ST. PETERSBURG — Now a that he has found a new lease on his racing career, Aerial Battle can make up for lost time today in the $10,000 Matinee Idol at Derby Lane.
Five months after incurring an injury to the stopper bone in an ankle, Aerial Battle is back to defend his title in the greyhound track's only afternoon stakes of the year. He drew the No. 1 box in the 550-yard finale (Race 8, 2:30 p.m.). The eight qualifiers have combined for 241 victories and 38 stakes appearances, but Aerial Battle is the lone one with a crown.
Capabal kennel owner Henry Parker tapped into his 35 years of industry experience to help Aerial Battle overcome his health issue, which often is career ending. The former Derby Lane wins leader and lifetime winner of 44 races returned Jan. 5, winning twice in five subsequent starts.
"I couldn't be happier with him coming back as sharp as he has," Parker said. "He's gotten a little older and may have lost a step. But he's still better than most."
A 40-month-old male out of a litter from Dodgem By Design and Abita Cruzin, Aerial Battle has not missed a final in six stakes for owner John Bladen.
"Everybody wanted to see him get a chance to repeat," Parker said. "He's a tough dog that can get out of trouble and get to the first turn."
Aerial Battle faces two rivals he beat in last year's Matinee Idol: Charter kennel's Odd Inspector (second) and Lester Raines' Kiowa Lazy Lazy (fourth), winners of 83 total races. Other starters: Flying Bergen (McAllister kennel), Kiowa Class King (Patriot), M's Free Hand (Floyd & Porter), Rk's Big Bear (Abernathy) and Sovereign Gold (D'Arcy). All qualified Wednesday with top-four finishes. First place pays $4,500.
HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs trainer Derek Ryan said the thoroughbred industry got it right Monday when Zenyatta defeated Blame for horse of the year at the Eclipse Awards.
"She's probably done more for horse racing in the last few years than any horse in the last 20 years," Ryan said. "She only got beat once in her life, and that was by a head."
Ryan's Musket Man was stabled next to Zenyatta at her final race, the Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Zenyatta's streak of 19 consecutive wins was snapped by Blame. Musket Man finished seventh in the 12-horse field.
"Zenyatta was like a rock star," Ryan said. "There were people at the barn every single day; you could barely get in. The people that own her (Jerry and Ann Moss) are the nicest people. (Her trainer) John Shirreffs is a class act. He let everyone come by and take pictures. How many people do that? Nowadays, most of them won't even let you in the barn."
In the Eclipse Awards outstanding owner category, Midwest Thoroughbreds, the main client for Downs trainer Jamie Ness, finished fourth behind WinStar Farm.