ST. PETERSBURG — Trainer Kim McAuliffe let out a sigh of relief.
Red Dirt Road finally became a stakes winner, ending a drought for La Rosa Enterprises.
The 34-month-old red fawn male shed his tag as a "tough-luck stakes runner" on June 7, winning the T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge at Derby Lane. It was his first stakes title in seven opportunities and his 50th career win.
Red Dirt Road took a step toward clinching the season win title with his meet-record 40th victory, three more than McAllister Kennels' Flying Macbeth entering Friday. The meet ends June 30.
"He needed this one," McAuliffe said. "He's had no luck at all (in stakes)."
It also provided a boost to kennel owner Tom La Rosa, who won his first Derby Lane stakes since 2005 when Kaias Hogan captured the St. Petersburg Puppy Preview.
Owned by Margaret Roban Bridges and Dorothy Roban, Red Dirt Road had found the going tough in big races. He advanced to the final in five of six previous stakes, but his best finish had been second, in the Matinee Idol Jan. 26.
His luck changed in the T.L. Weaver, avoiding first-turn crowding to take an insurmountable lead into the backstretch.
"I thought he was in a tough area on the rail with all the speed coming down on him, but we happened to be in the right spot," La Rosa said.
Red Dirt Road has been the standout from a nine-pup litter out of Ben Awhile and Izz Our Rags, producing nearly half of the litter's 107 combined wins. Red Dirt Road also surpassed his sire's lifetime win total of 49. Ben Awhile, an All-America sprinter (first team in 2002 and second team in 2003), was a four-time stakes champion and top winner at Tampa Greyhound Track in 2002 for owner George Adler.
Red Dirt Road moved atop the standings with an eight-race win streak from March 10 to April 14 when Flying Macbeth was sidelined by injury. He has twice clocked the meet's third-fastest 550-yard time of 30.14 seconds. The 73-pound dog has been a consistent earner for La Rosa with 84 top-four finishes in 94 lifetime starts (89.2 percent).
SPECIAL VISIT: Patrick Macri, 16, who watches St. Petersburg dog races regularly on television at his home in Canada, will realize his wish of experiencing live racing in Tampa Bay. The Sunshine Foundation of Canada, similar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is fulfilling his wish. Derby Lane has planned several activities for Macri on Monday, highlighted by a race named in his honor and a kennel visit. He will be joined by his parents and grandfather.
THOROUGHBREDS: Former Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Kirk Ziadie will send Blue Pepsi Lodge and Paradise Dancer to the post in the $100,000 Ponche Handicap today at Calder in Miami Gardens. Four other stakes are on the 13-race card: $100,000 Unbridled, $100,000 U Can Do It, $100,000 Leave Me Alone and $36,000 Big Bubble. Blue Pepsi Lodge, winner of the $85,000 Sprint on April 5 at Oldsmar, has been assigned top weight of 124 pounds. Entries in the Unbridled include Tampa Bay Derby runners Gentleman James and Make Me Zach. … Four-year-old Curlin, who is undefeated this year and coming off a record 7¾-length win in the $6-million Dubai World Cup in March, is the heavy favorite today in the $1-million Stephen Foster Handicap, a nine-horse, 11/8-mile race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.