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Derby Lane president feeling hopeful in face of financial turmoil

ST. PETERSBURG — Vey Weaver rose from his chair and started to head home after another day at Derby Lane. Before shutting his office door, the track president and chairman of the board stopped briefly and said, "We don't sugarcoat anything here. We tell it like it is."

The bottom line on Derby Lane's 84th season will be more sour than sweet when the year-round meet concludes Tuesday. As expected, the downturn economy has hit the greyhound facility hard. There will be double-digit declines in all handle categories and a marginal drop-off in attendance compared with the previous season (July 1, 2007, through June 30).

Four performances remain in the track's meet. Derby Lane is down in live on-track wagering, 20.24 percent at $24,885,349; intrastate wagering, 13.64 percent at $39,116,644; interstate wagering, 15.69 percent at $55,457,441; overall wagering, 16.04 percent at $119,459,434; and guest simulcast wagering (non-Derby Lane greyhounds, thoroughbreds, standardbreds and jai alai), 23.41 percent at $66,387,162. Weaver said there were 47 fewer performances this season with no Monday matinee.

Attendance is off slightly with 724,969 patrons, a 1.26 percent decline. One positive has been the track's new poker room, centerpiece of a $2.5 million renovation. Since the addition opened in January, card room gross receipts have been up $138,308, a 15 percent increase.

"The only thing that's really saving us is the card room being up these last six months," Weaver said. "We're just thankful that we're keeping our heads above water. There's a lot of other businesses that are not doing as well as we are because of these bad economic times and competition. We're living on to fight another day."

Weaver also clarified a recent report regarding Derby Lane as a possible site for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. "No one from the Rays or the blue ribbon (stadium) committee has ever contacted us," Weaver said. "We plan to be here for a long time, or we wouldn't have spent $2.5 million on a poker room."

MORE DERBY LANE: The St. Petersburg Derby (Race 10, 10:07 tonight) and Consolation Derby (Race 8, 9:29 p.m.) highlight the 15-race performance on Fan Appreciation Night. … The 2009-10 meet begins Wednesday at Derby Lane. The first six months will be raced under a Tampa Greyhound Track permit, allowing that facility to offer simulcast wagering and poker. Derby Lane's racing permit takes effect Jan. 1. Live greyhound racing, simulcast wagering and poker will be available year-round at Derby Lane. … The first Derby Lane stakes of the new meet will be Friday with Night of Stars XXII, a racing showcase at tracks across the country. Part of the proceeds go toward greyhound adoption. All races can be seen at thenightofstars.com.

thoroughbreds: Rachel Alexandra makes her first start since winning the Preakness on May 16, as the 1-5 favorite today in the Grade I, $300,000 Mother Goose at Belmont Park. She leaves from the No. 3 post in the field of five fillies. It's the ninth race on the 10-race card, scheduled to go off at 5:17. … Zenyatta aims for her 11th consecutive victory at 5:30 p.m. in the Grade I, $300,000 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park. The unbeaten 5-year-old mare, who leaves from the outside post in the field of eight, is such an overwhelming favorite, the Inglewood track won't offer show betting on the race. Both can be seen on Trackside Live at 5 p.m. on Sun Sports.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Derby Lane president feeling hopeful in face of financial turmoil 06/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 9:20pm]
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