ST. PETERSBURG — Pups, ponies and the Preakness are piled on the parimutuel platter today. By the end of the night, it could be a cosmic Saturday.
Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner, attempts to keep his Triple Crown bid alive against eight rivals in the 138th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Tonight, Flying Universe can cap a memorable week for Red Oak Racing kennel manager-trainer Alex Hall with a victory in the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile Stakes at Derby Lane.
Big crowds are expected at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Tampa Greyhound Track and Derby Lane, which will simulcast the $1 million Preakness. All venues open at 10 a.m. The 13/16-mile Preakness is Race 12 at 6:20 p.m.
Flying Universe is one of eight pups in the 74th annual Gold Trophy (Race 8, 9:33). He drew box 3. Other starters from the rail: Pj Fresno (Abernathy kennel), Citizen's Arrest (D'Arcy), Art Vandelay (Hambleton), Kentucky Mark (Cal Holland), Rams Contango (Marsella), Kaias Chestnut (Floyd & Porter) and leading qualifier Jack's Big Gun (Cal Holland). First place pays $8,000.
Hall, 20, is going for his third stakes victory of the 2012-13 season. He captured the $80,000 Distance Classic on April 6 with Se's Home Owner and the $20,000 Fall Juvenile on Nov. 10 with Flying Soriano.
This has been a special week for Hall, whose kennel has overtaken two-time defending champion Patriot in the win standings (Red Oak led 224-222 entering Friday). The surge came with Victor Hall, Alex's father, visiting. The elder Hall led Patriot to its first of three kennel titles in 2010 but gave up the position the following year when he moved to Vermont. He was replaced by Cal Holland Jr. and now trains at Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark.
"Dad has been very impressed, and he's very proud of me," Alex Hall said. "He's glad to see that his blessings are coming down on me. Winning (the Gold Trophy) would be icing on the cake."
Red Oak has never won a kennel title at Derby Lane for owner Robert Lambert of Tallassee, Ala. The meet concludes June 30.
Flying Universe, a 23-month-old male out of a litter by 2006 All-American Dragon Fire and Flying Aeronaut, relies on early speed. A winner of 10 of 36 races for owner Vince Berland of Abilene, Kan., Flying Universe has led at every call in his past eight wins. The 71-pound greyhound has raced against Grade A or stakes competition in 27 of his past 28 starts. His career-best time at 550 yards is 30.57 seconds (twice).
"He's an early-speed bullet," Alex Hall said. "He has got tons of early speed, and is going to get nothing but stronger. Thank God for Vince Berland, because he has supplied me with a nice quality of dogs. But Jack's Big Gun is the favorable dog in the whole thing. He's a phenomenal dog."