ST. PETERSBURG — More than half a century ago, Jerry Alderson earned a quarter for cooling greyhounds after a race. His Derby Lane experience has been priceless ever since.
Tonight, Alderson, 68, will be working as a parimutuel teller on the main line — first level of the grandstand in front of the finish line — as Derby Lane celebrates its 85th anniversary. Festivities feature a matinee-evening, 30-race doubleheader, highlighted by tonight's $8,000 Inaugural, the longest continuous stakes in the sport.
The Weaver family has always owned Derby Lane, but the Aldersons have been almost as synonymous with the St. Petersburg track.
"I think when people identified with Derby Lane, they would identify the Weavers and the Alderson family," Jerry said. "And basically, Dad was the light."
Alderson's father, Sonny, who died in 1995, is one of four Aldersons in the Greyhound Hall of Fame. Other Hall members include Jerry's grandfather, Perry; uncle, Eddie; and great uncle, Highley. His cousin, Jan, owns and operates Alderson Kennel.
"Nights like tonight — when we have stakes races — absolutely bring back tons of fond memories," he said. "The big purse money feels so good to these (kennel) guys. It creates an excitement, even for today."
Alderson, a St. Petersburg native, always stuck with family tradition.
He cooled greyhounds at age 11. At 22, he was the nation's youngest kennel operator while based at three Miami tracks. He worked for his father. He operated a kennel at Derby Lane. He was a professional dog handicapper for 12 years and, for the past dozen years, he has been employed in the track's parimutuel department.
"It was pure greyhound racing when we got the family together," Alderson said. "We always had Derby Lane to talk about, and we probably had 25 to 30 deep that were involved in the business. I almost rue the day when I don't see the name Alderson in this place."
The 550-yard Inaugural (Race 10, 10:11 p.m.) pays $3,200 to the winner. The field from the rail: Lamorge Aces Up (Magic City-Mighty Fine Kennel), Ww's Revamped (Wayne Ward), Aerial Battle (Capabal), Upcomin Design (Charter), Starz Blackhawk (Patriot), Rooftop Slim To (Cal Holland), Sovereign Lord (D'Arcy) and Cold Fusion (Lester Raines). A win would be the 50th overall for Lamorge Aces Up.
HORSES: Two-time stakes winner Lady Alexander is the 4-1 early-line choice for trainer Bruce Alexander in today's $65,000 Minaret Stakes (Race 9, 4:10 p.m.) at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. … Three Downs horsemen finished in the top 20 in the 2009 national win standings: trainer Jamie Ness (fourth, 258 wins), and jockeys Leandro Goncalves (11th, 248) and Daniel Centeno (14th, 236). … The Calder at Tropical meet ends today at Miami Gardens. On Sunday, Gulfstream Park opens its 79-day meet in Hallandale Beach.