ST. PETERSBURG — Throw the names of 32 greyhounds into a hat and select one. The $75,000 660-Yard Challenge that begins tonight at Derby Lane appears to be that unpredictable.
Kennel owner and trainer Jim Campbell agrees. But he also believes that brothers Backwood Hombre and Backwood Cash can shine for Campbell Greyhound Racing in the track's third richest stakes.
"I'm not sure there is a favorite this year," he said. "I think it's wide open. … As far as the public is concerned and the people that work in the back with us, Hombre and Cash are probably two of the favorites. Personally, I wouldn't go that far, because they've only had (four) three-eighths races. I'm hesitant to give them the crown yet. But if I didn't think they had a chance, I wouldn't even bothered putting them in."
Qualifying will be Races 4, 6, 8 and 10, and continues Wednesday, when the field will be cut to 16. After qualifying rounds on Dec. 13 and 17, eight dogs with the most accumulative points will run in the Dec. 20 final. First place is worth $33,500. Backwood Cash is in Race 4 (8:15 p.m.) and Backwood Hombre in Race 10 (10:07 p.m.).
Stakes winners Flying Mancini (McAllister Kennels) and Magic Penny Ante (D'Arcy) are in the field, both in Race 8 (9:29 p.m.). But Campbell, who hasn't won a Derby Lane stakes since Jr's Flashy captured the 2005 T.L. Weaver Memorial, believes youth can be served. His 22-month-old greyhounds are among the youngest entries and newcomers on the 660-yard course — both moved from 550 yards in November, when each dog won three consecutive races for owner Hugo Hartsfield, Jr.
Out of a litter by 2002 All-America member Dodgem By Design and Ellie Mae, Backwood Hombre and Backwood Cash were at Palm Beach Kennel Club this year to begin their racing careers. Only Backwood Hombre raced at the West Palm Beach track. Campbell said someone suggested Backwood Cash "go back to the farm, because he wouldn't chase (run after the lure).
"Fortunately, he was wrong," Campbell said. "Some dogs mature different than others; some take a little longer. I'm kind of glad."
The pair has totaled 23 wins among 60 starts, and each has made the final of a Derby Lane stakes (Backwood Hombre was seventh in the Fall Sprint on Oct. 4, and Backwood Cash fourth in the Fall Juvenile on Nov. 15).
MORE DERBY LANE: Flying Stanley, richest greyhound earner ever, has been retired from racing. He came up lame during recent training and will return to Kansas for a stud career.