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Dog tales

Good morning!

A recent article about the Iditarod by Ben McGrath in the April 22 issue of the New Yorker Magazine rekindled memories of long-past autumn afternoons when Deerfield veterinarian Charlie Belford trained his sled dog team in Old Deerfield’s north meadows. Belford, who died in 2005, lived and practiced veterinary medicine in Deerfield for 40 years before he retired in 1981.

He never raced in the Iditarod, but did win the Laconia (N.H.) World Champion Sled Dog Derby four times, including three straight years from 1964 to 1966.

As for the Iditarod, McGrath covered this year’s 1,150-mile race from Anchorage to Nome by both plane and snowmobile. He writes that the race is named after a ghost town that housed as many as 10,000 during the peak of the gold rush in the late 1800s. The deserted town serves as the race’s official halfway point and the first musher to arrive there wins three thousand dollars in gold nuggets.

This year’s Iditarod champion was a 53-year-old Alaskan named Mitch Seavey whose son Dallas won last year’s race. He reaped $50,400 of the $600,000 in total purse money and was given a new Dodge Ram 4x4 valued at $40,000.

McGrath’s fine piece included tidbits such as that sled dogs consume as many as 14,000 calories a day, one musher constructed his sled’s frame from sawed off Easton hockey sticks, there wasn’t a race-related canine fatality for the fourth straight year and that “Females in heat, when placed in the lead, can be really good for morale.”

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“Unbelievable,” Greenfield’s John Dobrydnio said after the 3-year-old bay colt he picked to win last week’s Kentucky Derby galloped to the lead in the final furlong. “We can’t keep doing this can we? The price was so generous (5-to-1).”

Orb is now everyone’s pick to win next week’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. He’s currently listed at 8-to-5 but will likely drop to even money. The second leg of the Triple Crown is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby distance and the field is limited to 14 starters. At this writing seven other Derby starters have signed on for round two, together with four newcomers.

It’s nobody’s business how much Dobrydnio wagered on Orb to win, let’s just say it was more than $500 and less than $700. “It’s not the money, he said. “It’s the pressure of being in the newspaper.”

Which is where he’ll be again next week, and it’s wait-and-see whether he picks Orb or a newcomer like 4-to-1 second choice Departing. Stay tuned folks. He’ll have the horse right here and it won’t be Paul Revere.

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Fred McCarthy died on May 1 and the world is without an irascible, funny storyteller to keep things interesting. Freddie was the lure operator at Hinsdale greyhound track. His job was to keep e Colonel tantalizingly close to the greyhounds that were trying to chase it down. It wasn’t rocket science but he was good at his job, three stories up next to the judges’ booth, the ubiquitous baseball cap perched on his head and cigarette dangling from his mouth. Between races he’d jaw with race secretary Joe Sarsfield or bitch about the Red Sox. He was a true character, but it’s his friendship we’ll miss most.

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One-time Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden recently talked of his days working for owner Marge Schott, who bought controlling of the Reds in 1984 though she had no sense of either baseball or social propriety. She once said of Adolf Hitler: “Everybody knows he was good at the beginning but he just went too far.” She also banned her players from wearing earrings, saying, “Only fruits wear earrings.”

Bowden’s daunting assignment was to stave off Schott’s whimsical ownership style. “If a player’s wife went to her dealership and bought a new car, she’d come to us and say, ‘I want that player in the lineup tonight’ and we’d say, ‘Well Marge we just can’t do that.’ ”

She had final say in all trades and Bowden remembered the time he wanted to send Hal Morris to the Dodgers for Raul Mondesi. “You can’t trade Meghan Morris!’ Schott protested. “She’s my favorite player’s wife!”

Schott’s Reds won the 1990 World Series, with Lou Piniella managing and Bob Quinn the GM. A lifelong smoker, she died of breathing problems in 2004 at age 75.

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On their Saturday morning radio show, former Red Sox infielder Rico Petrocelli lamented to his co-host Ed Randall that he regretted partaking in a cow-milking contest before a minor league game in Winston Salem. “The milk wasn’t coming, I was afraid the cow was gonna kick me and the udders looked weird. Who the hell’s ever seen a cow? The only place I’d seen a cow was on a milk bottle. That’s the reason they picked me, because I was from the city.”

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From Oct. 7 through Nov. 3 the New York Jets will be up against five straight pro bowl quarterbacks — Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, and Drew Brees. Dire indeed considering the Jets incumbent quarterback Mark Sanchez was responsible for 32 of the Jets’ 37 turnovers last season, 18 interceptions and 14 fumbles.

It’s why they took West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with the 39th overall pick in last month’s draft, but no matter who lines up under center the Jets are done before they reach the starting gate.

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In reference to an item about the life and death of pianist Van Cliburn, South Deerfield’s Grace Lapointe wrote that the talented Texan once wowed ‘em in Greenfield. “It was at the high school on Federal Street (now the Middle School) before winning world acclaim. I was with my son Carl, who was 8 years old and had just started piano lessons. It was a performance to be remembered.”

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Squibbers: For a funny sports moment, go to YouTube and type in “Dan Patrick-Steve Bartman.” The caller who purported to be Bartman was an imposter, and Patrick’s reaction is priceless. One of sports’ great mysteries is whether Bartman actually changed the course of baseball history by trying to catch the foul ball that Cubs outfielder Moises Alou was reaching for to end the Marlins eighth inning rally in the sixth game of the 2003 NLCS. ... A belated congrats to Greenfield pediatrician and Louisville alumnus Bert Fernandez for his Cardinals hoops team winning the NCAA championship. ... Mike Repole’s racing stable includes a four-year-old horse named for his wife Maria, who likes to frequent Fifth Avenue. The filly’s name is Stopdshoppingmaria, and has four wins and nine in-the-money finishes in 11 starts.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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