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Friday, September 26, 2014 at 7:00 am

Johnny Bench got his Batavia Muckdog's hat

post by Howard B. Owens in baseball, Batavia Downs, Batavia Muckdogs, sports

This past weekend we told you about the visit Hall of Famer Johnny Bench paid to Batavia Downs, and we mentioned that Bench expressed an interest in seeing a Batavia Muckdog's baseball cap.

The person with Bench at the time was season ticket holder Ross Fanara. Fanara called his wife and confirmed that they in fact had a brand new Muckdog's hat at home, so she brought it to Batavia Downs and they presented it to Bench.

Fanara sent over this picture of him with Bench wearing the Batavia Muckdogs hat.

Ross said, "Johnny Bench is a class act."

Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Burton Blue Chip upsets in Batavia feature

post by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, harness racing, sports

Burton Blue Chip and driver Lee Dahn.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

Lightly regarded Burton Blue Chip and driver Lee Dahn took full advantage of the rail to position themselves for a perfect trip en route to victory in the Saturday night (Sept. 20) Open pace feature at Batavia Downs.

Burton Blue Chip ($16.20) took the field to a peppy :27.3 first quarter before Fireyourguns (Mike Caprio) gained the lead at that station after being parked-out from the start. With the 8 on top, the rest of the field then marched in post-position order until the clubhouse turn when an outer flow developed with Rock N Roll Legend (Kevin Cummings) and Big Unit (Mike Whelan).

When the group passed the three-quarters in 1:25.4, it started to get crowded up front. Fireyourguns was still on the lead with Rock N Roll Legend outside and Big Unit tipped three-deep. But Burton Blue Chip was lying in wait behind the leader since the quarter. At the head of the stretch the rail opened up and rewarded the patient Burton Blue Chip with a straight line to the wire and a one-length triumph in 1:55.2. What The Sheik (Dave McNeight III) closed from last to be second and Cactus Jack (Shawn McDonough) was third.

It was the sixth win in 28 starts for the 5-year-old American Ideal gelding and boosted his 2014 earnings to $39,710. The 1:55.2 clocking tied his lifetime mark set earlier this year. Burton Blue Chip is owned by Lee and Larry Dahn and is trained by Lee Dahn.

Driver Kevin Cummings registered another grand slam Saturday with Precise Accusation ($6.50), Freaky Flyer ($6.20), Most Happy Rider ($6.80) and Golden Star Spike ($5). Drivers Ron Beback Jr. and Mike Whelan also scored driving doubles.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Tuesday night at 6:35.

Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 7:58 am

Johnny Bench, from Buffalo to Batavia with a Hall of Fame career along the way

post by Howard B. Owens in baseball, Batavia Downs, sports

Johnny Bench was just a 19-year-old kid from a town of 600 people in Oklahoma when he arrived in Buffalo 47 years ago.

"I didn't venture much beyond the Kenmore District and North Tonawanda," Bench said during an interview Saturday at Batavia Downs when asked if this was his first visit to Batavia. "I was still trying to figure out who I was and who I was supposed to be."

His 98 games as a Buffalo Bison in 1967 helped answer some of those questions.

"I matured (in Buffalo)," Bench said. "I had older players I played with. They gave me a lot of guidance, worked with me, helped me along. It was a great stepping stone, more importantly for the Dom Zannis, the Jim Duffalos, the Steve Boroses, the Duke Carmels, the Frank Obregons and the Gordy Colemans, and there was Dick Stigman, a pitcher, too, and Rollie Sheldon. It was a maturation process. These guys had pitched before. I kept calling games and learning stuff and doing stuff and you had to get the most out them. I felt like I could paint the picture, but I had to pull it all out of them. That was the secret and the thing I learned the most and enjoyed the most here."

That list of former Bisons -- who, unless you were a Bisons' fan in 1967, you probably never heard of -- were all 30 years old or older. Bench was the youngest player on the team, and one of only six players who hadn't yet turned 23.

