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Live from First Niagara Center: Bandits vs. Mammoth

7:47 P.M. - I have discovered that the usual blog is not appearing on the News home page. Time to do it old school. 

We are six minutes into the game, and the Bandits lead Colorado by either 1-0 or 2-0 depending on how this goal review goes. Kevin Brownell and Aaron Wilson are the Buffalo scratches. Billy Dee Smith is back in the lineup after missing a game with an ankle injury. 

Adam Jones and Casey Powell are out for Colorado. 

Chad Culp has the first goal of the game. The Bandits' forward has 400 career points. The video review overtuned the goal ruling, so we are still at 1-0. 

7:50 p.m - Bandits are wearing green uniforms for St. Patrick's Day. Pretty nice, actually. 

7:54 p.m. - John Tavares got into open space when a Colorado defender missed a chance to intercept a pass. He still knows what to do in that situation. It's 2-0, Buffalo. 

8:06 p.m. - Joe Resetarits thrills the Hamburg contingent with a goal from close range. Then Steve Priolo strikes with a short-handed score. We're at 4-0, Buffalo. 

8;20 P.M. - Resetarits strikes again. It's 5-0 Buffalo, even though the shots are 19-17. And we take a break for the silly blooper reel. 

8:24 p.m. - Just when I started looking up when the Bandits last had a shutout half, John Grant Jr. strikes for Colorado. My fault. 

8:34 p.m. - Mammoth closed to within 5-3, thanks in part of a pair of power-play goals. But Ryan Benesch got the lead back to three goals with a nice cut to the net. We are 6-3 at the half. 

8:48 p.m. - Rochester just had an 8-1 quarter against Toronto, and leads, 13-10, after three. I get the impression that the Knighthawks and Bandits ought to have some fun games the rest of the way, including the postseason.

8:57 p.m. - A couple of veterans - Mark Steenhuis and Grant - have scored in the second half. The net effect is the same; the Bandits lead by three with 9:10 left in the third quarter.

9:07 p.m. - Colorado has cut the lead to 7-5, and has a 5-minute power play coming. A key part of the game is about to begin. There are 3 minutes left in third period. 

9:14 p.m. - John Grant Jr. tied the game with two goals on the Mammoth power play. But Tavares untied it in the final moments of the period. Bandits lead, 8-7, after three periods.

9:20 p.m. - Buffalo leads, 9-8, with 11:26 left. There's one Colorado fan below the press box. His cheers for Mammoth goals, um, stands out.

9:24 p.m. - Time is down to 8:11, score still the same. 

9:29 p.m. - Williams and Steenhuis strike to make it 11-8, but Colorado has a power play. 

9:35 P.M. - Cosmo has been great down the stretch. Good thing I picked him as a star.

9:42 p.m - Bandits win, 12-9. Off to locker room. 

11:32 p.m. - As you'd expect, the Bandits were a satisfied group after the contest. They didn't like most of the third quarter, and five power-play goals against were almost costly, but they still won the game.

“It’s nice to see our team dominate fourth quarters,” Bandits forward John Tavares said. “To me it looks like we know how to win. The last couple of years, it seems like we found ways to lose. This year we’ve found ways to win. That’s the sign of a good team.”

By the way, Colorado's loss tonight means Edmonton has clinched a playoff spot. That's with about eight games left. Impressive. We'll see how the Rush do against the Bandits on Friday night. Good night from Buffalo.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Derby trail served Buffalo-style

By Gene Kershner 

It's that time of the year when we evaluate the current Kentucky Derby contenders Buffalo-style by applying just the right sauce in judging whether each colt is hot, medium or mild on this year's Derby trail. 

There are three races remaining in the 50-20-10-5 leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, including this weekend's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. After next weekend's races at Turfway Park and Sunland Park, the final seven races of the Series will offer the top four finishers 100-40-20-10 points, respectively. 

Several horses have already fallen off the trail most notably, Top Billing, third place finisher in the Fountain of Youth. Bayern, a top contender from Southern California scratched out of last weekend's San Felipe due to a quarter bruise and it is uncertain whether he will compete in the Santa Anita Derby or at Oaklawn.  Shared Belief, owned in part by Jim Rome's Jungle Racing, hasn't recorded a workout since January and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer confirmed yesterday that he is off the Derby trail due to foot ailments.

Keeping with our mid-March tradition of looking at the current leaders in the chase for the first leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, let's check out the 3-year-old colts that are creating a buzz on the Derby trail. In concert with prior years, the colts will be sorted Buffalo-style: Hot, Medium and Mild. 

Hot.  Two horses that are gaining steam as the hot horses have had good fortune in New York and Florida, at the Big A and Gulfstream Park, respectively. 

