ST. PETERSBURG — Ask greyhound kennel manager/trainer Doug Flint about Hambleton Racing's core and he points to St. Petersburg Derby winner Storm Rush, and Grade A sprinters Manicotti Manny and Speedy Sprocket.
Miss Pasha may become just as significant. She won Hambleton's first race of the meet July 1, and another victory in the kennel's final race tonight may give the first-year operation the kennel championship at Derby Lane.
The six-month meet concludes with a matinee-evening doubleheader. Entering Friday, defending champion McAllister and Hambleton shared first place with 265 wins apiece. Red Oak Racing was third at 259.
"Certainly, it would be nice to win (the title)," Flint said. "I fully expect this is going to go down to (tonight). One of us will be ahead by one or two wins, or we might even be tied. We just hope our dogs run well."
This is the first career booking for kennel owners James and Helen Hambleton of Solomon, Kan. They took over the former Royal Racing Team operation July 1.
Sparked by 32 combined victories from Storm Rush, Speedy Sprocket and Manicotti Manny, Hambleton has rallied from a 24-win deficit in September to tie McAllister. Miss Pasha has only four victories this meet, but one more by the Grade D sprinter in Race 13 (11:01 p.m.) could wrap up the championship. Hambleton has dogs entered in 20 of 30 races today; McAllister is entered in 13 races.
"We have a good foundation and the other dogs have filled in the holes," Flint said. "Jim sent us a couple litters of pups (by) Extruding Dream and Oshkosh Slammer that have developed into nice dogs. We've been able to keep everybody fairly healthy and managed to have 40 to 45 dogs active all the time. You get a lot of starts, and that makes a difference, too."
Hambleton had 1,911 starts, 401 more than McAllister. Kentucky Fire (Race 8) has clinched at least a tie for top dog with 18 victories for Cal Holland kennel. All-America candidate Hi Noon Renegade of Nova can tie Kentucky Fire with a career-best 11th consecutive victory in Race 10.
MORE DOGS: Derby Lane opens its 87th season Monday. The $8,000 Inaugural kicks off the stakes schedule Wednesday night with qualifying in Races 6 and 10. The top four finishers in each race advance to the 550-yard finale Jan. 7.
HORSES: It's Me Mom goes for her fourth stakes win today in the $50,000 Minaret at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. Trained by Lynne Scace, It's Me Mom faces nine fillies and mares in the 6-furlong sprint (Race 8, 3:42 p.m.). Willie Martinez has the mount on the 2-1 morning-line favorite. … Jockey Leandro Goncalves won his 1,000th race Wednesday aboard Jamie Ness trainee Rich Hero.
HOLIDAY SCHEDULE: Derby Lane, Tampa Bay Downs and Tampa Greyhound Track will be open New Year's Day with poker and simulcast wagering only.