ST. PETERSBURG — As John Farmer goes forward, he never forgets his past.
At age 11, Farmer watched P.L. Greer race at Multnomah Greyhound Park near Portland, Ore. A two-time All-America selection and back-to-back Flashy Sir award winner as the nation's top distance greyhound in 1976-77, P.L. Greer impressed Farmer so much that he inspired the youngster to write a letter to the dog's kennel owner, Dick Moran.
"I was amazed by the effort the dog put out," Farmer said. "Watching him try so hard and winning regularly, I fell in love with greyhounds."
Farmer, now 45, is the new trainer for Royal Racing Team at Derby Lane. He came to the St. Petersburg track in July, supplying former kennel owner John Filipelli with dogs from Mardi Gras in Hallandale Beach. Farmer joined Royal after a brief stint as Alderson kennel's trainer.
Derby Lane is where Farmer wants to be. Multnomah closed in 2005, and the Portland native turned down a journalism scholarship at the University of Oregon to work with greyhounds in Florida, beginning in 1987.
"I couldn't wait to get to Florida," Farmer said. "Oregon only had one dog track, and Florida had 21 at the time. I always wanted to race here but never really got a chance."
In 2008, Farmer stunned the industry when trainee Starz Jenko defeated All-America team captain sprinters Flying Stanley and Hallo Gold Acre in the Hollywood World Classic at Mardi Gras. Farmer said Starz Jenko owner Jack Sherck thought the field was too tough and didn't want to enter the dog in what Farmer calls "the Kentucky Derby of greyhound racing." But Tom Ferrell, Farmer's former boss in Jacksonville, paid the entry fee and Starz Jenko won at 14-1 odds.
"I was probably the only one who thought he could win," Farmer said.
Starz Jenko, who started his career at Derby Lane, also won the Palm Beach (Kennel Club) Grand Classic in West Palm Beach, sewing up All-America honors and becoming Farmer's only Rural Rube award winner as the nation's best sprinter.
Chesty Marine, another All-America sprinter and multiple-stakes winner from Palm Beach, gave Farmer a notable victory in the 1991 Coors Superstar Invitational at Multnomah.
"It was a homecoming for me and the race had six All-Americans," he said. "One of the dogs he beat was Mi Designer, who had won 14 or 15 in a row."
Royal is owned by Bobby and Neetu Sidu of Ocala. Farmer is joined in the kennel by son Loren, 18. Another son, Sean, 16, works at Palm Beach.
"Once I get more dogs, we'll be a good contender," Farmer said.
NOTEWORTHY: D'Arcy kennel's Nightingale finished fourth in a Grade A race Oct. 16, failing in her bid to climb the graded ladder unbeaten. … Patriot won 23 races Oct. 11-16, the first kennel to reach that win total in a week since McAllister from Dec. 31, 2007 to Jan. 5, 2008.