ST. PETERSBURG — Ken Lesperance wears a lucky tie. Kayruth Abernathy has on a favorite dress. Malcolm McAllister is attired in dark colors. Stakes nights are special for kennel trainers and owners at Derby Lane. They dress up for the occasion, anticipating results that could impact their operations immensely. Trophies are nice, but paychecks are dandy.
"Picking up a win or good finish in one of our major stakes in a real nice shot in the arm for some of these guys who are average, hard-working people," Derby Lane racing secretary Jerry Miller said. "A nice chunk of change in a tournament can go a long way for improving their business or even surviving in these days."
The first part of Derby Lane's $375,000 stakes schedule has been released. Two of the St. Petersburg track's richest races — the $75,000 660-Yard Challenge (Dec. 4-18) and the $50,000 Fall Sprint (Sept. 18-Oct. 2) — headline the Tampa at Derby Lane meet that runs through Dec. 31. The meet's other stakes is the $20,000 Fall Juvenile (Oct. 30-Nov. 13).
Stakes dates for the meet that runs Jan. 1 through June 30 are expected to be announced soon. Miller said the $8,000 Inaugural will kick off the track's 86th season Jan. 1. Other stakes: $80,000 Distance Classic, $64,000 Sprint Classic, $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby and $10,000 Consolation Derby, $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile, $10,000 Matinee Idol and $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge. The season's first stakes was July 2 with Charter kennel's Special Purpose winning Night of Stars XXIII.
Miller said stakes money is generated from two sources: $200,000 out of purses through the kennels and $175,000 from Derby Lane. "The (kennels') deduction is before we run purses with $3,846.15 a week coming off the top," he said. "It's a total contribution from the kennels as a whole, rather than based on who's earning more."
Of the 16 kennels at Derby Lane, two have dominated recent stakes. McAllister and the defunct Filipelli & O'Donnell (now separate operations) have combined to win the four richest races 11 of 12 times over the past three seasons. D'Arcy kennel was the exception, winning the 2008 Sprint Classic.
"Big breeders and good suppliers, who are known for quality, tend to be successful," Miller said. "There's a reason why (Vince) Berland keeps cranking out champions, why the (Barney and Pauline) O'Donnells can keep producing … and the Kay Smiths. It's reflected in the number of All-American (dogs) they have over the course of their business careers and the number of stakes wins. It's been a long time since some of those guys in the back have won a stakes race. Those are the guys that are running every day for that weekly check, rather than the big payday once a year."