ST. PETERSBURG — Popular, powerful and persistent.
Golden Squire, the D'Arcy kennel greyhound who has captivated the industry with his compelling closing kick, goes for his biggest prize tonight in Derby Lane's richest stakes race, the $80,000 Distance Classic.
"The dogs are the stars," said Gary Guccione, National Greyhound Association secretary-treasurer. "When you get a really good one, it's fun to see if they're in the sport for any great length of time. You really appreciate the talents and abilities that a champion has."
The 660-yard event in Race 10 (10:11 p.m.) sets up as a showdown between D'Arcy and Pauline O'Donnell kennels, both of which advanced three dogs to the final. But most eyes will be on Golden Squire, the product of a dream by owner Catherine D'Arcy, who spent three years planning his breeding. The match involving Australian sprint champion Surf Lorian and Greys Touch Gold, the 2008 St. Petersburg Derby winner who is now D'Arcy's house pet, has been what the kennel manager-trainer calls a blessing.
D'Arcy's faith never wavered in 2013, when Golden Squire lost 14 consecutive starts and 19 of 20 overall at 550 and 660 yards during a four-month span (he was second 10 times). Since then, the 34-month-old male has finished first in 21 of 28 starts, including a 10-race win streak — all at 660.
He has 26 career victories with purse earnings of more than $53,000. Golden Squire's victory in the $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge in December led to his selection to the All-America second team, and he was the runnerup for the Flashy Sir award (nation's top distance runner).
"We knew all along how good he is from when he was a pup," D'Arcy said. "It was just a matter of time that the penny would drop and he would figure it out.
"He does have a lot of fans across the country, and a lot of adoption people are now watching his races. They just love to watch him run, because he closes and he's exciting."
Golden Squire (Box 3), his brother Golden Surf and Crowned Supreme give D'Arcy legitimate shots at the $32,000 first-place paycheck. Pauline O'Donnell counters with Kiowa Jordan Doc, Kiowa Zabia and Tmc's Roxslide. Other finalists are Odd Grayson (Abernathy) and Rams Contango (Marsella).
"(Golden Squire) has an excellent reputation," Guccione said. "People that are watching closely are very impressed with what they're seeing. … I know I am."
HORSES: Kentucky Derby qualifying resumes today with Tampa Bay Downs graduates Vinceremos (Sam F. Davis winner), Asserting Bear, Bobby's Kitten, Coltimus Prime and Harry's Holiday in the Grade I $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes (Race 11, 5:45 p.m.) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Tampa Bay Derby beaten favorite Conquest Titan is entered in the Grade I $1-million Arkansas Derby (11, 7:07) at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.