ST. PETERSBURG — A strong stomach helps John Lashmet with life's speed bumps.
In 2008 he and wife Jill drew up a five-year retirement plan: Move to Fort Lupton, Colo., race dogs at Mile High Greyhound Park in Commerce City and improve their financial status at America's highest-paying noncasino dog track. Two months after their arrival, the facility closed, eventually depleting their savings.
Several years ago they purchased a kennel at Orange Park near Jacksonville. The operation had more quantity than quality and had to be restocked.
Now the Lashmets are trying their luck at Derby Lane. Again, the start was challenging.
"There were some factors I hadn't thought about (compared with Orange Park)," said John Lashmet, 58. "The lure is so much quieter that the dogs couldn't hear it, and the (starting) box lid at Jacksonville had real wide slits to see through in the front (they are narrower at Derby Lane). Our dogs were breaking dead last for two to three weeks.
"The water at Derby Lane was different, so we've worked hard on that. And we used to haul dogs 20 miles to race at Jacksonville (the compound is onsite at Derby Lane)."
Lashmet and trainer Tom Artzer may have gotten the kinks out. Lashmet dogs have improved their in-the-money finishes recently to 65 percent with top-four showings. The kennel had its first three-win performance Feb. 1. And top sprinter Lk's Now R Never may be a threat in the $64,000 Sprint Classic, Derby Lane's richest 550-yard stakes race that begins Feb. 16.
When Lester Raines left Derby Lane in December for Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark., he told Lashmet about the St. Petersburg vacancy. Lashmet's kennel was third in the Orange Park win standings upon moving.
"I thought we'd tear through (Derby Lane)," Lashmet said. "It has a long home stretch, and we've got big closing dogs."
He said the convenience of the St. Petersburg compound has lowered his weekly expenses $700. Lashmet also leases dogs at Birmingham (Ala.), Bluffs Run (Council Bluffs, Iowa), Tucson (Ariz.) and Southland Park. Lashmet names his greyhounds with the prefix Lk's for Lashmet kennels.
The shutdown of Mile High Park was a blow to Lashmet. Before moving to the 30-acre Colorado farm where he whelps and trains greyhounds, Lashmet had always lived at the homestead of his great-grandfather in Manter, Kan., land that Lashmet now owns.
"Financially, after six to eight months (in Colorado), we were ruined," Lashmet said. "Before that, we had stayed out of the business for 14 years and got back in. The love for watching the greyhounds race and training them is just something really hard to stay away from."
HORSES: Spectacular Sky is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the $50,000 Manatee Stakes (Race 8, 3:55 p.m.) today at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar.