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Derby Lane gives racing fans a chance to hang with the dogs

It used to be the place to go. In its hey day, Derby Lane, tucked in the low lands of north St. Petersburg near the Gandy Bridge, hosted vacationers during the winter and spring. In March it was packed with the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial during baseball's spring training.

It may not be the town's major attraction anymore, but Derby Lane is still considered one of the best greyhound tracks in America. There are 14 live races each matinee and night program. There are plenty of good angles to watch the dogs chase that fake rabbit around the track. And if that isn't enough, there is poker and simulcast races from other tracks. Lots and lots of simulcasting.

BETTING TIPS: Start with buying a program. It will tell you everything you need to know about the dogs. Races are broken down into Grade M (maiden), Grade D (the lowest grade), Grade C, Grade B and Grade A (the best). It also helps to check out a dog's kennel. Some are better than others.

Can't understand the betting options? Check the back page of the program, which will spell out the various types of bets. The crowd is usually full of regulars who are happy to explain the difference between a Quiniela, Trifecta and Perfecta.

SIMULCASTING: There is horse racing, dog racing, harness racing and jai alai available during matinees and at night. There are hundreds of televisions throughout the track tuned to different venues.

GO OUTSIDE: If it's not too cold, hot or raining, the benches lining the home stretch are the best place to see the dogs up close. The grandstand, with box seats along the front row, aren't bad either. It gives you a full view of the track, and on clear days or nights you can see downtown St. Petersburg. Just remember that smoking is only allowed outside.

STAY INDOORS: The second floor, which overlooks the starting box, has walls of televisions and tables to sit and watch the action. There is also a bar and kitchen to bide your time between races. It can be an interesting place because gamblers are betting on the simulcast events from other tracks, so every minute or so you may hear a loud roar as people root for horses or dogs from other tracks as they ramble down the stretch. There is also simulcasting on the third floor, but only during live racing and on Friday afternoons.

Then there is the sixth floor Derby Club, which overlooks the first turn. That's for fancier dining, and TVs are equipped at some tables. No matter where you choose to be indoors, televisions are everywhere just to reinforce the idea that simulcast racing is available.

POKER: The bottom floor of the old Derby Club has been renovated into a new poker room. It is more than 21,000 square feet and has more than 50 tables. And yes, there will be 50 flat screen TVs around the room just in case you feel like betting on some dogs or horses. It is open every day except Christmas.

--Rodney Page

DERBY LANE AT A GLANCE

Where: 10490 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg.

When: Live racing year round. There are matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. Nightly racing Monday-Saturday beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Admission: Free; parking is also free.

Contact: www.derbylane.com; (727) 812-3339.

Derby Lane gives racing fans a chance to hang with the dogs 01/20/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 9:04am]

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