ST. PETERSBURG — John Filipelli began the week by seeing the comical movie Despicable Me. His start to another Derby Lane season hasn't been as comforting.
Filipelli, 52, second-leading winner at the St. Petersburg greyhound track since 2007, finds his new operation in an improbable position at the meet that opened July 1 at Derby Lane. Filipelli ranks last in the 16-kennel standings with a stunning two wins through Thursday.
The dogs are new. The trainer is new. But Filipelli said a perfect storm seriously affected him once the former O'Donnell and Filipelli operation decided in June to dissolve at the end of the 2009-10 meet. While those dogs remained trackside to run with the J.E. O'Donnell Jr. kennel this season, Filipelli lacked compound space for his incoming greyhounds, many from Mardi Gras in Hallandale Beach. "I had no room to put dogs until July 1 and had to finish the booking as it was," he said. "My hands were tied from the start. But the response within the industry, as far as me being back on my own, has been fantastic."
Filipelli kennel lost its first 35 starts and 70 of 72 overall in the meet's first 17 performances. Only 13 dogs have earned purse money with top-four finishes; 28 have finished last. Fifty-four starts were at the lowest grades: C, D and maiden. Grade D sprinters Figs Boyzcott and Kiowa Fly Agree have produced the wins. Every other Derby Lane kennel has at least eight victories, led by defending champion Patriot with 27.
"The dogs were in over their heads right off the bat," Filipelli said. "Now that they are acclimated a little and I've had a chance to work with them, it should get better. My challenge is to build a kennel respectable to competing at Derby Lane. I feel very confident I'll get to that point. If I don't start getting to a competitive situation in 60 days, I won't be able to stay in business."
Davina Malpass, 32, is in her inaugural season as the trainer. "I'm learning from the best," she said. "It would be great to get some more wins because it would solidify things a bit."
Most of the kennel's 60 dogs have been supplied by Dick Figurilli, Joetta Vaughn and Jon Venuto, all with connections to Colorado, where Filipelli entered the business 40 years ago; Greyhound Hall of Fame inductee Kay Smith of Frederick, Okla.; and Randy Finegan of Jacksonville.
Filipelli said he needs purse earnings of about $2,000 weekly to meet expenses such as feed, veterinarian care and salaries. In the track's first payout covering 10 racing days, Filipelli said he received $930. A 16-year fixture at Derby Lane, Filipelli had partnered with the O'Donnell and Filipelli kennel since 2007, winning 1,609 races, nine stakes and two kennel titles. Only McAllister kennel had more victories in that time frame with 1,796.