But through the years, Buffalo stayed with Johnny Bench. All those names, easily recalled. He turned a question about his legacy into remembrance of a time before he became rookie of the year, an MVP, won two home run crowns, 10 gold gloves and played on two world championship teams.

"We played at the old War Memorial Stadium, but then they had the riots," Bench said. "We had to go over to Niagara Falls and play on the old football field with the temporary snow fence. The yardage lines were still there on the infield."

Arguably -- and some of us would say it's beyond dispute -- Johnny Bench was the greatest catcher in baseball history.

We can talk about his 389 career home runs, his 1,376 RBI, his 3,644 total bases, as well as two home run titles and three RBI titles, but suggest he's best remembered as an offensive catcher and he's quick to rebuff the audacity of dwelling on how he swung a bat.

"The 10 gold gloves didn't hurt," says the man whom base runners feared and pitchers counted on to do a very basic thing time after time: catch the ball.

"That was my main job, getting a win for the pitcher," Bench said. "I took great pride in the fact that I wanted to get that pitcher a win and if we got a win for him, we got a win for the team. Individually, I could throw runners out, I could block the plate, I could get hits, I could call a great game, but calling a great game was the most important."

And it was guys in Buffalo, like Zanni, Duffalo, Obregon, Stigman and Sheldon, who taught him to call a great game.

Bench was in town for a memorabilia show at the Downs. So were Pete Rose, Tony Perez and George Foster, along with other sports stars.

It's worth noting, perhaps, that Bench, Rose, Perez, Foster, and the other stars were signing autographs for a fee. Bench and Rose commanded the highest price, especially on a jersey or bat, but they all got paid.

On the other side of the proverbial coin, of course, is that fact that as players, none of them were enriched the way today's stars are lavished with cash. Bench never earned as much as $500,000 in a season and Rose never made it to the million-dollar mark until his final year as a player-manager with the Reds.

So it's not surprising, perhaps, that these heros of so many youths so many years ago would travel to America's small towns, sit under bright lights on folding chairs at plastic tables and sign their names for fans and speculators for a fee.

While Bench was affable and at times chatty with patrons who came through his line about an hour after Rose had finished, Rose seemed detached from the parade of people pushing baseballs, bats, jerseys, baseball cards and 8x10s onto the table in front of him.

An assistant sternly rebuffed a fan who asked if Rose would pose for a picture. No, she said, but he could kneel in front of the table while somebody snapped a keepsake.

Rose didn't even look at the camera.  

Rather than a smile, Rose wore the look of a man who seems beaten down by a decades-long wrestling match with the Lords of Baseball over his legacy.

In contrast, there sat a youthful, smiling Johnny Bench, with his Hall of Fame ring secure on his left hand, scanning the field and letting nothing go unnoticed.

"That's my jersey," he says to a woman with a camera standing off to the side waiting to snap a picture of a friend who will get an autograph.

As a man tries to get a picture of his friend with Bench as Bench signs a picture, Bench tells him to wait. "I'm not looking up," he says.

When the same photographer seems to move the camera before the shutter snaps, Bench says, "that one's not going to turn out," but the quick-release snapper has moved on without noticing.

Without being asked, he poses for another photographer with a bat at the ready.

When he meets a Batavia Muckdogs season ticket holder, he says as he signs, "I don't even know what a Muckdog's baseball hat looks like. I'd like to see one."

The 66-year-old Johnny Bench smiled and signed and kept chatting even in the face of a line dozens of people long. His massive hands -- hands that make grizzly bears stand up and take notice -- etched a beautiful cursive on whatever he was asked to sign.

Johnny Bench is always the team player.

"Winning an MVP award or rookie of the year, it's a fantastic honor, but there is nothing like the feeling though when I walked into the clubhouse after game seven of the '75 World Series and we were World Champions," Bench said. "That's when I knew what it was all about, because every player was a world champion. Every player, every owner, every sponsor, every equipment manager, and all the fans were world champions. That's when you can really share and realize the importance of what team sport is about."

