ST. PETERSBURG — The perfect ending to Paul Caple's career would be a super showing by his superhero sprinter.
Aerial Battle, Derby Lane's leading winner, is capable of delivering that tonight in the $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge. It is the final 550-yard stakes of the greyhound track's 2009-10 season, and the last one for Caple, co-owner of Capabal Kennel. He will retire from his self-proclaimed labor of love on July 1, his 70th birthday.
"Winning would be super, a good way to cap (my career) off," Caple said.
Aerial Battle is called Batman in the kennel. He has been a Derby Lane favorite son, the wagering choice in his past 16 starts. Brought to St. Petersburg in 2009 when Twin River started to end dog racing at Lincoln, R.I., the 33-month-old brindle male out of a litter by Dodgem By Design and Abita Cruzin is closing in on the meet win title, leading McAllister Kennel's Flying Coal City 23-18. The season ends June 30. Aerial Battle drew the No. 7 box in the T.L. Weaver (Race 8, 9:33 p.m.). Flying Coal City has the rail.
Trained by Belinda Parker for owner John Bladen of Blair, Okla., Aerial Battle does much of his work early. In 20 of his 23 wins — all at Grade A — he has led at the first call (25 yards past the escape turn) by a total of 65 lengths. Derby Lane chart writer Timothy Barr said dogs that perform like that "end up in the Hall of Fame (or) win the Rural Rube (National Greyhound Association's yearly award for top sprinter)."
Aerial Battle has excelled at Derby Lane, winning 29 of 56 starts. Overall, he has 34 victories from 75 races, 15 out of the Nos. 6 and 7 boxes. "He can run from any (post) position," Caple said. "That is the mark of a real dog."
Caple ranks Aerial Battle with his former sprinter, Arron Bowman, Tampa Greyhound Track win leader in 1989.
"We had Arron Bowman the first year at Derby Lane in 1990," Caple said. "He was the all-out favorite to win the Sprint Classic. Unfortunately, he broke a leg in the semifinals."
This will be Aerial Battle's fourth stakes final this year. He won the $10,000 Matinee Idol on Jan. 23 and was second in the $85,000 Sprint Classic on March 6 and the $8,000 Inaugural on Jan. 2. Caple has owned dogs since 1978. He resides at his Tarpon Springs farm and will turn over the kennel to partner Henry Parker.
"I'm still going to keep my hand in it," Caple said. "I don't want the obligations and responsibilities anymore. The dog people, in general, 99 percent of them are in it because they love the animals. That's what I'm going to miss — the people, characters, the gamblers I used to know. A lot of the old-timers that helped me when I started are gone now. Henry and I have been together for over 20 years. Next to the word in the dictionary, gentleman, is Henry. He's just a super individual."