ST. PETERSBURG — Lost in West Virginia, Kelsos Isabella found her forte in Florida. The greyhound can continue her career ascent tonight in the $75,000 660-Yard Challenge at Derby Lane. The event (Race 10, 10:11 p.m.) is the track's third-richest series. Kelsos Isabella is the anomaly in a field that includes three stakes winners and two multiple-stakes finalists.
Kelsos Isabella didn't make her racing debut until September and lacked a Grade A victory until two weeks ago. But she has starred in her first stakes, winning the first three of four qualifying rounds and finishing first in points.
"(After the third win) I was like, 'Wow!' " Lester Raines Kennel manager-trainer Ken Lesperance said. "She came from Wheeling (W.Va.), where she didn't get any starts and didn't school that well. When we brought her (to Derby Lane), she's gotten better and better."
A 22-month-old female out of a litter by Dodgem By Design and Kelsos Gabriella, Kelsos Isabella is the youngest finalist with the fewest total starts (24) under owner John Kelly. She has made 18 consecutive starts at 660 yards, producing seven of eight career victories. Her closing ability surfaced in her first six races, all at 550 yards.
"After the first 660 we could tell she could go the distance," Lesperance said. "She wasn't even tired when she came off the track, and her times were really impressive for her being so young."
Kelsos Isabella drew the No. 2 box. The rest of the field, in post-position order: Kiowa Ak Richpie (Patriot Kennel), Ww's Deathvalley (Wayne Ward), Deco Caraways (D'Arcy), Kiowa Knockout (McAllister), Tmc's Remedy (Filipelli & O'Donnell), Starz Borntofly (D'Arcy) and Backwood Nan (Campbell).
Ww's Deathvalley (St. Petersburg Derby), Kiowa Knockout (Naples-Fort Myers Classic) and Tmc's Remedy (Distance Classic) have won stakes this year. Kiowa Ak Richpie is in his third stakes final, and Backwood Nan is in her fourth. First place pays $33,500.
MORE GREYHOUNDS: Wayne Ward has overtaken Charter Kennel as Derby Lane's leader in the win standings. Entering Friday, Wayne Ward led 254-250. … Grade A sprinter Aerial Battle of Capabal Kennel clocked a season-best 550-yard time of 30.17 seconds Wednesday.
THOROUGHBREDS: Two $20,200 allowance races (Races 7 and 10) top today's 11-race program at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. First post is 12:25 p.m. … The Inaugural and Sandpiper each drew 26 nominations on the Dec. 26 card. Both $75,000 stakes are 6-furlong sprints for 2-year-olds and will be co-features on Cotillion Festival Day.
HOLIDAY SCHEDULE: Christmas Eve: Derby Lane — poker and simulcast wagering, no live racing; Downs — poker, no live racing or simulcast wagering; Tampa Greyhound Track — poker and simulcast wagering. Christmas: All three facilities are closed.