Samraat,  the son of Noble Causeway out of an Indian Charlie dam, looks to have earned his way into the Derby via his recent win in the Grade 2 Gotham where he defeated rival Uncle Sigh (24 points, t-7th) for the second straight time. Look for him next in the Wood Memorial in early April at Aqueduct. He appears to have the pedigree to capture the Classic distance of a mile and a quarter and has impressed so far in reaching the top of the points standings with 60 points. 

Heading down the coastline to sunny Florida, the Holy Bull winner, Cairo Prince appears to be the best of the Gulfstream colts after Top Billing's defection due to injury. He will take on the top two finishers in the Fountain of Youth in two weeks in the Florida Derby.  The son of Pioneerof the Nile, the second place finisher to long shot Mine That Bird in the 2009 Derby, still needs valuable Derby points. He sits in 14th place with 14 points for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who has never saddled a Derby winner. 

Medium. Our medium horses are those colts quietly moving up the ladder with decent, but not mesmerizing performances in the Derby prep races to date. 

A  horse that meets our "medium" category had the perfect trip in winning last weekend's San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park.  California Chrome (50 pts, 5th place), sired by Lucky Pulpit, grabbed the rail and pulled away from contenders Midnight Hawk and Kristo to win easily. His grand sire Pulpit won the Blue Grass and the Fountain of Youth in 1997, finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby, so there is some indicators in his bloodlines, although he has his doubters out there due to his damline. A much anticipated matchup with Robert B. Lewis winner Candy Boy awaits him in the Santa Anita Derby on Apr. 5.

We'll see our other medium colt this weekend, who could vault into "hot" territory with a win in the Rebel. Tapiture has earned points in each of his last three races, garnering 22 points in winning the Kentucky Jockey Club and Southwest Stakes and finishing third in the Iroquois. A top four finish should get him enough points to qualify for the Run for the Roses. He shares the same grand sire as California Chrome, but was sired by Tapit, winner of the 2004 Wood Memorial, who finished a disappointing 9th in the Derby that same year. 

Mild. The horses fitting the mild category are those that will probably qualify for a spot, but are rather bland at the moment, requiring additional spices and seasoning. 

Staying completely under the radar is a horse who will be challenging Taptiture this weekend at Oaklawn in the Rebel. Strong Mandate, trained by the venerable D. Wayne Lukas who stormed back onto the Triple Crown scene last year with Oxbow, is a horse with huge upside if he stays healthy. With only 6 points currently he'll need strong performances in either the Rebel or the Arkansas Derby to get into the gate on the First Saturday in May. Sired by the great Tiznow, a two-time Breeders' Cup Classic champion, he has the staying power to be there on Derby day as long as he qualifies. 

Rounding out our mild category is Starlight Racing's Intense Holiday trained by the omnipresent Todd Pletcher. After a ho-hum third place finish behind Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull, he captured my attention with a win in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds vaulting him to top portion of the leaderboard, where he currently sits in second with 53 points. The son of Harlan's Holiday, a 7th place finisher in the 2002 Derby, should show up next in the Louisiana Derby in two weeks. 

Suicide.  If I had to tag a horse in this category it would be Wildcat Red, who backed up his Hutcheson win by winning the Fountain of Youth going gate-to-wire in blazing fractions holding off General a Rod. With a sprinter's pedigree, he may be your leader around the clubhouse turn at Churchill Downs in May setting the early pace. The 50 points he earned at Gulfstream should be enough to qualify for the big race.

Let's grab some bleu cheese, your favorite sauce and settle in for some great Derby preps over the next few weeks. 

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

Running notebook: What's next?

There may be a reason why potential spring marathon times from Buffalo runners this year will be a little slower than normal.

It's been a little tough to get a regular routine going this week. Conditions were excellent on Tuesday. Then a blizzard arrived on Wednesday, and cross-training in the form of snow shoveling was on the schedule for Thursday. What's next, locusts?

Elsewhere, I just finished looking at the Runner's Bucket List by Denise Malan. It might be handy for those who like to seek out unusual races elsewhere. You can go to my review here.

It's not exactly a busy week in the world of racing this weekend. Here's the short schedule:

* St. Patrick's Day Dash, 3 miles, 319 West Third St. in Jamestown, 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, 488-2203 x230.

I've had a few people ask what happened to the Bengal Run at Buffalo State this year. I believe organizers announced last year that the race would not be staged in 2014.

Meanwhile, I'll have a look at a new contender for the title of Western New York's toughest race course. It's in the Sunday running column.

--- Budd Bailey

PAL meeting cancelled

I just received a text from PAL executive director Modie Cox that today's board meeting and vote on the future of Buffalo's Gus Macker Tournament has been postponed due to weather. No makeup date has been announced. - Miguel Rodriguez

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 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

Post Time: Big Cap steals limelight for a weekend

By Gene Kershner 

It's not too often that the handicap division steals the spotlight from the 3-year-olds on the Derby trail at this time of the year. On Saturday afternoon the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita will do just that when three of the biggest names in racing will go head to head.

