ST. PETERSBURG — Expenses devour a kennel's budget. Greyhounds must eat, and employees have families to feed. Purses barely pay the bills with the average Derby Lane kennel going through about $3,000 a week.
Winning a stakes is paramount. That opportunity begins tonight in the $75,000 660-Yard Challenge at Derby Lane. A field of 32 distance dogs will compete, including six stakes winners and several other stakes finalists. The first-place prize of $33,500 is certain to relieve financial pressure on one of 16 kennels.
"Not counting stakes, purses barely offset expenses," said John Filipelli, co-owner and trainer of Filipelli and O'Donnell Kennel. "It's crucial to win stakes races during the year. That money is the difference between survival, when the money is down to what it is."
Four stakes victories and other stakes placings since January have provided Filipelli with nearly 25 percent of his gross earnings.
"The stakes money is actually my only profit for the year," he said. "If I don't win that, I make nothing — basically, just (enough to) make the bills. Money is what means the most (in the 660-Yard Challenge)."
Kennels have felt the pinch of a weak economy and competition from Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa. Track handle, which generates money to pay purses, has steadily declined. Kennels are receiving $55 a point (formula used to pay for greyhound finishes), supplemented by Derby Lane management. Filipelli compares that payout to Flagler, where Filipelli & O'Donnell has two bookings at the Miami track. Flagler installed 700 slot machines in November and is paying $120 a point. Derby Lane has no slots. Filipelli said "we're done" if the Seminole tribe of Florida gains slots exclusivity in a pact with the state government.
The 660-Yard Challenge has four qualifying rounds leading to the finale Dec. 19. It could decide the National Greyhound Association's Flashy Sir winner for best distance runner in the country. Tmc's Remedy, Distance Classic winner for Filipelli & O'Donnell, is one of the favorites along with Charter Kennel's Djays Octane, Razorback champion from Arkansas. In 92 career starts, Djays Octane has finished in the money (top four) 86 times, highlighted by 51 wins and 20 seconds. Other stakes winners include Career Goals (Lester Raines), Hi Noon Hypnotic (Nova), Kiowa Knockout (McAllister) and Ww's Deathvalley (Wayne Ward). Tonight's qualifiers are Races 4, 6, 8 and 10.
Horses: Tampa Bay Downs will have five Grade III races for the second consecutive year. The Tampa Bay Derby, Sam F. Davis, Florida Oaks, Hillsborough and Endeavour retained graded status from the American Graded Stakes Committee on Thursday. Overall, 487 races were assigned graded status for 2010, down two. The Oldsmar thoroughbred meet opens Dec. 12.