ST. PETERSBURG — Storm Rush is the belle of the ball.
The only female to qualify for tonight's $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge, Storm Rush is no longer a blip on Derby Lane's radar. The Royal Racing Team greyhound is in her first stakes final, less than two months after her racing debut.
The task for the event's youngest starter is to defeat Nova kennel two-time stakes winner Hi Noon Renegade and six other dogs with a combined 149 wins from 565 starts.
"That's one of the challenges when you're a trainer," Royal Racing Team conditioner Doug Flint said. "I like to see a dog that I've got confidence in run against the best competition and see what happens. I think she proved (in Wednesday's semifinals) that she's one of the best dogs here, even though she's only had 12 starts."
Storm Rush drew post 2 in Race 8 (9:33 p.m.). She advanced with a career-best time of 30.54 seconds at 550 yards and snapped the seven-race winning streak of Aerial Battle, who finished last and was taken off the active list. It was Storm Rush's sixth victory under Flint and co-worker Greg Morse, both of whom joined the Royal team in April. Storm Rush is owned by James Hambleton of Solomon, Kan. Flint said Hambleton and his wife, Helen, will take ownership of the kennel July 1.
A 21-month-old dog out of a litter by 2005 Southland Park (Ark.) Sprint Derby winner Kiowa Mon Manny and Sizzler Drive, Storm Rush rushed up the graded ladder. After a second in her career debut, she won four consecutive races to reach Grade A.
All Storm Rush's wins have been at 550 yards, but Flint has raced her twice at 660, prepping for a possible start in the $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby, which begins June 18.
"(Storm Rush) doesn't have to be in front to win a race and has shown bottom (late closing ability), even in 3/8ths (660)," Flint said. "She's got the demeanor of an older dog in the kennel. She isn't intimidated by anything."
Flint, a 67-year-old native of The Dalles, Ore., has been successful with dual-distance dogs. He trained Extruding Dream, a 2006 All-America team member and Flashy Sir winner (top distance dog). The greyhound was the first in Derby Lane history to set track records at two distances (550 and 660) in the same meet. Both marks have since fallen.
Extruding Dream also won the 2007 T.L. Weaver, his last of five stakes victories. Flint's last stakes win came in 2008 with Lamorge Aces Up in Night of Stars XXI.
Other T.L. Weaver starters from the rail: Kiowa Tori Tech (McAllister kennel), Kiowa Class King (Patriot), Hi Noon Renegade, M's Free Agent (Floyd & Porter), Uss Gazillionair (Lester Raines), Backwood Cody (Campbell Greyhound Racing) and Cool Pinto Bay (Charter).
Kiowa Tori Tech snapped Hi Noon Renegade's 10-race winning streak Wednesday, putting McAllister atop the kennel standings.