ST. PETERSBURG — Entering the final turn, just beyond the tote board at Derby Lane, his proverbial green light comes on. Time is running out, and sometimes he has yet to pass a dog.
For Craigie I Am Jak, it is go time.
Jak is back, and his timing couldn't be better. The $50,000 Fall Sprint Stakes begins Sept. 15 at Derby Lane, and Craigie I Am Jak can be the first greyhound in the six-year event to defend his title.
For a while, that didn't seem possible. A month after defeating Aerial Battle to win the Fall Sprint in October, Craigie I Am Jak tore a muscle in his right rear leg. The Campbell Greyhound Racing kennel sprinter, whose trademark is a dynamic come-from-behind running style, was sidelined more than five months.
"(The tear) was about the size of a dime," kennel owner James Campbell said. "He puts so much stress and pressure on the back legs that it usually takes a while to heal. I left him off longer than most dogs because of who he was and how much propulsion he uses his back legs for."
Craigie I Am Jak was moved to Bonita Springs, where Campbell has a booking at Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track. "For the first three months, he didn't do anything but go into semiretirement," Campbell said. "The last two months, we got him back in shape and rehabbed the injury."
The 32-month-old male out of a litter by Lonesome Cry and Craigie Crimson returned to Derby Lane in May. In 23 subsequent starts, Craigie I Am Jak has five victories and finished no worse than third 17 times. Overall, he has won 18 of 69 races. The 70-pound greyhound is racing at Grade B, one level below the top of the track's graded scale.
"He has come back from the injury a better dog," Campbell said. "His racing style has changed a little bit. He's starting to get a little closer (to other dogs) down to the (first) turn. He'll be 100 percent ready by the time the Fall Sprint comes around."
Craigie I Am Jak, a notoriously slow starter, captivates his fans on the 550-yard course. The races last slightly longer than 30 seconds, and he often has considerable ground to make up in the final 12.
"On that far turn, he is probably going 5, 6 or maybe 7 miles per hour faster than the dogs in front of him," Campbell said. "He has to make a split-second decision where to run. Most of the times, it's the right decision. He's exciting to watch."
Purchased for $2,500 at the National Greyhound Association spring meet in 2011, Craigie I Am Jak is owned by Campbell's wife, Michelle Edgar, and her mother, Tammy Edgar. "Michelle's dad (James Edgar) picked him out," Campbell said. "He found a diamond in the rough."
LABOR DAY SCHEDULE: Derby Lane will hold a 15-race matinee performance Monday. There will be no night racing, but the track will be open for poker and simulcast wagering.