Bench isn't without some pride over his individual accomplishments. When asked to sign a 1972 San Diego Padres game program with Nate Colbert on the cover, Bench smiled, "Old Nate," he said. "I hit five homers in the last week of the season to beat him for a home run title."

In 1972, Colbert had 38 dingers. Bench had 40.

To enjoy a career like Johnny Bench, that's one in a billion, but just getting the chance to go pro for today's young athlete is nearly impossible.

Bench, who went straight from high school to the Reds instructional league team at age 17 in 1965, said today's young athlete should take advantage of the wealth of college scholarship opportunities.

"When I played, only one in every 500,000 kids who played Little League baseball ever signed a contract," Bench said. "I don't know if they want to go up against the numbers, but the fact that there's so many scholarships out there available, I'll still push education every chance I get. Be a good student, study various things, find something you love and be prepared in case athletics doesn't work out."

If you do want to be an athlete, Bench said, work hard, practice, study the sport, prepare, understand the game. Watch the great ones to figure out what they do and how they do it.

"I think Ozzie Smith is a guy who taught kids how to play shortstop," Bench said. "I taught kids how to catch better."

Which brings us to Johnny Bench's final word of advice: Catch every ball.

"My theory in life is, 'catch every ball.' Somebody says, 'my kid wants to be a catcher, what do I tell him?' and I say, 'catch every ball.' If you learn to catch everything that comes your way, then people say, 'wow, you're a great catcher,' or 'you're a great shortstop,' or 'you're a great first baseman,' or 'you're a great businessman.' If they throw stuff at you and you have the answers, they're going to say, 'this guy really knows what he's doing.' People are going to rely on you and they're going to trust you and more things will come your way."

Pete Rose

Tony Perez

Lou Piniella

After the show, Pete Rose stopped at Larry's Steakhouse for dinner. Pictured with Sandy Mullen and Brenden Mullen. Photo submitted by Steve Mullen.

Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 12:57 pm

BZ Glide wins another Open at Batavia Downs

post by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, harness racing, sports

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

After watching the proceedings from last for a half, noted closer BZ Glide swooped the field for the third time in the last four weeks to take the featured $9,500 Open trot at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Sept. 19).

Even money post-time favorite Lutetium (Kevin Cummings) did what he does best and blasted to the front in :28 flat. But just as soon as he settled, Armed Dangerously (Jim Morrill Jr.) had pulled from fifth and was floating up the outside. As they passed the half in :57.1, Morrill’s charge sputtered but the cavalry was right behind. Sack Full Of Gold (Michael Whelan) was rolling up the rim and Justgottogetthere (Jim McNeight) and BZ Glide (Mike Caprio) had tipped three-high and were barreling.

Around the entire last turn, Lutetium, Justgottogetthere and BZ Glide were three deep from the rail out. But when they hit the head of the lane, BZ Glide became a man among boys and put away the competition under a hand-drive from Caprio. BZ Glide won by a length in 1:56.4 which was a seasonal mark for the Yankee Glide gelding and also matched his lifetime mark set last year. The winner returned $10.40.

Justgottogetthere hung on for second and Serious George (Jack Flanigen) was third. It was the seventh win in 18 starts for BZ Glide and the victory topped off his 2014 bank at $52,105 for owner Mike Caprio. BZ Glide is trained by Alana Caprio.

Driver Kevin Cummings scored another driving triple on the night while Jim Morrill Jr. and Ray Fisher Jr. both tallied doubles.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Saturday (Sept. 20) with a 6:35 post.

Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Mc Taylor annihilates competition at Batavia Downs

post by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, harness racing, sports

Mc Taylor and driver Ray Fisher Jr.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

Hopefully they looked at her face before the race because that’s all they saw was tail once she set sail.

