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October 14, 2014 - 9:02am
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

It was ability more than chance that saw Lucky Charm go gate to wire in the $7,500 mares Open trot at Batavia Downs on a special Monday afternoon (Oct. 13) Columbus Day matinee card at the Genesee County oval.

Kevin Cummings shook-up Lucky Charm off the gate and took an effortless lead around the first turn. From there the 8-year-old Malabar Man mare towed the field through a pedestrian half before picking up the tempo from there. After a :29.1 third quarter that saw Highway Cash (Doug Ackley) and Day Planner (Ray Fisher Jr.) advance into contention, Lucky Charm came home in :28.4 to fend off the three wide attack from her competition and win in 1:58.3. Day Planner was second and Highway Cash finished third.

It was the fourth win in 21 starts for Lucky Charm and brought her 2014 earnings up to $23,800 for owners Finish Line Investors and Johnny Yoder. Lucky Charm is trained by John Mungillo.

Driver Kevin Cummings was on fire Monday, with five wins, three seconds and a third out of the 11 races he was in. He scored with Love Me Do ($5), Donegal Jim ($2.10), Lucky Charm ($5.60), Emmys Junior Grin ($7) and Serendipitious ($2.50).

The “Race for the Cannoli’s,” which is held annually on Columbus Day at Batavia Downs and pits drivers of Italian-American descent against each other, was won by Rock C. Vinci aboard Windsong Destroyer in 1:58.2. The 10-year-old won by a length over Evening Shadows (Mike Caprio) after getting a perfect two-hole trip.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Wednesday night (Oct. 15) with post time set for 6:35.

October 12, 2014 - 12:37pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

Western Alumni with driver Jim McNeight

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

After being victorious in the first Open pace of the season at Batavia Downs on July 26, Western Alumni hasn't visited the winners circle since. But that drought came to an end on Saturday night (Oct. 11) when he put on a powerful performance in winning the $9,250 pacing feature at the Downs.

Western Alumni (Jim McNeight) left sharp and took the lead before Best Ears (Jack Flanigen) brushed by to unseat him at the quarter. The rest of the field stayed single file to the half before Fireyourguns (Mike Caprio) came off the wood and started motoring.

As the group went up the backside, Peenie (Mickey Holliday) pulled underneath Fireyourguns and went backward, causing Fireyourguns to tip three-deep. Then around the far turn the top two broke away from the field and it appeared obvious the race was going to one of them. Western Alumni tipped and out-dueled Best Ears to the wire, winning in a sparkling 1:53.2. The time was a seasonal mark for Western Alumni. Best Ears hung on for second and What The Sheik brushed home to be third.

It was the seventh win in 30 starts for Western Alumni ($13.80) and pushed his 2014 earnings to $61,517 for owner North Creek Racing, LLC. The 6-year-old son of Western Hanover is trained by Jerry Nugent Jr.

Drew Monti, Shawn McDonough and Jim McNeight all scored driving doubles on the night.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs with a special Columbus Day matinee card on Monday (Oct. 13) with a 1:15 post time.

October 11, 2014 - 3:01pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

Justgottogetthere with driver Jim McNeight

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

It was déjà vu all over again in the $9,250 Open trotting feature at Batavia Downs on Friday (Oct. 10) when Justgottogetthere ($8) scored his second consecutive top-class triumph in convincing style.

Justgottogetthere (Jim McNeight) left quickly to take the lead before yielding to Armed Dangerously (Jim Morrill Jr.) at the quarter. The rest of the field watched in post-position order as these two stood pat to the three-quarters in 1:27.2. At that point Justgottogetthere pulled the pocket to challenge the leader and the duel began. The pair trotted as one around the far turn before Justgottogetthere gained the advantage and opened a little space before holding off a late charge from BZ Glide (Mike Caprio) to win in 1:56.4. That was a new seasonal mark for Justgottogetthere. BZ Glide was second and Armed Dangerously hung on for third.

