ST. PETERSBURG — Family surrounded Jason Billington at his 5-acre farm in Murray, Ky., ready to watch the Derby Lane race on the Night of Stars XXIII national simulcast via Internet.
Billington, 42, knew the night could be special if his greyhound ran with purpose.
Special Purpose did.
A former resident of St. Pete Beach and part-owner of an insurance agency in Murray, Billington said it was "like winning the lottery" after Special Purpose, the first racing greyhound he ever purchased, won his stakes debut July 2.
"I'm a little overwhelmed. But at the same time, I'm real happy," Billington said. "God gives us the ability to run fast, and God gives us desire. I'm just glad Special Purpose has some of both.
"When you buy a dog out of a litter, he could be a (Grade) D dog his whole life. Some guys have dogs for 20 years and never have a stakes dog. I'm more pleased than anybody could ever be."
It was the first career stakes win for Billington and Charter Kennel trainer Danielle Asbury. Special Purpose, a 23-month-old male out of a litter by national two-time leading sire Dodgem By Design and Power Of Faith, faced seven rivals that totaled 540 starts and 155 wins.
They included stakes winner Aerial Battle and two-time stakes winner Flying Coal City, leading winners at the Derby Lane meet that ended June 30.
In his 25th career start and second since an on-track fall on June 14, Special Purpose led box to wire for his 11th victory, winning by 5 lengths at 13-1 odds.
His time for 550 yards was a not-so-fast 30.86 seconds.
"There's more to dog racing than flat-out speed," Billington said.
"And that's something as a newcomer I'm learning."
Special Purpose recorded his second win of Derby Lane's new season on Wednesday. He has helped Billington overcome the loss of family pet Maverick, a 12-year-old nonracing Italian greyhound who died in 2008.
"I was torn up," Billington said.
"I told my wife (Katherine) I loved greyhound racing and began to pull my notes."
The information was 14 years old when Billington first contacted Charter about getting into the business.
"Back then, I didn't have any money and moved back to Kentucky," he said.
Billington began bonding with greyhounds at Derby Lane, where he used to watch thoroughbred simulcasts from 1994-96.
Special Purpose is part of a nine-pup litter whelped at Tanner Kennels in Elgin, Texas. He came to Derby Lane in February.
Billington, who also owns Wheeling Island (W.Va.) Grade AA sprinter Petro Mcpiercy, has yet to see Special Purpose race in person.
"When Special Purpose started schooling, Jay Childs (Charter's farm development program manager) said he thought the dog would be well suited for Derby Lane," Billington said.
"That was great (because) that is where I fell in love with dog racing."