ST. PETERSBURG — As stakes finals go, Lester Raines Kennel manager-trainer Ken Lesperance has the routine down to a "T": Wear a favorite tie. Take a trip to the winner's circle. Treasure the moment.
Career Goals or Kelsos Mercedes can keep that routine intact for him tonight in the $20,000 Fall Juvenile Stakes at Derby Lane. For the second consecutive year, Lester Raines has two of eight finalists in the 550-yard championship event (Race 10, 10:09 p.m.). Kelsos Hathaway won in 2008, making Lester Raines the only operation to win at least one stakes in each of the past four meets. The streak includes the Gold Trophy Juvenile (Craigie Mr Venus), the former St. Petersburg Puppy Preview (In Your Eye) and Night of Stars XVII (Solitary Demon). Only the last was not for younger dogs.
"Really, it's the luck of what dogs I get," Lesperance said.
Six of the eight dogs in the Fall Juvenile won at least once through four qualifying rounds. Career Goals was the points leader at 54 with wins in his first three starts. Kelsos Mercedes, ninth in points, was added Thursday after kennelmate and eighth-place qualifier Heza Career Man was scratched with an ankle injury. The 26-month-old sprinters were sired by Dodgem By Design, a member of the 2002 All-America team and a two-time stakes winner at Derby Lane. Career Goals, owned by Deborah Strickland of Kansas, ranks second in the track's win standings with 12 and has clocked two of the top 10 times at 550 yards (30.45 and 30.46 seconds, both in qualifying). He has won seven of his past 10 starts after racing briefly at 660 yards.
"I want to use him in the three-eighths stakes (660-Yard Challenge that begins Dec. 5), and he has to have four lines (at that distance)," Lesperance said. "Prior to that, he wasn't running as well as he should. I thought, we'll pop him over to the backside. We've got nothing to lose."
The field from the rail: Magic Porkchop (McAllister Kennels), Ww's Revamped (Wayne Ward), Ww Bountiful (Patriot), Kelsos Mercedes, Deco Bull Rum (Capabal), Career Goals, Uss Happy Camper (Charter) and Kiowa Ak Richpie (Patriot). Magic Porkchop and Deco Bull Rum were multiple winners in qualifying with three and two, respectively. First place pays $9,000.
MORE DERBY LANE: Lamorge Streaker (Alderson), the meet wins leader with 13, went for her 70th career victory Friday night. She returned recently following a six-week layoff with a toe injury.
THOROUGHBREDS: Tampa Bay Downs opened its barn area this week. Training begins Friday in preparation for the Oldsmar track's 84th season, starting Dec. 12. … Calder Race Course holds its Florida Million card today with eight stakes totaling $1.2 million. The Elmer Heubeck Distaff and Carl G. Rose Classic, both $200,000 races, head the 12-race card. First post is 12:25 p.m. at Miami Gardens.