It was the second straight Open class victory for Justgottogetthere and the third win in 12 starts for the year. The purse pushed his 2014 earnings to $25,440 for owners Antonietta Landi and North Creek Racing, LLC. The 5-year-old son of Valley Victor is trained by Jerry Nugent Jr.

The co-feature Open II trot went even faster than the headliner when Second Hand News (Kevin Cummings) led wire to wire to win by four lengths in 1:56 flat. Second Hand News ninth win of the year tied his seasonal mark and inflated his bank account to $52,455 for owners Vogel & Wags Nags Stable and Kent Conshafter. Second Hand News is trained by Ron Van Wagoner.

Jim Morrill Jr. and Jim McNeight both scored driving triples while leading driver Kevin Cummings had a double.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on tonight (Oct. 11) with 12 events starting at 6:35.

October 11, 2014 - 2:55pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, Italian-American, columbus day.

Press release:

Batavia Downs Gaming is pleased to announce that Laurie Napoleone is the historic racetrack’s recipient of its annual Italian-American of the Year award. Napoleone will receive her award on Oct. 13, Columbus Day, with a special trackside ceremony after the seventh race. Mr. Joe Gerace, the first recipient of this award, will act as Master Ceremony.

She’ll also be joined by other past award winners, Chuck Zambito, Ray Cianfrini, Joe Teresi, Charles Ruffino and Russ Romano.

Laurie (Pero) Napoleone is the wife of Mark Napoleone and the proud mother of four children, Mark Jr., Ashley, Christen, and her angel, Michael. She is the daughter of the late Charles and Marien Pero, and the sister of Charles, David and Adelyn Pero.

Laurie earned her bachelor of science in Nursing from Niagara University in 1982 and started working as a registered nurse after graduation at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. After her marriage to Mark in 1983, she returned to her hometown and began working at St. Jerome Hospital, where she stayed for 15 years. After playing a role in the initial stages of the merger between St. Jerome Hospital  and Genesee Memorial Hospital, she decided on a career change into a school setting.

She worked for the Batavia City Schools as a school nurse / teacher at Robert Morris Elementary School. She earned a master‘s in Nursing from the University of Phoenix in 2004. Laurie then took her love for healthcare as well as teaching, and is currently employed by the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership. There she is an instructor in the Health Careers Academy, a program for high school seniors who are interested in pursuing a career in healthcare while gaining college credits.

Along with her husband, Laurie is the co-founder/member of the Michael Napoleone Memorial Foundation. After the passing of their youngest son, Michael, at the age of 8 to Burkitt’s lymphoma, (an aggressive form of blood cancer) the Napoleones created a foundation in Michael’s memory. It  helps families facing the challenges of a pediatric cancer diagnosis, supports research efforts in pediatric blood cancers, and assists youth sports and youth activities in the community.

Laurie speaks on behalf of the foundation and is a strong advocate for the families; has lobbied in Washington for more support of research efforts; and is passionate about the Foundation’s mission.

In her free time, Laurie enjoys entertaining with family and friends, Zumba, and writing.

Batavia Downs Gaming is proud to honor Laurie Napoleone as its 2014 Italian-American of the Year.

October 11, 2014 - 2:43pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing, columbus day.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

A special matinee card of harness racing will be held on Columbus Day (Monday, Oct. 13) at Batavia Downs and the afternoon will do more than offer the finest racing in Western New York. A complete slate of activities to honor the Italian-American heritage that is so prevalent in Batavia starts at noon and runs through the last race.

When the 12-race card kicks off at 1:15, there are two special races to watch for that will honor some very special people.

The sixth race is the Italian-American driver’s race which is also known as “the dash for the cannolis.” All eight drivers in the race are of Italian descent and will vie for bragging rights for the coming year. Rock Vinci, Denny Bucceri, Andy Torre, Rich Mays, Mike Caprio, Paul Zambito Jr., John Mungillo and Drew Monti will go postward to vie for the coveted Italian pastry prize (as well as the purse money).

