 2 - Orb; 3 - Oxbow

After the BC Classic this one became a little tougher to decide, but a win against older in the Grade 1 Clark, solidified my leaning towards Will Take Charge as the 3-year-old champion. Add Grade 1 wins in the Travers and Grade 2's in the Rebel and Pennsylvania Derby and the choice became much easier.

Three-Year-Old Filly:  1 - Princess of Sylmar; 2 - Beholder; 3 - Close Hatches

By far the most difficult selection, that was almost a toss-up between the top two choices. They split the two head-to-head meetings in the Kentucky Oaks and the BC Distaff.  Each won four Grade 1 races during the year and both won races against older horses. I leaned towards the four straight Grade 1 wins by Princess of Sylmar (Oaks, CCAO, Alabama, Beldame) to make the final call.

Older Male: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Mucho Macho Man; 3 - Game On Dude

This category is usually slanted towards older dirt horses, but because of the fact that Wise Dan being my choice as Horse of the Year, he wins this category by default in my eyes. More analysis on this group in my HOY summary.

Older Female: 1 - Royal Delta; 2 - Joyful Victory; 3 - Tiz Miz Sue

It should result in a landslide victory here for her third in a row in this category.

Male Sprinter:  1 - Points Offthebench; 2 - Sahara Sky; 3 - Secret Circle

This is another tough category, wherein the voting should be very close. The late Points Offthebench who was euthanized after a workout a week prior to the Breeders' Cup had the best body of work with four straight wins, including two straight Grade 1 wins. The Met Mile winner and BC Sprint winner are both valid choices for this award.

Female Sprinter: 1 - Cluster of Stars; 2 - Dance to Bristol; 3 - Groupie Doll

I just couldn't bring myself to vote for Groupie Doll, whose best two performances were in the BC and on the Tapeta at Presque Isle. Dance to Bristol's seven-race win streak was impressive, but the head-to-head loss to Cluster of Stars in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom as the highlight of her undefeated six-race season did the trick for me.

Male Turf Horse: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Magician; 3 - Point of Entry

See Older Horse synopsis.

Female Turf Horse: 1 - Dank; 2 - Laughing; 3 - Tiz Flirtatious

Dank's BC Filly and Mare Turf performance was so impressive, that she took this category running only two races in the States this year (she also won the Beverly D. at Arlington on Million day). Laughing had a great season, but was outclassed in the Filly and Mare Turf by Dank.

Jockey: 1 - Gary Stevens, 2 - Mike Smith; 3 - John Velazquez

Just based on Grade 1 and big wins during the year (Preakness, BC Classic) the top two delivered with the motto less is more. Smith had 15 Grade 1 wins to Stevens' nine. The magnitude of Stevens' wins off a seven-year layoff and coming back after spending time in the television booth, makes his comeback all the more impressive. While statistically and earnings-wise Javier Castellano had the best year, these three jocks consistently won the big races.

Trainer: 1 - Todd Pletcher; 2 - Chad Brown; 3 - D. Wayne Lukas

While I was tempted to go with D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher and Brown both had tremendous seasons, Pletcher winning a Triple Crown race in the Belmont and another Saratoga training title overshadowed the good work performed by Brown in 2013.

Owner: Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey

Breeder: Adena Springs

I abstained from the steeplechase horse and apprentice jockey votes due to lack of knowledge in both of those arenas, similar to last year.

Horse of the Year: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Mucho Macho Man; 3 - Game On Dude

It was Game On Dude's award for the taking with a win in the BC Classic, but another disappointing finish doomed his chances. Mucho Macho Man's only two wins came in Grade 1's at Santa Anita, but winning the Classic gave him the juice to be my second choice. Wise Dan should repeat by default, as he effortlessly went through the year winning four Grade 1 and two Grade 2 races. His only blemish was an off-the-turf effort in the Shadwell Mile that was run on Keeneland's polytrack where he finished a length and a quarter behind Silver Max. He gets the nod for HOY.

Happy New Year!

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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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.