Willis Horton, owner of Will Take Charge (2-1), told the national racing media on Tuesday afternoon that "it could be the race of a lifetime to see." Last year's three-year-old Eclipse winner will get a rematch on national television Saturday evening with Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man (9-5), in the race known as the Big Cap on Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m. ET.

Not part of the original schedule of "The Jockey Club Tour on Fox," the Big Cap became a must-see once the two top finishers in last year's $5 million Classic decided to head west for round two. Adding to the drama will be hometown hero Game On Dude (5-2), who will be seeking a record third Big Cap win after winning the 2011 and 2013 editions.

Dude's trainer Bob Baffert is as excited as most racing fans for Saturday's Big Cap. "When you win a big race on a big day like that when the stands are pretty full and a lot of cheering and it’s loud, really it’s a good feeling.  That, to me, that’s the good feeling story, when you see a lot of people out and they’re cheering for home and you can hear the roar of the crowd, there’s nothing better feeling than that.  Winning—when you win one of those—under those circumstances, that’s what makes racing so exciting," he told the national racing media earlier in the week.

"It’s like a heavy weight title fight. Before, if it’s the same horses in California running it probably doesn’t get that much attention, but anytime you have a horse that ships in like Mucho Macho Man with the best handicap horses in the same race, that’s what brings the attention because you’ve got your Breeders’ Cup winner, you’ve got the champion three-year-old, it’s a no brainer," said Baffert.

The Southern California-based trainer is hoping for a pace scenario that will fit Game On Dude.
"We have to give him a chance and, you know, it’s got to be a reasonable pace.  It can’t be a ridiculous pace but, I mean, those races are always fast anyway, so I’m sure he’ll be going pretty fast there.  But, you know, it has to unfold the right way for him and if it does, then he’s very effective," he said.

The Derby trail will feature big races on both coasts with 50 points at stake for the winners. The Tampa Bay Derby, run at 1 1/16 miles, will feature several Ontario-bred horses including Coltimus Prime, trained by Justin Nixon, the Mark Casse-trained Matador and Asserting Bear conditioned by Reade Baker. We could be seeing a Queen's Plate horse emerge from Tampa Bay Downs this weekend. All three of the Ontario-bred entrants are Canadian Triple Crown nominees, although Casse admits Matador runs his best on dirt.

"Our feeling is that Matador is superior on the dirt.  We feel like he trains much better on the dirt than he ever did the synthetic and that was our reason for taking him to the Sam Davis, because if you look at his previous form, you could hardly believe that he deserved to go to the Sam Davis.  We need him to step up and continue to run better on the dirt for him to be considered a good horse.  The question is, are we going to go back to the Queen’s Plate? We’ll have to see.  He’ll have to show me more on the synthetic," Casse explained to the national racing media. 

The horse to beat in Tampa, however, is also trained by Casse, winning trainer of the last two Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, and that colt is Conquest Titan. Casse moved him from Gulfstream Park to Tampa due to the colt's late running style that would not fair well on the speed-favoring drag strip at Gulfstream. A style that Casse changed to after his disappointing finish in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"We went back to Churchill Downs after the Breeders’ Cup and said, look, we’ve got to do something different, and so we started taking him back and then relaxing him in his works and, you know, it shows in his chart there at Churchill that he broke slow, but that was my plan and we told [jockey] Shaun [Bridgmohan], 'Just take him back, get him to relax and try to come with one big run,' and it worked.  It doesn’t happen very often, but it worked that time," said Casse.

On the Big Cap undercard is the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, also at 1 1/16 miles, that will showcase the first race in a Derby point race for the impressive Bayern, trained by Baffert. The lightly raced son of Offlee Wild has only two career starts, both wins at Santa Anita, the latter an allowance win by 15 lengths over highly-regarded Tap It Rich.

Not surprisingly, Baffert has the second best horse in the race on paper, Midnight Hawk, who currently sits in 13th on the Derby points list with 12. He finished a well beaten third to Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis last week after winning the Sham Stakes in January.

Jockey Gary Stevens may have a tough decision before Derby day if Bayern continues to show his talents on the track. He also rode Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis, another talented colt who should have enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. "He’s actually shown me more in his last two workouts after that race than he did in that actual race.  He showed me some versatility and the thing about Bayern, he’s got a great mind and he’s going in the right direction, and we’ll see what happens on the weekend, but I expect a big performance from him.  I don’t see any reason he won’t with what I’ve seen in the mornings the last two times I’ve been on him," said the Hall of Fame jockey.

[UPDATE 4:00 p.m. Friday: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert announced on his Twitter account that 3-year-old colt Bayern is scratched from Saturday's San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita with an injury.]

