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FUNNY THINGS HAPPEN ON THE WAY TO TRIPLE CROWN

Fast food for thought . . .

Funny Cide's Triple Crown chances are minimal with Empire Maker having sat out the Preakness while lying in wait for the Belmont.

The past two decades are littered with near-Triple Crown winners dethroned at the last jewel because three races in five weeks is asking too much of the horse. Empire Maker will have had four weekends off when he runs the Belmont, while Funny Cide must combat the cumulative effects of three races in five weeks.

The logical solution is to break with tradition and insert two idle weeks between the Derby and the Preakness. It still amounts to a quick turnaround for thoroughbreds of this caliber, but it would diminish the advantage gained by horses that, like Empire Maker, are made to skip the Preakness and store their energies for the most grueling leg of the circuit.

I still can't get over the athletic ability of Dallas Mavericks 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki. Let's face it. Big, mobile white men are hardly the norm in the NBA. The Buffalo Braves used to have Dale Schlueter inbound the ball and run the sideline out of bounds just to keep him out of the way. And I don't think anyone ever fretted about Henry Finkel slicing to the hoop from the top of the key.

I was jammed up on Kentucky Derby weekend, unable to get to an OTB before the race. No problem, right? Just call in and open an account over the phone. But, much to the dismay of this lifelong Derby bettor, it takes at least 48 hours from when application is made until betting can commence. No wonder bookies are still in business and offshore betting houses are thriving.

This e-mail from a reader: "The blatantly obvious heel-dragging from Camp Mesi now has me referring to him as 'Maybe' Joe Mesi."

Perhaps Annika Sorenstam will make the cut, perhaps she won't. But how can anyone be anything but curious to see how she does? I can't envision her finishing last, and that alone would mean something.

One of the more underrated entities in sports has to be the Cleveland Indians player development department. Do you realize how difficult it is in these transient times to construct a perennial Triple-A powerhouse? Yet, once again, the Bisons are looking like the class of the IL.

Am I wrong, or did Kobe Bryant mail in the fourth quarter of the game that ended the Lakers dynasty? But he did look ticked, and that means I'm already liking the Lakers for next season.

I have to laugh at the notion that Sorenstam's appearance in the Colonial will push the LPGA's Corning Classic into obscurity. First of all, the Corning Classic -- like most LPGA events -- lives in obscurity. Secondly, a decent showing by Sorenstam could spring the LPGA out of its doldrums. There is no downside. Even if she shoots 85-85, how does that hurt women's golf?

I won't believe NL pitching has hibernating Jim Thome befuddled unless he reaches September with his average at .250. I'm still liking him to hit .310 with 40 homers and 120 RBIs . . . and the Phillies to land the wild card.

The Pistons would have been done minus the emergence of Tayshaun Prince, who's so unflappable he makes calm look edgy. It was Prince, remember, who willed Kentucky to an overtime win over St. Bonaventure in the 2000 Midwest Regional with his game-tying trey late in regulation.

I have to agree with Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt's take on Rafael Palmeiro's entry into the 500-homer club.

"With anything in life, if more guys are doing it, it must be easier to do," Schmidt said. "That has to diminish some of the eliteness to some degree."

No one achieved 500 homers from Schmidt in 1987 until Eddie Murray in 1996. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Palmeiro have done it in the last four years, raising the club's total membership to 19.

First the Jim Harrick scandal. Then football players unloading their SEC championship rings for sale on eBay. And now an offensive coordinator jailed a night and fined a month's salary for drunken driving. Fine institution, the University of Georgia.

Former Bill Chris Watson has signed with the Detroit Lions, who ranked 30th in the NFL last season in pass defense. But it'll get better. Now their safeties have someone to run interference.

Pierre Turgeon's on the market after being waived by the Dallas Stars. Memo to the Sabres: Don't even think about it.

Exactly how many men does it take to coach a basketball team? Phil Jackson calls a timeout and it looks like he's surrounded by the Secret Service.

Who can blame Mike Gansey for bailing on St. Bonaventure? The thrill of college basketball is playing in the NCAA Tournament. Why, with two years eligibility remaining, would Gansey stick around knowing the sanctions, when determined, will probably deprive him of that opportunity? It's different for Marques Green, who's down to a year and played a part in the selection of Anthony Solomon.

It's looking like a Mighty Ducks-Devils final and New Jersey in five based on superior depth and Martin Brodeur. Anaheim's made a nice run, but it hasn't left a single goaltending legend in its wake.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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