ST. PETERSBURG — Life in the 60s was a treat for Ken and Jeanne Lesperance.
Sixty wins in August have elevated their Lester Raines kennel to the top of the standings at Derby Lane.
"We just keep knocking on wood, trying not to think about it," said Jeanne, whose husband, Ken, is the kennel manager and trainer. "(The dogs) have been flying so hard. We are so pleased with the way they are running."
Lester Raines is no stranger to success at Derby Lane. In eight meets since 2004, it has finished third to eighth in wins. It is the only kennel to win a stakes at St. Petersburg in each of the past five seasons. The accomplishments haven't come easily. Many of the operation's top greyhounds run at West Virginia casino tracks Tri-State and Wheeling Island, where purses are substantially higher. Raines' home track is Tri-State near Charleston, where he won an unprecedented 20th consecutive kennel title in 2007.
When the Derby Lane meet got under way, Lester Raines had several new litters of pups to develop. At least six higher-grade dogs were sidelined by injury. Lester Raines was fourth in the 16-kennel standings on Aug. 1, 10 wins behind defending champion Patriot. But the youthful greyhounds began maturing, and nicked-up dogs like Far Site Better, Kelsos Ace High, Kelsos Devil Era and Poppys Pick returned. The 52-dog operation has rolled since, entering Friday with a 106-94 win lead over Patriot.
Four Grade A sprinters have carried the load. Uss Gazillionair and littermates Kiowa Lazy Larry, Kiowa Lazy Lazy and Kiowa Lazy Lott have combined for 24 victories, 18 at Grade A. Lester Raines is first in Grade A wins with 27.
"Thank God we've got dogs that can win back-to-back (Grade) A's because that's where your money is," Jeanne said. "So many of our dogs are not short in sprints (550 yards), almost all of them come from behind. If you let them around third or fourth (on the first turn), they're going to give you a run for the money."
In August, Lester Raines had at least one victory in 27 of 34 performances, including 22 multiple-win showings. Twice, it won four races on a card. Lester Raines didn't win more than 10 races in any of the meet's first five weeks, but had 15, 15, 11 and 16 victories in the past four weeks. Lester Raines has 575 starts, 172 fewer than Patriot. Its win percentage is 18.4 and in-the-money percentage (top-four finish) is 59.1.
"Being on top is nice," Jeanne said, "but it's more important that we're making enough money that (Raines) can pay the bills and we can pay our bills."
NOTES: Elizabeth Carter has joined Filipelli kennel as a trainer. … Derby Lane will host a Labor Day 15-race matinee performance Monday with first post at 12:30 p.m. There will be no evening performance. The track will remain open for poker and simulcast wagering.