It's as big a weekend in horse racing as you'll find during the month of March.

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

 

Running notebook: A winning effort

Newspaper types are known for their sense of humor, particularly with old friends. So when I saw Tom Burns right after the Shamrock Run, I asked him if he had won - since it would have made for a great follow-up column. Remember, Tom had suffered a heart attack after finishing the race last year. Tom said he was well back in the pack but felt fine and was happy to finish.

Actually, Tom deserves plenty of credit for finishing the race and for his fundraising efforts. He raised almost $5,000 in donations for the American Heart Association. Tom was getting donations less than 15 minutes from the start of the race.

More money will be raised this weekend in easier ways. Here's the calendar, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Fight for Air Stairs Clumb, 38 flights, One HSBC Center, 10 a.m. Saturday, (585) 666-1402. I've heard there's little harder in running than going up flights of stairs if you aren't used to it, so the people participating are in for a good challenge. Proceeds to the American Lung Association.

* Dyslexia Dash, 5K, 2491 Emery Road in South Wales, 12 noon Sunday, 687-2017. Most races bill a fast and flat course, no matter what the topography looks like. This races says it has a "challenging course." I've heard there's a hill that would feel right at home in the Rockies. We'll see. Don't forget Daylight Savings Time starts the night before.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

The blog is back this weekend after taking a one-week hiatus due to the focus on last week's print article as we kicked off the Derby trail on TBN. I was keen on both General a Rod (second in Fountain of Youth) and Intense Holiday (Risen Star winner), but disappointed in Hoppertunity's performance in the Risen Star.  Looks like its back to the drawing board for trainer Bob Baffert.

This weekend the Derby trail finds it way back to New York and Aqueduct Racetrack for the Gotham Stakes, a Grade 3 race over 1 1/6 miles on the Big A's inner dirt track.

Some noteworthy goings on over the thoroughbred racing landscape…

- The Gotham features a Withers rematch between 1A-Samraat (5/2), who is running in a coupled entry, and 4-Uncle Sigh (3-1). Both horses are trained by NY-based trainers, Samraat by Richard Violette, Jr. and Uncle Sigh by Gary Contessa. It would be nice to see one of those fine trainers have a horse in the gate on the First Saturday in May.

- I'm leaning towards 8-Extrasexyhipzster (4-1), trained by Michael Trombetta. He's coming off two non-graded stakes wins, one an impressive win on the inner in December in the $100K Don Rickles. I think he handles the additional distance and storms onto the Derby scene.

- Hard to believe a Pletcher-trained horse on the Derby trail has a morning line of 10-1, but 10-Harpoon, who was supposedly being pointed at the Tampa Bay Derby, was shipped back north to run in this spot. Maybe it's the outside post that had morning line maker Eric Donovan assigning a higher number. His nose loss to Vinceremos in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis in Tampa earlier in the month at the same distance warrants him a closer look.

- Good news that Fox Sports 1 has added the Santa Anita Handicap (aka the Big Cap) to its lineup and will televise the big race next weekend. The Big Cap will feature a Breeders' Cup Classic rematch between Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, not to mention Game On Dude, who will be looking to avenge his disappointing loss last November. The $750,000 Grade 1 race that was first run in 1935 should set the stage for an exciting year in the handicap division.

- Speaking of television, Horseplayers, the reality show on the Esquire Network, is moving from Tuesdays to Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET starting on Mar. 5. It's one you won't want to miss as the tournament scene shifts to Upstate New York and the Saratoga Race Course.

- Volume II of the Wireplayers.com website's Derby Dozen was released on Wednesday and Top Billing has just that in this week's list. Each panelist's picks can be found at this link, including mine and another Western New York handicapper who goes by the moniker, The Turk.

- Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is open and runs through Saturday at 6 p.m.

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

Running notebook: Luck of the Irish

About a week ago, organizers must have looked at the long-term forecast for their Shamrock Run and shivered. The early indications were that the traditional start to the racing season would be held in temperatures somewhere around eight degrees.

The numbers before and after Saturday have held up. But recently, the forecast for Saturday's temperature jumped in terms of temperature. We might see something around 35 degrees by racetime, which would be more than welcome after the last few days.

I heard some comments about the race officials running out of sizes of their premiums pretty quickly, but new shipments showed up later in the week. I'd call it more of a long-sleeve tech shirt than a jacket, but it worked out well on the treadmill today.

Yes, the Shamrock is the start of the Runner of the Year series. The full schedule will be released on Sunday in the newspaper. Here's the weekend rundown from buffalorunners.com:

* Shamrock Run, 8K, 62 Republic in Buffalo, 12 noon on Saturday, 856-8613 x108.

* Slush Rush, 5K, Dods Hall at SUNY Fredonia, 9 a.m. on Sunday, 673-3471.

--- Budd Bailey

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 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

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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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