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Post Time: Talent-laden Arkansas Derby on tap Saturday

By Gene Kershner

If the latest Derby Dozen is any indication of the talent in this weekend's $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, we're in for a whale of a race. Of the dozen horses on the listing, five of the eight horses are scheduled to run on Saturday at Oaklawn Park. The race will be seen live on the NBC Sports Network between 6-7 p.m. ET.

The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland will be part of a 90-minute telecast on Fox Sports 1 from 4:30 - 6 p.m. Saturday afternoon preceding the Arkansas Derby. The Blue Grass drew a full field of 14 horses with one on the also-eligible list.

Trainer Bob Baffert ships in the lightly raced Bayern (2-1), who will attempt to qualify for the Derby with a top-two finish in the Arkansas Derby. Embattled trainer Steve Asmussen has his best Derby hope and morning line favorite, Tapiture (9-5), looking to increase his point total (42) to ensure a gate on the First Saturday in May.

Let's take a look at each of the horses in the Arkansas Derby (trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):

1 - Danza (Pletcher, Bravo, 15-1). This Street Boss colt won the G2 Saratoga Special last summer and has only one race in 2014 under his belt at Gulfstream. He stretches out for the first time and will need a top two finish to even sniff the Derby. Looking elsewhere.

2 - Knock Em Flat (Von Hemel, Quinonez, SCR). Trainer Von Hemel announced on Thursday that the son of Flatter will skip the Arkansas Derby and run in Saturday's $100K Nothern Spur instead.

3 - Tapiture (Asmussen, Rosario, 9-5). He ranked on top of my Wireplayers ballot, but so did Cairo Prince before the Florida Derby two weeks ago, so I could be giving him the kiss of death. Lost the Rebel to Hoppertunity last month, who came back to post a solid second behind likely Derby favorite California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby last weekend. He's a versatile colt that can go to the lead or set off it to make his run. The one to beat.

4 - Ride On Curlin (Gowan, Court, 12-1). The son of the 2007 Arkansas Derby winner will try to match his daddy's efforts on the Oaklawn strip. He finished a half-length behind the favorite in the Rebel for a respectable third. Trainer worked him 7-furlongs earlier last weekend trying to sharpen his fitness for the big one. He sits in 22nd place on the Leaderboard with 15 points, so a top three finish will be important to his Derby chances. Contender.

5 - Thundergram (Casse, Arroyo Jr., 30-1). Casse puts the blinkers on and wins at a 17 percent clip second off the layoff. Fashions a bullet workout last Saturday over the track and could be an exotics play underneath.

6 - Commissioner (Pletcher, Smith, 8-1). Any time you have these connections north of 5-1 it pays to stay attentive to the odds board. The son of A.P. Indy definitely has the stamina and was taken back on the speed-favoring surface at Sunland in his last effort. He's won two of three at the 1 1/8-mile distance and guessing Mike Smith will have him closer to the pace on Saturday. He could be sitting on a big one and he's hard to dismiss at that price. The pick.

7 - Conquest Titan (Casse, Borel, 10-1). A lot of racing pundits have been high on this colt, who just hasn't delivered on the Derby trail to date.  In 35th place on the Leaderboard with 9 points, he desperately needs to succeed to make the Derby. He'll be trying his seventh different track in his last seven races. Not buying the hype.

8 - Bayern (Baffert, Stevens, 2-1). Son of Offlee Wild comes off an impressive allowance win in early February by over 15 lengths. Baffert swooped in to win this race and a Derby berth with Bodemeister two years ago, who ended up with the highest finish ever (second) in the Derby for a colt who never ran as a 2-year-old. Baffert and Bayern will hope to better that mark with a big effort on Saturday. Coming off an injury right into the fray is asking a lot of a lightly raced colt, so we're going to try and beat him at that price.

9 - Strong Mandate (Lukas, Saez, 9-2). Talented colt sits in 26the place on the Leaderboard with 11 points and will have to step up his game to qualify for a spot in Louisville. His sire is a two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner so he won't have any issues with the distance; questions persist about his consistency however.

Post Time Outlook: 1 - Commissioner; 2 - Tapiture; 3- Ride on Curlin; 4 - Strong Mandate

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

Running notebook: Save the date

One of the lessons that's often preached to new race directors come in the form of picking an uncrowded weekend. The first two weeks of April are a good example why.

Last week, there were five 5-kilometer runs on the calendar. This week, there's one. Maybe having more of a balance would have worked for some of those races last week. In fairness, sometimes races have to go on a specific date because of a tie-in with the sponsoring organization. But usually, it good to look around a bit when setting a date.

