ST. PETERSBURG — If it isn't broken, why change it?
That is the approach Derby Lane director of racing Les Robison has taken again this year toward the greyhound track's 12-race, $375,000 stakes program for the 2017-18 season.
For 11 consecutive months, beginning with the $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge on Aug. 16-19, Derby Lane will entertain either tournament qualifying races or championship finals.
"The stakes races follow the same timeline as the previous year with the exception of the very first one (T.L. Weaver)," Robison said. "It's actually a week earlier than last year (and) is better for the dogs that are going to be in the next stakes race ($50,000 Husker Magic Fall Sprint Sept. 2-16)."
Ten kennels won at least one title in last year's revised stakes schedule. Cal Holland and Nova, Derby Lane's past two kennel champions, were the only operations with multiple stakes titles.
"We do believe we had a very successful stakes series all year," Robison said. "It turned out well (and) the races were spaced out properly. There was actually an extra stakes race put in. Some of the money was moved around, but still we paid out the same amount of money as the previous (year's) stakes races. It afforded the opportunity for a dog or kennel to have another chance at a stakes win."
There are six stakes races in each six-month meet. The highlight of the current Tampa meet that ends Dec. 30 is the $70,000 Holiday Distance Challenge, a 660-yard series that runs Dec. 9-23. Others are the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile (Sept. 30-Oct. 14), the $10,000 Howl-O-Ween (Oct. 25-30), and the $10,000 Thanksgiving (Nov. 22-25).
The Tampa meet belongs to Tampa Greyhound Track, which runs its live meet at Derby Lane to remain eligible to provide poker and simulcast wagering.
Derby Lane's six-month meet, which begins Jan. 1, is led by its richest race: the $75,000 Distance Classic, a 660-yard event set for March 24-April 7. The $64,000 Sprint Classic, the track's most lucrative 550 series, also is in the meet from Feb. 17-March 3. Other stakes races in the meet are the $18,000 1925 Historical Inaugural (Jan. 3-6), the $20,000 Remembrance (May 12-28), and the St. Petersburg Derby series that is comprised of the $25,000 Derby and the $5,000 Consolation Derby (June 20-30).
Two stakes finales are scheduled on matinee performances: the Howl-O-Ween and the Remembrance.
Robison said eligibility for the current meet's stakes races requires that greyhounds' paperwork be at Derby Lane on or before July 1. Dogs are allowed to leave for stakes competition at other tracks, but expected to return once participation in their respective tournaments has concluded. The same policy applies for the Derby Lane meet with dogs' papers being in the racing office on or before Jan. 1 to be eligible for stakes racing.