Then after the seventh race, Batavia Downs Gaming will honor their 2014 Italian-American of the Year, Laurie Napoleone. An instructor at the Health Careers Academy of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, Napoleone (along with her husband Mark) founded the Michael Napoleone Memorial Foundation in honor of their 8-year-old son who died of Burkitt’s lymphoma. The foundation is designed to help families facing the challenges of pediatric cancer and to assist youth sports and activities in the community.

For racing fans who attend the live card, there are plenty of food and beverage specials throughout the facility.

The clubhouse will feature their famous $9.95 chicken barbeque. And for every dinner purchased you will receive a voucher back for $5 of free-play in the casino. So it’s like getting your dinner for $4.95. This offer is good from noon to 3 p.m. and reservations are strongly recommended.

On the track apron you will find $1 draft beer, $1 Sahlen’s hot dogs and $1 sodas. All will be available from noon through the last race.

If you want to get your weekend started early, Batavia Downs Gaming is giving away a free trip to Las Vegas on tonight (Oct. 11) sponsored by Trade Winds Travel. That’s all you have to do is swipe your Player’s Club card once when you get there and you are automatically eligible to win. That's all you need to do to have a chance at this $950 vacation.

Another great deal being offered this evening is the “Match Play” quinella wager in the sixth race. For every two $5 quinella bets you make you will receive $10 worth of free-play on the gaming floor. So it’s like getting a free $10 wager.

The Columbus Day matinee will be the last afternoon card of racing for 2014. Our racing schedule for the remainder of the meet will be Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with post time at 6:35.

October 9, 2014 - 11:47am
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

Employing her patented late brush after tracking an early speed duel, Bazooka Terror ($4) dismantled a field of top distaff pacers in the $8,500 mares Open at Batavia Downs on Wednesday (Oct. 8) night.

Fiftyonefifty (John Cummings Jr.) and Soaring Honey (Dave McNeight III) battled each other hard for half a mile, each taking a lead through fractions of :27.1 and 56. By the time those two decided to play nice, last week’s winner Infrontigo Hanover (Jim McNeight) came first over with Dontch Remember (Shawn McDonough) and Bazooka Terror (Kevin Cummings) in tow. Just as Infrontigo Hanover took the lead halfway up the backside, Cummings tipped Bazooka Terror three-deep and paced around the field like they were tied to a post. Once the mare cleared, Cummings put the whip on his shoulder and let his charge close out the race. Bazooka Terror paced away to a devastating six-length wrapped-up victory in 1:53.4.

Dontch Remember was second and Mondatta (Mike Caprio) was third.

It was the ninth win in 35 starts for Bazooka Terror and pushed her 2014 earnings to $71,307 for owner Leonard Segall. Although the clocking was not a lifetime mark for the 5-year-old daughter of Western Terror, it was the fastest she had ever paced over a half-mile track. Bazooka Terror is trained by James Clouser Jr.

Kevin Cummings, John Cummings Jr., Ron Beback Jr. and Shawn McDonough all scored driving doubles on the night.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Friday (Oct. 10) at 6:35.

October 9, 2014 - 11:20am
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

Each year Batavia Downs signature event is the $50,000 Robert J. Kane Memorial invitational pace. The race has played host to some of the biggest names in harness racing. It is named for the former chairman of the board of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation, owner of Batavia Downs Gaming.

The six-million-dollar man, Foiled Again, won the race twice in 2009 and 2013 and Aracache Hanover set the all-time track record of 1:51.1 with his victory in 2011.

This year’s edition will be held on Saturday, Oct. 18, and the condition sheet has already been released so that any interested horsemen can enter their horses as early as today.

Besides the $50,000 Kane Memorial Pace, there are many other premium racing opportunities that night, including the $12,500 Brian Schroeder Open trot, $10,000 horses and geldings Open pace, $10,000 filly and mares Open pace and $7,500 mares Open trot. The box for all races for that night closes at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct.15.