By the way, the North Tonawanda Health Fair 5K attracted 271 runners last week. Perhaps the $10 entry fee for non-residents had something to do with that.

By the way, Sunday's Shoes for the Shelter Race was a News' Runner of the Year event. Aileen Hoak is two for two in wins already in the series, so she seems serious about having a good year.

Here's the short schedule for the weekend:

* Run Along Jericho Road 5K, 184 Barton St. in Buffalo, 9 a.m. Saturday, 374-3018. This takes a not-often-traveled path around the West Side. I think I heard a few different languages along the way, and some of the old architecture is very interesting. Good cause, too.

* BPAC 6-Hour Distance Classic, Northtown Center in Amherst, 8 a.m. Sunday. This event always bring out an impressive cast of runners, who score points just for running a good portion of the event - let alone finishing it.

Coming up on Sunday, I'll continue my conversation with Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter, who will be in Boston again to be part of the television coverage of the marathon. His memories of last year make for dramatic reading, I believe.

-- Budd Bailey

Golf preview: Searchable database of WNY's course records

As part of today's extensive Golf Preview special section, reporter Jay Skurski tracked down nearly 70 course records from Western New York golf courses. 

Here's the entertaining story (Record holders' stories a matter of course), and you can see all of the scores as they appeared in our special centerfold in this PDF: Collection of course records gives golfers something to shoot for.

And here's a searchable database of the records. Look up your favorite course, search for top local golfers, or just click "search" right now with "all" in the fields, and you'll get a customizable list of them all.

See the lowest course records, scan the top performances by county or town, search by year (check out who owns the oldest record) and much more. 

Online Database by Caspio
Click here to load this Caspio Online Database.

To search in a FULL SCREEN for all of the details, click here.

* * *

Click here for a rundown of the entire Golf Preview section along with local pros' video tips from our archive.

WNY Golf Preview: Special section on the game, golfers and upcoming events

Phil Mickelson tees off during a practice round for the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2014. (AFP photo/Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Spring is in the air, and as the greens are groomed, golfers of all ages can look forward to the new season after a miserable winter. The Buffalo News is rolling out a special section today that covers all you need to know about the game, from Sully's greatest hits column to a list of local and national events for 2014. Get a head start to the new golf season with the articles below. Also, watch videos from our archives.

WNY Golf Preview feature articles:

Videos from our archives:

Golf tips: Gary Occhino on fixing your hooks or slice


Golf tips: Matt Clark on side hill lies


Golf tips: Josh Wojtaszczyk on chipping made simple


Golf tips: Scott Arnold on getting out of a deep rough


Golf tips: Marc Rosa on avoiding thin, fat or slicing shots


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:

Bandits Live: Pregame info at 6:30 p.m.; Roughnecks-Bandits updates at 7 p.m.

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: Derby trail heads west

By Gene Kershner

The Derby trail turns to the Great Race Place on Saturday afternoon with the 76th running of the $1 million Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.  A talented field of eight horses will square off in the nationally televised race (NBC Sports Network, 5:30 p.m. ET) with 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points at stake. The winner will take away 100 points, the second place finisher will earn 40 and the third (20) and fourth (10) place finishers will generate lesser amounts.

Three colts have been at the forefront of the California 3-year-old racing scene and they will tee off against each other for the first time. California Chrome (6-5) is the morning line favorite and the San Felipe winner is the one to beat. He currently sits in 12th place in the Derby standings with 50 points.

Hoppertunity (3-1, 55 points), the Rebel winner at Oaklawn Park, comes back to California to get in his last prep before the Derby.  Mike Smith who was in the irons for the big win at Oaklawn gets the nod at Santa Anita from trainer Bob Baffert.

The horse that has the most at stake is Candy Boy (9-5, 10 points), who needs to finish first or second to secure a Derby berth. The Robert B. Lewis winner has been idle since early February and faces the pressure to perform on Saturday afternoon.

Here's a look at the field and our thoughts….ML odds, trainer and jockey in parenthesis.

1-Rprettyboyfloyd (20-1, Breuer, Bejarano). The son of Bluegrass Cat has yet to break his maiden in five career races and steps up to face the big boys. He's finished second in four of the five races and a beaten third in the Grade 2 San Vicente.  Adds blinkers and a top jockey, but not sure it's enough against these monsters.

2-Friendswith K Mill (20-1, O'Neill, Baze).  Flashy Bull colt also steps up into graded stakes company after winning a maiden claimer two back. Enough said. Pass.

