ST. PETERSBURG — Sand Cloud has the lead near the finish line with Call Me Ishmael closing quickly.
If that scenario plays out tonight in the $50,000 Fall Sprint Stakes at Derby Lane, kennel manager-trainer Catherine D'Arcy knows which dog she'll be pulling for to win the track's first stakes of the season.
"Both," she said. "A dead heat is something we all joked about before the first (qualifying) round. With all of us at the table for dinner (tonight), I think that's the pact (the dogs' owners) are going to make with each other."
D'Arcy is the only kennel with multiple finalists in the 550-yard event (Race 10, 10:11 p.m.). Both dog owners have flown in for the race. Donnie Ryan arrived from Abilene, Kan., to watch Call Me Ishmael. Sand Cloud owner Mick D'Arcy, Catherine's father and kennel owner, is in from Wheeling, W.Va.
"We're absolutely over the moon with the way the dogs have run during the stakes race," Catherine said. "They've run true to their form, they haven't disappointed, and they've given their all every round. There's some incredible talent in this field. I think the best sprinters made the finals."
The Fall Sprint has been full of twists. Defending champion Craigie I Am Jak (Campbell Greyhound Racing kennel) won a draw by lot after the second round and advanced. On Thursday, Mw's Alfa (Alabama) gained the final stakes berth in another draw by lot over Oneco Kennedy (D'Arcy) after both dogs tied in points. A dozen individuals were in the track racing office when Alabama trainer Derek Barsell, 25, was chosen to select the winning slip from the hat.
"He picked the right one," said Alabama owner Patty Byers, Derek's mother. "I hooted and hollered when he called to tell me."
Alabama is looking for its first stakes win at Derby Lane. It joined the roster in July 2011, and lost its first 64 starts.
"I've had quality dogs," Byers said. "But I finally do have one that can be competitive (in the stakes)."
Mw's Alfa was low in points through the first three qualifying rounds and needed a win Wednesday. He beat Oneco Kennedy by a nose, and Barsell did the rest. Mw's Alfa will be Alabama's second dog in a stakes final. Gabby's Jentowin finished fifth in the T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge on June 9.
The field from the rail: Jb's Thunderbolt (Nova), Craigie I Am Jak, track win leader Venus Espinosa (Patriot), Call Me Ishmael, Mrl No Access (Lester Raines), Ed N Edmundo (Hambleton), Mw's Alfa and Sand Cloud. First place pays $22,000.
HORSES: Fort Larned, winner of the Challenger Stakes on March 3 at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, is among the favorites in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational (Race 10, 5:45) at Belmont Park (N.Y.). It is one of 11 Breeders' Cup Win and You're In Challenge races at Belmont Park and Santa Anita Park (Calif).