ST. PETERSBURG — The man on the other end of the conversations pays the bills, supplies the greyhounds — and could walk into his kennel and not be recognized.
Derby Lane kennel owner John Lashmet has never been seen by Ken Deacon, his manager-trainer.
"This has been a phone get-together," Deacon said. "I told (Lashmet) for never having met him personally, I feel like I've known him for a while.
"The biggest thing between us is we don't try to convince the other one that we know more than the other."
The arrangement has flourished. Lashmet begins today as the top kennel at Derby Lane. No operation has more wins since June 1 than Lashmet, which finished second in the meet that ended June 30.
Deacon, 61, was a commercial fisherman a year ago, working charters from Longboat Key to Clearwater. In October, he learned of the Lashmet position from manager-trainer Tom Artzer, who was leaving to work on Lashmet's farm in Fort Lupton, Colo.
At the time, Deacon was an assistant for Pauline O'Donnell kennel, where he had been for only three weeks following a 15-year hiatus from the dogs.
"I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it and had what it takes," Deacon said. "(Lashmet) lets me do what I want, and he spares no expense."
When Lashmet hired Deacon, he had little trouble with the background check.
Deacon's history at Derby Lane began more than four decades ago, when Bill Bell — now the track plant superintendent — asked if he wanted to be a leadout (take the dogs from the paddock to the starting box). They were classmates at Northeast High in St. Petersburg, and Bell was a leadout.
Deacon's first kennel job was with Bob Thomas followed by stints with Sonny and Eddie Alderson — all members of the Greyhound Hall of Fame.
"I learned most of my stuff from them," Deacon said.
The native of Rochester, N.Y., believed he had a prime training job in 1999, when multiple kennel champion Bahama Mama took over Pro Racing kennel. Deacon said he was told the position was his, but he learned the next morning it had been given to someone else.
"That's the day I left (dog racing) and didn't come back for 15 years," Deacon said.
Deacon's first stakes win with Lashmet came June 28 with Jacks Lil Bigman in the $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby.
"I do a lot of old-time training," Deacon said. "The secret is keeping your dogs healthy."
Deacon also is an avid softball player who hits .575 as a shortstop.
"I give my wife (Nadine) a lot of credit," he said. "Her patience helps me a lot."
MORE greyhounds: Husker Magic of Abernathy kennel won her eighth consecutive race Wednesday.
HORSES: Kid Cruz, owned by Steven Brandt and Rick Boylan of St. Pete Beach, drew Post 5 for the Grade II $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes today (Race 10, 6:01 p.m.) at Saratoga Springs in New York. The seven-horse field includes Belmont winner Tonalist.