Distaff pacing invader Mc Taylor (Ray Fisher Jr.) made quick and easy work of the local gals as she convincingly led from gate to wire in the mares Open pace at Batavia Downs on Wednesday night (Sept. 17).

As soon as the gate drove away, Ray Fisher Jr. made a beeline for the front and opened up a gapped three-length lead at the quarter. He then set a blistering pace that took the mare to the three-quarters pole in 1:24 flat, on the lead by 10 lengths. At that point the rest of the field became mere spectators relegated to arguing for minor spoils. Mc Taylor cruised home to a shutdown seven-length victory in 1:53.2, which was only two-fifths of a second off the track record for aged pacing mares set by Xenia Hanover (1:53) in 2013. Sent off as the third betting choice, the 7-year-old Camluck mare returned $11.40 for the win.

Dontch Remember (Shawn McDonough) finished second and Dirty Girty (Jim McNeight) was third.
This was the fifth win in 26 starts for Mc Taylor who is owned by Robert Main and trained by Jason Robinson. The winner’s share of the purse boosted here lifetime earnings to an impressive $328,050.

Drivers Ray Fisher Jr. and Ron Beback Jr. both scored driving triples on the card and Jack Flanigen chimed in with a double.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Friday (Sept. 19) with post time set for 6:35.

Sunday, September 14, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Batavia Downs Open to Best Ears

post by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, harness racing, sports

Best Ears (#3) with driver Jack Flanigen.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

After a perfect trip in a short field, Best Ears scored his second Open pace victory in the last three weeks, capturing the featured race in 1:54.4.

Favored Western Alumni (Jim McNeight) took early command and led an unfettered life through a causal :57 half. With no other takers, driver Jack Flanigen pulled Best Ears and came first over to pressure the leader and that’s when it got interesting. McNeight stepped up the pace with a :28.3 third panel to try and put some distance between his horse and the approaching conqueror but they couldn't stem the tide. Best Ears roared alongside and the two paced as a pair to the top of the lane. Halfway down the stretch, Best Ears got the advantage and took the lead and held off a late charging What The Sheik (Dave McNeight III) in the process. What The Sheik finished second and Western Alumni hung on for third.

It was the seventh win in 31 starts for Best Ears and increased his 2014 earnings to $49,017 for owners Joseph Amico Jr. and Joseph Amico. The winner returned $5.90.

Driver Shawn McDonough scored a driving triple on the night with Kevin Cummings and Jack Flanigen both bagging doubles.

Racing resumes on Tuesday at Batavia Downs with post time set for 6:35.

Saturday, September 13, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Batavia Downs Open trot to BZ Glide again

post by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, harness racing, sports

BZ Glide with driver Mike Caprio.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

For the second straight week and three out of his last four, BZ Glide came from well off the lead via a furious stretch drive to capture the $9,500 top trotting feature at Batavia Downs on Friday (Sept. 12).

Heavy post-time favorite Lutetium (Kevin Cummings) sprang off the gate, circled around co-leaver Sack Full Of Gold (Drew Monti) and made his way to the lead immediately after the third race started. He pulled the field along to a :59.4 half before coming under attack from Justgottogetthere (Jim McNeight) who was motoring up the outside.

While the top two were slugging it out past the five-eighths, BZ Glide (Mike Caprio) was seven lengths off, sitting seventh on the rail before Caprio got his steer in gear. By the time the trotters hit the top of the lane, BZ Glide was on Justgottogetthere’s back and in full flight tipping three-deep. As Lutetium was fading back to the pack, BZ Glide was circling the stagnant Justgottogetthere to take the lead, the race and the winner’s share of the purse. The 5-year-old Yankee Glide gelding tripped the timer in 1:58 and paid $12.20 for the win.

BZ Glide is owned by his driver, Mike Caprio, and is trained by Alana Caprio. It was the sixth win in 17 starts and his effort increased his annual income to $47,355.

