ST. PETERSBURG — Not long after his high school days were over, Henry Parker became acquainted with Raymond Thurber.
"I was 22 when I went to work for him," said Parker, who operates Capabal kennel at Derby Lane. "We met at Hinsdale (Greyhound Park) in New Hampshire over 40 years ago."
The two dog men remained close after that with Thurber, a greyhound breeder, sending his dogs to Parker to race at the St. Petersburg track. But earlier this month, after Hurricane Irma blew through Florida, Parker learned that Thurber had passed away.
Mr. Thurber, who lived in the Florida panhandle town of Vernon, died Sept. 11 because of undisclosed health issues. The native of Pawtucket, R.I., was 74.
"I called him (one day) and he sounded fine," Parker said. "Then the family called me up and said he had passed away. He just went real quick."
Parker would like nothing better than to give Mr. Thurber's wife, Kathleen "Bette" Thurber, and daughter, Brenda Levesque — who now handle the family greyhounds — a stakes title Saturday night in the $50,000 Husker Magic Fall Sprint. Parker has arguably the dog with the best current form in Brian Ernst, a 27-month-old male from a litter by Street Credit and Kelsi Purcell, who was whelped by Mr. Thurber.
"It would mean quite a bit (to win)," Parker said. "Ray enjoyed the dogs. He told me when he retired, he was going to give dogs that he raised to me. He didn't really care about racing them at Southland (Park in West Memphis, Ark.) and anywhere else. It was working out so good with him and I, that he decided he was going to breed some more litters here and there."
Mr. Thurber's dogs also helped Parker, a native of Plattsburgh, N.Y., win his only Derby Lane kennel title in 2014.
Brian Ernst led Husker Magic qualifiers with 56 points. He ranks second in the meet win standings with nine, one behind Rt's Bo Jangles of Cal Holland kennel. The Husker Magic is Race 10 at 9:47 p.m. First place pays $22,000.
"It's all about timing (and) he's looking good right now," Parker said. "If he doesn't get jammed on the break and he gets a clean lane, he's pretty tough. He prefers to be mid-track (to) outside like most of the race dogs do. He's a big strong dog that can push through dogs, too."
Like many dogs whelped by Mr. Thurber, Brian Ernst is named after a thoroughbred jockey, Bryan Ernst, a stakes-winning rider.
Brian Ernst, a lifetime winner of 20 races, is seeking his first career stakes crown under trainer Belinda Parker. He also advanced to the finale in the $20,000 Remembrance on May 29, finishing fifth to Poweroftraction of Nova kennel.
The field from the rail: Sh Norio (D'Arcy kennel), Pj Angelofmercy (Rangel), Tmc's Moonbeam (Steubenville), Brian Ernst, Rt's Bo Jangles, Barts Mr Peabody (Bartley Corporation), Kentucky Boy (Cal Holland) and Se's Wepon X (Nova).