ST. PETERSBURG — Plenty of first-class seats were available on the Budz Crosby bandwagon two years ago.
Jan Alderson, owner of the longest-tenured kennel at Derby Lane, had one. So did son Greg Lesperance, the trainer and fourth-generation dog man.
Good luck finding an empty seat now.
Budz Crosby, who turned 4 on Sunday, is one of the track's top dogs, winning eight of his past 12 starts. Twice he has clocked the meet's fastest times on the 660-yard course with a career-best 37.30 seconds.
If Budz Crosby runs well in a pair of 550 starts, beginning tonight in Race 6 (8:55 p.m.), he is expected to be entered in the $50,000 Fall Sprint Stakes that begins Sept. 21. It would be his eighth stakes. He has been in four stakes finals, including taking second in the $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby on June 29.
Budz Crosby's transformation required time and support. Labeled a "head case" by Alderson and Lesperance, he came to Derby Lane after making contact with the rail at Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark.
"Some (dogs) have a head problem," Alderson, 57, said. "We started him over like I would puppies. It worked, and we were just lucky."
The racing pendulum hasn't always swung on Budz Crosby's side. Before his current surge, the male out of a litter by Kiowa Mon Manny and Craigie Maxi lost 22 consecutive races from April 24-July 26, dropping to Grade C. A year ago, Budz Crosby was sidelined for three months with a foot injury.
"He got hurt, and I thought we hadn't seen the best of him yet," Lesperance, 31, said. "Then (two months after his return), he took a spill and rolled. He was scared. And when all the dogs rushed the rail, he backed off and let them come in. He's smarter now. When I watch him run, you can almost see him think (about) where's he going and how he's going to do it."
Budz Crosby, who was purchased for $1,500 by Richard Armington of Summerville, S.C., has 32 lifetime wins.
The strong closer is being switched to 550 yards after starting 57 of 59 races at 660.
"I don't like moving a dog that's doing well," Alderson said. "So this is a push for me."
HORSES: Four-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champ Ronnie Allen, 49, earned his 3,000th career win Wednesday aboard Ghost Flower at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa.