ST. PETERSBURG — As the weather warmed, La Rosa Enterprises cooled. Kennel owner Tom La Rosa had to rebuild his operation. And a virus hit the kennel, producing arcticlike results.
A win by Tk Rapala in tonight's $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge at Derby Lane would allow La Rosa to dismiss the past several months.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," he said. "The financial end ($3,200 first-place paycheck) would help right now with the way things have been going for me the last six to seven weeks. We've lost some quality dogs and (have been) trying to break in young ones."
Infection among the 59-dog kennel didn't help. "It was like a 24- to 36-hour virus. Dogs would eat, get sick and couldn't hold anything down," La Rosa said. "Thank God, the last 10 days they've been healthy."
La Rosa will try to become the first back-to-back winner in the T.L. Weaver (Race 8, 9:30 p.m.). The kennel won last year's event with Red Dirt Road and can join defunct Greymeadow Kennel as the only operations to win the 550-yard race twice. In its 13th year, the T.L. Weaver is held in honor of Derby Lane's late founder, the great-grandfather of track president/chairman of the board Vey Weaver and vice president Richard Winning.
Tk Rapala, a 30-month-old male out of a litter by Premier Fantasy and Fuzzys Jailbird, ran a career-best 30.40 seconds in Wednesday's qualifier. Trained by Kim McAuliffe for owner George Adler, Tk Rapala has 19 lifetime victories from 67 races. He starts from the No. 5 box. All eight qualifiers have stakes experience, but only Magic City's Lamorge Aces Up (Night of Stars XXI) and Filipelli & O'Donnell's Tmc's Trail Boss (Matinee Idol) have stakes victories. The rest of the field: Bow Tie Brigade (Floyd & Porter Kennel), Craigie Londoner (D'Arcy), Lamorge Streaker (Alderson), Silver Geico (Charter) and Suppliesrlimited (Abernathy).
La Rosa is snapping out of a nine-week slump that began March 23, when it won only 38 races during 72 performances. The track's other 15 operations averaged 74.6 wins during that stretch. La Rosa ranks 13th in the standings.
"(The virus) just knocked the edge off a lot of dogs," La Rosa said. "They're feeling better now."
Lamorge Streaker is the only female sprinter. She is the oldest entry, 43 months, has the most career victories (53) and starts (147), and is the only greyhound to run exclusively at Grade A this meet. Trained by kennel owner Jan Alderson, Lamorge Streaker has the best career time (30.28) of any starter.
Four dogs — Bow Tie Brigade, Craigie Londoner, Lamorge Aces Up and Tmc's Trail Boss — were sired by 2003 Derby Lane wins leader and T.L. Weaver runnerup Lonesome Cry.