Reinsmen Kevin Cummings and Shawn McDonough both scored driving hat tricks and Dave McNeight III posted a double.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs today (Sept.13) with post time set for 6:35.

Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 6:26 am

It’s A Miracle powers to Batavia mares Open win

post by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, harness racing, sports

It's A Miracle out front with driver Drew Monti.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

In what has become a fairly regular event, a ship-in mare circled the locals in the top distaff race at Batavia Downs on Wednesday (Sept. 10) night. It’s A Miracle ($3.40) with Drew Monti aboard, proved to be the best mare on the grounds this week despite having to take the overland route in a pelting rain.

As the starter released the girls for the seventh race feature, last week’s winner She’s A Maniac (Jim McNeight) flew to the front and led the field in post-position order behind her to the quarter in :28.1. Halfway through the turn, Monti pulled It’s A Miracle and flushed Dontch Remember (Shawn McDonough) for live cover as they motored to the half in :57.4.

The field got small as they were three in and three out at the three-quarters in 1:26.2 when Monti yanked the right line and tipped the 4-year-old Always A Virgin mare three-high. Around the last turn it was She’s A Maniac at the pylons with Dontch Remember outside of her and It’s A Miracle outside of her. When they straightened out, Kevin Cummings swung notorious closer Bazooka Terror four-deep around the pack and chased It’s A Miracle all the way down the stretch. But their effort was to no avail as Monti basically line-drove his mare to the wire, victorious in 1:55.3.

Bazooka Terror was second and Dontch Remember was third.

This was the fifth win in 28 starts for It’s A Miracle, boosting her annual earnings to $94,450 for owners Blindswitch Racing Stable, Santo Farina, David Sebolsky and Stanley Yaskowitz. It’s A miracle is trained by Jose Godinez.

The Monti/Godinez team also captured the co-featured mares Open II with Cooking The Books ($7.10) in a similar off-the-pace fashion, winning by two lengths in 1:55.

Downs driving domineer Kevin Cummings scored another grand slam on Wednesday night, giving him 68 wins for the meet and 242 for the year. Cummings is the 10th leading UDR driver in North America with a .355 mark.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Friday (Sept. 12) with post time set for 6:35.

Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 11:13 am

Betting Exchange and Berkley win in NYSS at Batavia Downs

post by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, harness racing, sports

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

Betting Exchange and Berkley were on the outside looking in at the $1.8 million Night of Champions at Yonkers coming into last night’s final leg of the New York Sire Stakes 2-year-old pacing colt and gelding division. But winning heals all and that’s exactly what they both did to advance to the final next Saturday.

In the first $54,500 contest, Betting Exchange (Bettor’s Delight-Cheeky Hanover) scored his second win in a row to move from ninth to sixth overall in the standings and lock up a spot in the $225,000 final.

Betting Exchange came off the wings for driver Jim Morrill Jr. and went right to the front to cut the mile. After briefly settling in fourth, Americanprimetime and Mark MacDonald pulled and came up to challenge the leader. That move found the colt getting parked through fractions of :27.3, :56 and 1:25.2 before packing it in around the last turn. From that point on Betting Exchange ran away and hid, winning the race by three lengths in 1:55.1. The winner paid $5.70.

Betting Exchange with driver Jim Morrill Jr.

Play The Field (Kevin Cummings) was second and K Ryan Bluechip (Joe Pavia Jr.) was third.

It was the second win in five starts for Betting Exchange and boosted his earnings to $66,125 for owners Howard Taylor, Susan Kajfasz and Tom Fanning, who also trains the horse.

After the race Morrill said “I didn’t really want to get into a speed duel but he felt real good tonight so I let him roll. After he fought off Americanprimetime he paced very strong to the wire.”

In the second $54,500 split, Berkley (Art Major-Monterey) caught his competitors and the betting public asleep as he upset both with a strong stretch-drive victory at 17-1. The win boosted him from tenth to seventh in the standings and also qualified him for the lucrative NYSS final.

