ST. PETERSBURG — The 101/2-hour, 490-mile drive last week to Derby Lane from Tallassee, Ala., went smoothly for Red Oak Racing kennel owner Robert Lambert. Getting on the highway was more challenging.
"All dog men are superstitious, and I thought if I go, I'm going to jinx my dog," Lambert said. "My daughter (Emily Messer) said, 'Daddy, you need to go.' I believed her, packed some clothes and drove down."
His Flying Big Gun made it worthwhile, winning the $75,000 660-Yard Challenge on Dec. 17 with a dynamic finish to defeat meet wins-leader Kentucky Fire. It was the first stakes victory for Flying Big Gun and first at Derby Lane for trainer Gary Buckmaster and Lambert, who joined the St. Petersburg track roster 15 months ago. Lambert, 63, acquired bookings at Derby Lane and Jacksonville when his home track, VictoryLand in Shorter, Ala., ended greyhound racing.
"When we first came (to Derby Lane), people told us that we couldn't compete and didn't belong," Lambert said. "We've proved them a little wrong and that there wasn't that much difference in the caliber of dogs (brought from VictoryLand)."
Red Oak ranks third in wins among 15 Derby Lane kennels behind defending champion McAllister and Hambleton Racing. In the previous meet (January to June), Red Oak finished fourth. When Flying Big Gun rallied to win by a neck, Buckmaster wasn't surprised.
"Big Gun has got bottom, and the post position (No. 1 box) was the key for him," said Buckmaster, hired in September. "It was just a matter of letting him grow up and getting him used to the track before I put him over for distance."
Flying Big Gun, a 20-month-old male out of a litter by Flying Penske and Flying Ac Dc, was moved to the 660-yard course after his fourth-round elimination in the $20,000 Fall Juvenile on Nov. 5. In his final two 660 races, he clocked his fastest times (37.13 and 37.44 seconds). Flying Big Gun has seven victories from 29 lifetime starts, his past five from the No. 1 post for breeder/owner Vince Berland of Abilene, Kan. "Big Gun is kind of goofy," Buckmaster said. "He's fun to be around, real friendly and playful."
Lambert said Flying Big Gun is expected to remain at Derby Lane for the $80,000 Distance Classic that begins March 24.
HOLIDAY SCHEDULE: Derby Lane is open today for a matinee. Poker and simulcast wagering are available. Monday, the track has a matinee with poker and simulcast wagering. There is no evening racing either day. Tampa Bay Downs and Tampa Greyhound Track are open today for poker and simulcast wagering only. All three sites are closed on Christmas.