JOHN KRALISZ has run against a few horses in his day as a member of Edinboro State University's national championship cross country team, but never one that actually, well, smelled like a horse, ate oats from a pail or lived in a stable.
"I've run against Kenyans before, but never a horse," said Kralisz, certainly not the first person to mention the fleet Kenyans in the same breath as a race horse.
But there was Kralisz a week ago Friday, lined up in the starting gate at Buffalo Raceway next to a nag named Haggard, a pacer with driver Hugh Stevens aboard.
It was a stunt, of course, just as it used to be when Jesse Owens ran his 100-yard sprints against race horses in the twilight of his running days. Kralisz and Haggard went at it to raise interest in a Father's Day run, the Hamburg Bun Run.
To make it as even as possible, Kralisz ran a half mile, or a lap of the race track while Haggard did two laps, or a mile. Both were figured to finish in the two-minute range.
Kralisz, 23, a recent Edinboro grad who now runs for Checker's Nike, was a little nervous sitting in the clubhouse beforehand, and then got real edgy when he had to ride around the track on a flatbed truck that delivered him to the starting gate.
"I didn't want to get on it, it was kind of hammy to put me on that stupid truck," he said. Runners like to show off during a race, not before it.
But Kralisz suffered through the ride, lined up next to the beast, and stumbled a bit coming out of the gate. He then watched Haggard run away from him.
"It was almost like running against yourself," he said. Or it was until the horse came up to lap him. Never has a runner heard footsteps like that. It must be like one of those nightmares where you're leading the race, you hear these terrible steps and then run off a cliff, waking just as you hit.
Haggard passed, and the race was on. Kralisz could measure the horse's progress as it raced around the far edge of the track and the fans told him the rest.
"The crowd really got into it," he said. "They could see the horse coming up real quick."
Not quick enough. Kralisz came across the half mile in 1:58, the horse followed in 2:02 2/5 for the mile. A fifth of a second equals a length in a horse race, so it turned out to be no horse race. Kralisz won by 22 lengths.
Chuck Burr, the long-time public relations director at the track, said it would have been a little closer match if track record holder Do Run Run Bluegrass was there (1:54 4/5 ). Kralisz's best time for the half is 1:55.
But Haggard (best time 2:00 4/5 a few years ago) ran instead, and Kralisz can now tell his grandkids someday about the time he won a horse race.
Kralisz, the leader in The Buffalo News Runner of the Year Series, said he plans to take some additional courses at Buffalo State College in special education and expects to be racing around here for the near future.
Odds and ends
If you need a lawyer in a hurry, the fastest law offices in town are Neighborhood Legal Services, the district attorney's office, and Hodgson, Russ, Andrews, Woods & Goodyear, all team winners in this year's Law Day Run. The April race drew 410 runners to the downtown course.
Jim Nowicki, race director for the July 21 Buffalo Four Mile Chase, said he will recruit elite runners to go after the national record for his course next summer in the race's 10th anniversary.
But in the meantime, he wants to work out any bugs in his operation this summer and is asking for 33 traffic volunteers to help with this year's race and next. Call him at 881-1652 if you're interested. There's no pay, but race volunteers get great T-shirts and there's always a good party afterward.
The first North Collins Strawberry Festival on June 16 ran over a nice course, had plenty of water on a hot day and ambulance crews standing by if anyone needed help. High marks for a rookie race.
Where they went wrong was ticking off the women in the race. They combined men and women together in the prize categories so women competed against men. Ouch! Even Mary Slaney can't win against those odds.
One girl in the 19-and-under group, where only three runners were entered, won a trophy. All the other winners were male. I don't think they'll do that again.
You've no doubt seen all the controversy over $100 athletic shoes, as well as the head-scratching about how a pair of sneakers can cost that much. Hey, join the rest of us. Runners have been looking at $100 prices for years.
I've always been able to resist seeing what $100 shoes feel like, mostly out of cheapness but also because shoes that cost $60 -- still awfully steep -- do the job.
Does the added cost really make that much difference? Shoe companies spend millions to make you think so. Which is why we we'll spend an estimated $5.5 billion on athletic shoes this year, up from $1.4 billion five years ago.
Bemus Point Fire Department 10K Lake Run, 9 a.m., today, 386-3130; Kenmore Road Race, one mile (13 and under), 6:30 p.m., or two miles (14 and over), 7 p.m., Monday, 875-8721; St. Teresa's Comeback Run, 2.2 miles, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, 822-0608; ENSI Checker's Nike 8K Classic, 9 a.m., Saturday, 874-6073 (Buffalo News Runner of the Year race); Firecracker 10K Run, Lakewood, 9:30 a.m., July 4, 763-8557; Ray Forton Memorial Race, 10K, Lancaster, 9 a.m., July 4, 684-8462; 5K Run for Research, Delaware Park, 7 p.m., July 6, 839-0548; Clarence Jaycees Run in the Park, 3.6 miles, 9 a.m., July 7, PO Box 323, Clarence, N.Y. 14031.