3-Hoppertunity (3-1, Smith, Baffert). This well-traveled colt is about to run his third Derby trail race at a third different track.  His impressive win in the Rebel catapulted him into the Derby, so this race is just a tightener. Connections are lethal together, but not sure this is the target. Contender.

4-Big Tire (20-1, Glatt, Maldanado).  Hi name makes me think of 2008 Tampa Bay Derby winner, the late Big Truck, but this is a son of Candy Ride who broke his maiden last out for trainer Mark Glatt. Another horse making a big step up, but actually has the pedigree to go long as Giant's Causeway is his damsire. Worth a shot underneath in the exotics.

5-California Chrome (6-5, Sherman, Espinoza). A definitive win here could vault this son of Lucky Pulpit into the favorite's role at Churchill Downs. Ran a huge one winning by over 7 lengths in the San Felipe. He's been working sharply for trainer Art Sherman and is the one to beat tomorrow afternoon.

6-Candy Boy (9-5, Sadler, Stevens). The Lewis winner is desperate for points and this is likely his last chance to earn valuable points. He drew outside of California Chrome, so he'll be able to sit a stalking trip. Has the Hall of Famer in the saddle sports some solid workouts since his last race. Looks fit to pull the mild upset.

7-Schoolofhardrocks (10-1, Holmans, Talamo). Has some positives on his past performances in the workout area and running second off the layoff, second-time Lasix, but the lightly raced son of Rock Hard Ten appears to be overmatched in here. Would consider only in the superfecta slot.

8-Dublin Up (30-1, Miller, Desormeaux). Longest price in the field is in over his head in this race. Still a maiden who has yet to crack an exacta in four career races. Looking elsewhere.

Post Time Outlook: 1 -Candy Boy; 2-California Chrome and 3-Hoppertunity

Long shot: Big Tire

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 the secret?

Here's a story about the nicest surprise of the 2014 race season so far.

The Mustache March was held on Saturday in Kenmore. First-year races sometimes struggle (to put it mildly), but this one didn't. The cap of 500 runners was hit well before race day, and the shirt promised to the first 200 runners were gone weeks before the start. About the only problem that I saw was one that many races would like to have - the building was a bit small for the crowd.

Let's hope it's the first in a series of success stories of 2014.

The calendar has flipped to April, which means the racing season begins in earnest. Here's the weekly rundown, courtesy of

* Health Fair 5K Run, 1500 Vanderbilt Ave. in North Tonawanda, 9 a.m. Saturday, 807-3715. This has to be the cheapest race of the year, with a $5 charge for residents and $10 for non-residents. At a time when race fees have been going up, we'll see how this strategy works.

* Niagara University 5K Run Against Hunger, Dwyer Arena, 10 a.m. Saturday, 286-8711. It's nice to see Niagara back on the race calendar.

* Feel the Spirit 5K, 921 Cleveland Dr. in Cheektowaga, 11 a.m. Saturday, 380-0231. This is the current champion for most turns in a 5K race, although the Mustache March isn't far behind. The Feel the Spirit race also is very well done, with plenty of food and nice raffles.

* Boys on the Right Track 5K, 5324 Rogers Road in Hamburg, 8 a.m. Sunday, 316-1789. One of the earliest races of the year. No race-day registration, by the way.

* Canisius College Shoes for the Shelter 5K, Koessler Athletic Center, 10 a.m. Sunday, 888-2977. It's a News Runner of the Year series race. The course was moved last year out of Forest Lawn, and I can say first-hand that few people missed the big hills on the revised layout.

-- Budd Bailey

Macker Tournament agreement near

There is an 80-90 percent chance there will be a Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament in Buffalo this summer, according to Buffalo Police Athletic League Executive Director Modie Cox.

Cox said an agreement is almost in place which will enable the event that is as much a part of Western New York as Beef on Weck to continue for a 24th straight year. Cox said his organization is just waiting for the PAL's attorney to sign off on the deal before inking the contract.

"I'm pretty confident it's going to be signed off on," Cox said.

An official announcement will be made as soon as possible, but it's to PAL's benefit to make it official quickly so that it can begin to secure sponsorships for the event that serves as one of the organization's main fundraisers for PAL activities. The tournament date is still to be determined but the ideal weekend for PAL would be the second-to-last one in June. The event has been in peril due to economics, as PAL lost a main sponsor of the Macker the past four years in ex-Buffalo Bill Terrance McGee and has been looking for a way to maximize profit while cutting tourney costs.

- Miguel Rodriguez

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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.