ST. PETERSBURG — Humor is part of Art Vandelay's DNA.
The greyhound was named after a fictitious character in the TV series Seinfield. As a pup, patches of hair made him look funny. And he was called "Knucklehead" because of his early behavior.
None of that mattered to Hambleton Racing kennel manager-trainer Doug Flint, whose confidence in the sprinter resulted in a milestone victory May 18 at Derby Lane. Art Vandelay won the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile Stakes, giving Flint his first stakes victory with Hambleton.
"After I schooled him in the morning, I really thought he had some talent," Flint said. "And if he kept developing, I thought he could be a contender for the puppy stakes."
That was in October, when Flint received the pup from kennel owners James and Helen Hambleton of Solomon, Kan. Art Vandelay struggled early with one win in his first 10 starts. He also missed more than two months with an injured right front ankle but soon found his stride. In 18 subsequent starts leading up to the Gold Trophy, Art Vandelay won five times and had 14 in-the-money races with top-four finishes.
A month before the Gold Trophy, Flint, 69, attended the National Greyhound Association spring meet in Abilene, Kan., where Art Vandelay was a topic of conversation. Speaking with the dog's owners — Charter kennel's Rodney Cooley of Wheeling, W.Va., and the Hambletons — Flint said, "I really think this dog could win the Juvenile."
Cooley replied, "I want to see you on May 18th with a trophy in your hand."
Art Vandelay clocked the fifth fastest 550-yard time in the 74-year-old event, 30.60 seconds. He broke second, moved to the rail on the first turn when Flying Universe floated wide and won by 5 lengths. It was his eighth victory overall.
"When you get in the final in a race like that, you need a little luck to go along with everything else," said Flint, a native of The Dalles, Ore. "You've got to have a good dog, but you've got to have things go your way."
Flint's last stakes victory came in 2011 with Storm Rush in the $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby, six days before Hambleton took over the former Royal Racing Team kennel. Art Vandelay, a 2-year-old male, is out of the Hambletons' Voo Doo Von Bonz. His sire is Cooley's multiple-stakes winner, Lonesome Cry, the Derby Lane 2003 win leader.
"Jim said Art always looked funny because he had big patches of hair on him. He'd have a patch here and a patch there. … then the hair would be all gone," Flint said. "He is a laid-back, goofy-acting dog sometimes. Jim always called him 'Knucklehead.' "
MORE DOGS: Derby Lane will have its final Monday matinee performance on Memorial Day. Monday night racing resumes on June 3. … Venus Espinosa of Patriot kennel recorded his 60th lifetime victory May 18.