ST. PETERSBURG — His cruising speed is comparable to many. His top speed is second to none.
Kelsos Ace High is the greyhound to beat in the 52nd annual $80,000 Distance Classic, Derby Lane's richest stakes that begins tonight.
"Ace is getting so much faster, he scares me," Lester Raines kennel assistant manager Jeanne Lesperance said. "He's one of those dogs that you hold your breath when he runs."
Kelsos Ace High is the track's ace under trainer Ken Lesperance, Jeanne's husband. He leads the meet with 11 victories. He has clocked six of the top-10 times at 660 yards, including a season-best 37.13 seconds on March 9. He specializes in coming from behind, rallying for 19 of his 25 career victories.
"His extra gear usually kicks in at the head of the homestretch," Jeanne said. "He starts to motivate it in the middle of the far turn. I think Ace is the fastest three-eighths (mile) dog here, but what we really want is some luck."
The distance-course dynamo has won 22 of 46 starts at 660 yards or longer. He is 3-for-16 at 550. Kelsos Ace High's pedigree is excellent. His sire, former sprinter Kelsos Fusileer, raced in the inaugural Derby Lane Million in 2006. Kelsos Picilino, his dam, was a marathon performer.
Kelsos Ace High is owned by sexagenarian John Kelly, who owns a breeding farm with wife Elizabeth in Farmingdale, N.J.
"John has raised some nice dogs over the years and is a big advocate of adopting every single dog he owns through New Jersey," Jeanne said.
This is the third stakes for Kelsos Ace High, who arrived at Derby Lane in 2010 after a brief stint at Wheeling Island (W.Va.). He finished second in the $75,000 660-Yard Challenge on Dec. 18. Last summer, the 76-pound greyhound was injured in his stakes debut, the $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby. Kelsos Ace High was knocked into the inner rail, cutting his left front stifle joint (knee). He required stitches and missed seven weeks.
"We babied him along since he was so young," Jeanne said. "Because he's a mellow dog he could have lost interest real quick."
Lester Raines, the defending kennel champion, has never won the Distance Classic. Kelsos Ace High drew box 7 in Race 10 (10:11 p.m.). Morning-line favorites in the other qualifiers: McAllister kennel's Flying Masago (Race 4), D'Arcy's Midnight Light (Race 6) and Red Oak Racing's Hammered Tight (Race 8). After four qualifying rounds, eight of the 32 entries will advance to the 660-yard finale April 9. First place plays $32,000.
STATE RULING: Ronnie Williams, the Ebro Greyhound Park trainer found responsible for the deaths of 37 greyhounds last year, had his license permanently revoked and was fined $170,000 recently by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. The fine is the largest assessed against an individual licensee.