Entries can be made and inquiries can be placed by calling Race Secretary Joe Zambito at 585-344-6161.

October 5, 2014 - 2:12pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

Fireyourguns and What The Shiek tie for win, just ahead of Western Alumni.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

The Saturday night (Oct. 4) Open pace at Batavia Downs provided one of the most exciting finishes racing fans have seen at the oldest lighted harness track in North America this year. The top three horses finished a neck apart and when the photo was examined, What The Sheik and Fireyourguns tripped the light at the exact same time.

When the race got under way, Western Alumni (Jim McNeight) took an early lead as What The Sheik (Jim Morrill Jr.) and Fireyourguns (Mike Caprio) got away fourth and sixth, respectively. The order stayed unchanged to the half when Fireyourguns pulled from the rear and flushed What The Sheik for live cover. That outer flow made minimal progress pacing toward the three-quarters as Western Alumni was sitting on a two-length lead. At the top of the lane it appeared as if the leader was home free, but when Fireyourguns tipped three-wide he prompted What The Sheik to pace on and the pair hit the wire in tandem just a head in front of Western Alumni, who hung on for third. The mile was timed in 1:56.1.

It was the sixth win of the year for What The Sheik ($2.90) who is trained by Gerry Sarama for owner Mike Torcello and the 12th win of the year for Fireyourguns ($2.50) who is trained by Terence McClory who owns the horse with Jennifer and Robert Lowe.

A pair of drivers accounted for seven of the 12 winners during the night. Jim McNeight recorded a grand slam with Maradona ($9.50), Hopskipanajump ($8.70), The Maniac ($4.20) and Flight Crew ($19.40) and Jim Morrill Jr. had a three-bagger with Unicorn Hanover ($20.00), What The Sheik ($2.90) and Muncie ($4.30). It was a natural hat trick that occurred in races six, seven and eight for driver Morrill, trainer Gerry Sarama and owner Mike Torcello.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Wednesday night (Oct. 8) at 6:35 and kicks off the Downs new racing schedule of Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, all with a 6:35 post time.

October 4, 2014 - 3:25pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

Justgottogetthere with driver Jim NcNeight

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

The winds of change blew through Western New York Friday night (Oct. 3) and the rain fell along with the temperature. But the inclement conditions did not dampen the performance of Justgottogetthere as he won the $9,250 Open trotting feature at Batavia Downs.

The short field of six got even shorter after Live Jazz (John Cummings Jr.) made a break leaving in the first turn. That left Justgottogetthere (Jim McNeight) a clear path to the front. But co-favorite Armed Dangerously (Jim Morrill Jr.) who left right behind the leader was trotting side-by-side with him, giving Serious George (Kevin Cummings) a perfect garden spot trip. After hitting the half in :58 flat, the parking ticket took its toll and Armed Dangerously started to falter. That left Justgottogetthere a gapped leader waiting for a bid from the pocket-sitting Serious George. That challenge came down the lane but it was too little, too late. Justgottogetthere got there by a diminishing one-length lead to win in 1:58.3. Serious George was second and a late closing Keystone Bernard was third.

It was the second win in 10 starts for Justgottogetthere ($4.80) and boosted his 2014 earnings to $20,815 for owners Antonietta Landi and North Creek Racing LLC. The lightly raced 5-year-old son of Valley Victor is trained by Jerry Nugent Jr.

Jim Morrill Jr. was on hand Friday to put on another driving clinic. He rendezvoused with owners five times in the Purple Haze winners circle as he scored with Medicine Ed ($7.30), Release The Terror ($6.10), Missmaximus ($7.00), The Bronx Bumper ($7.50) and Story Book ($5.30). Morrill is currently second in North America among all drivers for percentage, sporting a gaudy .401 UDR. And on the strength of the night's performance, he drew even closer to the top-spot.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on tonight (Oct. 4) at 6:35. The Pick-6 carry-over pool has grown to $2,296 and will be up for grabs starting with race seven.