Mark MacDonald sent Bet You out like a rocket and paced strongly on the lead to an uncontested :58.1 half when Southwind Masimo and Mike LaChance came first-over to challenge. That encounter was short lived when the pack straightened out up the backside and Bet You shifted gears to hold the group at bay. To this point, Joe Pavia Jr. had Berkley sitting comfortably in the pocket behind the leader, just waiting to take his best shot at the head of the lane. Bet You opened up a two length lead coming for home but the fresh-legged Berkley rolled off the pylons and right by the leader with a furious brush to pull the upset in 1:55.3. The winner returned $36.

Berkley with driver Joe Pavia Jr.

Bet You hung on to be second and Southwind Masimo was third.

This was the first win in nine starts this year for Berkley and raised his bank to $58,620 for owners Randy Bendis, Reed Broadway and Thomas Pollack. Berkley is trained by Ed Hart.

Pavia had a glowing review saying “I was really impressed how good Ed (trainer Hart) had him tonight. He was much improved and raced super. He got a real good trip and we took advantage of it.”

There were also three divisions of the Excelsior A series on the card, each going for $12,600.

The first division was won by Heaven Rocks (Rock N Roll Heaven-Cheerful Outlook) who was driven by Brent Holland in 1:56.1 and returned $4.70. He is owned by Paymag Racing, Greg Gillis, Mystical Marker Farms LLC and Louis Willinger and trained by Erv Miller.

The second leg was won by Soto (Rock n Roll Heaven-Incredible Beauty) who was driven by Mark MacDonald in 1:55.2 to pay $4.90. He is owned by Christina Takter, John Fielding, R A W Equine, Inc., and Jim Fielding and is trained by Jimmy Takter.

The final split was won by Mystical Pacer (Bettor’s Delight-Take My Pulse) who was driven by Brent Holland in 1:56.4 and paid $6.10. He is owned by Mystical Marker Farms, Paymag Racing and Ron Michelon and is trained by Erv Miller.

Driver Jim Morrill Jr. scored a driving grand slam while Mark MacDonald and Brent Holland both registered doubles on the night.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Tuesday evening with a 6:35 post time.

Saturday, September 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm

An easy ride for BZ Glide in Batavia feature trot

post by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, harness racing, sports

BZ Glide pulls ahead to victory with driver Mike Caprio.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

Sometimes victory is hard fought and other times it comes without effort. This week, BZ Glide cruised from second last to the winners circle in the $9,000 Open trot at Batavia Downs with nary a nudge from driver Mike Caprio.

At the start of the race, Armed Dangerously (Shawn McDonough) made a break almost immediately as the rest of the field pulled away in post-position order. Dartmouth Hall (Kevin Cummings) then led the troops through a pedestrian :29.1 quarter and 1:00.1 half, where Caprio pulled BZ Glide just before that station.

The 5-year-old son of Yankee Glide slowly and methodically gained ground on the leader without much urgency displayed from his driver. As the bunch hit the three-quarter pole in 1:29, BZ Glide had pulled even with Dartmouth Hall and then forged ahead from that point forward. Caprio hand-drove the gelding from there winning by a widening two-length margin in 1:58.2. The 1-2 favorite paid $3 to win.

Sack Full of Gold (Jim McNeight) who had followed the winner second over was second and Serious George (Jack Flanigen) snuck up the rail to be third.

This was the fifth win in 16 starts for BZ Glide and raised his yearly earnings to $42,605 for his owner Mike Caprio and trainer Alana Caprio.

Reinsmen Ron Beback Jr., Jack Flanigen, Shawn McDonough, Jim McNeight and Drew Monti all scored driving doubles on the card.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Saturday night (Sept. 5) and features the $109,000 New York Sire Stakes for 2-year-old pacing colts and geldings. Post time is 6:35.

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