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May 19, 2006

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Question: What do Easy Goer, Needles, Riva Ridge, Honest Pleasure, Fusaichi Pegasus and Swale have in common?

Answer: They are among the nine horses who have been beaten as odds-on favorites in the Preakness Stakes since 1950.

Just want to point this out before you bet the family ranch on Barbaro next Saturday.

I'm not saying that Barbaro will get beat. I'm only saying this is horse racing. And strange things have a way of happening in horse racing. This time it will be a different venue. A different distance. An entirely different pace scenario.

And there has to be a reason why trainer Matz has wanted Barbaro's races spaced far apart.

More on the Preakness next week.

In the meantime, I am down in the dumpster because I lost a good friend yesterday. His name was Floyd Patterson. And, besides being the most genuine and sincere of human beings, he was responsible for changing my life.

I told my Floyd Patterson story to night-host Steve Sommers on radio station WFAN (New York) during the Mets-Phils rain delay last night. I was on for 20 minutes, and I'd probably still be talking if they didn't break in to announce the game was called.

Here's the deal -

I was a cub reporter for the Yonkers Herald Statesman in 1961 when the editor assigned me to get over to the Patterson residence in Yonkers, off the Bronx River Parkway, to do a baby story. Floyd's wife gave birth to a son the day before at Yonkers General.

This was a year after Patterson had knocked out Ingemar Johannson to become the first fighter in history to re-claim the heavyweight title. And now the biggest question in sports was: Would Patterson dare to defend his title against Sonny Liston, at the time the No. 1 challenger, and the biggest, baddest dude on the planet?

Floyd wasn't saying.

I knocked on Patterson's front door, and my jaw dropped to my knees when the man himself opened the door.

FP: "Good morning. What can I do for you?"

JP: "Um, um, my name is John Piesen from the Yonkers paper.and I'd like to talk to you about the baby."

FP: "Of course. Please come in."

And so I walked into the living room where I was introduced to various of the champ's family and friends. The new mother would be home with the baby the next day.

After a nervous few minutes, Patterson told me that he plans to go back into training the next week.

Ever the pro, I seized on the opportunity.

"For whom?," I asked sheepishly.

"Sonny Liston."

"The big bear?"

"You got it."

"Am I hearing right?," I asked Floyd.

"Why are you telling me?"

"Because you look like a good kid," he said.

I rushed back to the office, and told my editor what I had.

"This is the biggest sports story of the year," I told him, ".and we have it!"

"Good," he said, ".and now sit down and give me a baby story."

So I wrote the "baby story" which ran page one in all eight Westchester newspapers, and somewhere down in the 13 th graph, I got to mention that Floyd Patterson was preparing to fight Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title.

Much to my dismay, my piece never got picked up, even though Max Kase, then the esteemed sports editor of the high-falutin' New York Journal American, lived in Yonkers. And it became page one news worldwide a month later when Patterson went to the White House, and whispered the name of his next opponent into the ear of President Kennedy.

So why did the Patterson scoop change my life?

Glad you asked.

I was sitting in the office of Guido Cribari, the White Plains-based sports editor for all eight Westchester papers, and he happened to have my Patterson piece laid out in front of him.

Just then, Len Elliott, the sports editor of the Newark Evening News, called Cribari to ask him if he could recommend someone for a vacancy at the News, at the time one of the most prestigious newspapers in the land.

Looking down at my piece, Cribari said: ".this Piesen kid is OK."

And the next day, I got the job as night sports editor of the Newark Evening News, a job I held for 10 years before I went to the New York Post, which today blew off the Patterson death with an AP obit on page 23.

Who knows? If it wasn't for Floyd Patterson, I might have spent the next 40 years covering high school sports, and listing bowling scores for the Yonkers Herald Statesman.

More significantly, the interview with Patterson triggered a 20-year friendship with the champ.

During a recent phone conversation with New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo, Gallo told me that Patterson had been suffering from Alzheimer's since the late '90s, and had shut himself off from the world.

So I was not completely unprepared when word came down yesterday that the champ was gone.

That didn't stop me from having a good, long cry.

PIESEN CUES: There was more bad news yesterday. Jockey Cindy Noll-Murphy, one of the great gals in racing, was kicked in the head in a horrible spill at Prairie Meadows racetrack in Iowa last night. Please join in wishing Cindy a speedy and full recovery.

Finally, some good news. The kid continues red hot. In the past two-plus weeks, I have nailed the following double-digit winners on my always popular telephone service (Call 888-484-3300 for more information):

  • Foreverness $26
  • Smallville Slew $22.20
  • Hello Liberty $21.20
  • Joint Effort $15.80 (plus the $59 cold exacta)
  • Sea of Trees $16.20
  • Plus the cold $232.50 seventh-race trifecta yesterday at Belmont Park.

Check it out!



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