ST. PETERSBURG — Lester reigns. That is the theme as Derby Lane's kennel race enters the stretch.
Balanced and consistent, Lester Raines is the one to catch. The West Virginia-based operation has repelled a recent surge by defending champion Patriot, built a sizeable lead and is closing in on its first championship at the St. Petersburg greyhound track.
"I started here 30 years ago and although I haven't been here all that time, I've never finished on top," kennel manager and trainer Ken Lesperance said. "It means a lot. I know Lester really wants this bad, but (Patriot manager and trainer) Victor (Hall) is tough."
Entering Friday, Lester Raines led Patriot in wins, 247-226. The six-month meet concludes Dec. 31.
"I'd love to be a spoiler," Hall said. "But I don't know if I can. Kenny has a good kennel and is a good trainer. He's not going to stop and wait for me."
Lester Raines has been atop the 16-kennel standings since Oct. 29. It has won at least 10 races each of the past 10 weeks, and 15 of the previous 16. Lester Raines' high mark was a 17-win week from Sept. 27-Oct. 2. It is the only kennel to win five races twice in a performance. Patriot used a meet-best 23-win week from Oct. 11-16 to briefly overtake Lester Raines. But Lester Raines has turned the tables with a sizzling November, winning 43 times through 28 performances, 18 more than Patriot. J.E. O'Donnell Jr. ranks third with 206 wins, 42 this month.
Lesperance doesn't receive many of the operation's top greyhounds, who race at higher paying West Virginia casino tracks, Tri-State near Charleston and Wheeling Island. But Lester Raines leads Derby Lane in Grade A wins with 69; McAllister kennel is second at 60.
"It's all these pups we got about six months ago at the last nationals (National Greyhound Association spring meet at Abilene, Kan.)," said Lesperance, who has worked with Lester Raines for 13 years.
The kennel's top dogs are Kiowa Lazy Lazy and Uss Gazillionair, who rank second and fourth at the meet with 15 and 13 wins, respectively. Uss Gazillionair's victory in the $20,000 Fall Juvenile on Nov. 13 extended Lester Raines' streak of winning a Derby Lane stakes to six consecutive meets, longest of any kennel. Lester Raines has not ranked lower than eighth in seven previous meets since 2005. It finished sixth in the past meet with 240 victories behind Patriot's 273.
Flying Coal City is the track's leading winner with 18. The McAllister dual-distance runner has been sidelined by a minor shoulder injury for five weeks but returns tonight in search of his 50th career victory. He drew the No. 2 box in Race 12 (10:45 p.m.), a 660-yard event.