October 3, 2014 - 12:09pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

Batavia Downs has announced its new fall schedule which will be effective starting next week. Live racing will be conducted three nights a week on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights through Dec. 6 with a 6:35 post time. The one exception to that will be on Columbus Day, Oct. 13, when the final matinee of the year will be held at 1:15 p.m.

Batavia Downs is also offering some great wagering opportunities this weekend when growing carry-over pools are once again available on Friday. The pick-5 pool is at $532 and the pick-6 carry-over is $1,972. The pick-5 is a .50 minimum bet and runs from race five through race nine. The pick-6 is a minimum $2 wager and runs from race seven to race 12.

Then on Saturday night, harness racing bingo will make its return by popular demand. America’s oldest lighted harness track will feature this promotion and put $750 in gaming free-plays and betting vouchers up for grabs for those attending that night who play.

The first 25 people that get regular bingo win $10 gaming free-plays. The first three people to get letter “X” win $100 wagering vouchers and first person to get full-board bingo wins a $200 wagering voucher. The entire amount of the vouchers must be wagered on Batavia Downs races.

Bingo is free to play and racing fans can pick up their bingo card starting at 5 p.m. at Players Club located on the gaming floor.

In addition, Sahlen’s hot dogs, sodas and draft beer will be available for just $1 beginning at 5:30 p.m.

For a complete list of events and promotions please visit <>

October 1, 2014 - 11:46pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

Infrontigo Hanover with driver Jim McNeight.

By Tim Bojarski for Batavia Downs

Timing is everything and driver Jim McNeight had his down to a science Wednesday night (Oct. 1) in winning the $8,500 mares Open pace feature at Batavia Downs with Infrontigo Hanover.

Going directly to the wood off the gate, McNeight settled Infrontigo Hanover in fourth while Taylor Rei (Aaron Byron) and Fiftyonefifty (Mike Whelan) played give-and-go to the quarter. When the dust settled at that post in :28.2, McNeight saw his chance and Infrontigo Hanover was quickly pulled at the three-eighths and took the lead before they hit the half.

From then on the only thing left to figure out was how fast and by how many? Infrontigo Hanover opened up a six-length lead going to the three-quarters in 1:25, then turned the corner and paced home uncontested to a wrapped-up three and one-half length victory in a new lifetime mark of 1:54.2. The winner paid $9.10.

Bazooka Terror (Kevin Cummings) closed sharply for second and Dontch Remember (Ronnie Wrenn Jr.) finished third.

It was the fourth win in 28 starts for Infrontigo Hanover and raised her seasonal earnings to $34,844 for owners Summer Wind Stable of New York, Inc., and Bob Gruber. The 6-year-old Western Hanover mare is trained by Bob Gruber.

Second leading North American dash winning driver Ronnie Wrenn Jr. was at the Downs Wednesday and pulled closer to leader Aaron Merriman as he came away with five winners on the card. He scored with Kill A Rockingbird ($28.60), Blissful Escape ($3.90), Delightful Syd ($5.80), Stonetag ($4.40) and Helena’s Hope ($3.30). Jim McNeight had the hat trick and Kevin Cummings doubled up.

Racing resumes at Batavia Downs on Friday night (Oct. 3) with post time at 6:35.

September 26, 2014 - 7:00am
posted 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."

September 21, 2014 - 1:35pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

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.

September 21, 2014 - 7:58am
posted 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.

September 20, 2014 - 12:57pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

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.

September 18, 2014 - 1:39pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

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.

September 14, 2014 - 1:33pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

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.

September 13, 2014 - 12:49pm
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

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.

September 11, 2014 - 6:26am
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

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.

September 7, 2014 - 11:13am
posted by Billie Owens in Batavia Downs, sports, harness racing.

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.


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