ST. PETERSBURG — When Patty Byers delivered her Daytona Beach dogs to Derby Lane, she also brought desire and determination.
Her Alabama Racing kennel was a former powerhouse at the track on Florida's east coast, winning 11 consecutive championships. But Byers knew patience would be equally important for her first St. Petersburg booking. Following a personal-worst start to a meet, Byers has seen her stock pick up the pace, with 22 of her 65 dogs winning races.
"I knew they'd come around," said Byers, 54, whose operation was 15th in the 16-kennel standings with 37 victories entering Friday (McAllister led with 98). "My dogs were having trouble, but they were just learning the track."
Alabama began the meet July 1 with 64 losses in a row and later went 0-for-38. Both winless streaks are the longest in Byers' career. The Miami native has been linked to dogs for five decades, and her family has a rich greyhound tradition. Byers' stepfather and mother, Forbes and Rita Spencer, moved dogs to Florida from Kansas in the 1930s. Her mother, later known as Rita White, had a booking at Derby Lane in the 1960s.
Byers has raced dogs primarily in Florida, the past 20 years at Daytona Beach. Derby Lane's stakes program and higher purse structure attracted her to St. Petersburg. Byers' husband, Todd, remains in Daytona Beach, where he owns leading kennel Waverider Racing. Many of Byers' greyhounds are supplied by Sharon Williams, a top breeder who lives with her husband D.Q. in Sayre, Okla. "Sharon has the quality of dogs," Byers said. "I think I should start next year with a very competitive kennel."
Young sprinters dominate Alabama, with 31 victories in grades C, D and maiden, and 32 wins on the 550-yard course. Williams' dogs have produced 24 victories, including the kennel's only Grade A win, by 660-yard specialist Ah's Graciela.
"She is a very nice little girl," Byers said. "In her first race (at Derby Lane), it was thundering and lightning. She was totally devastated. It took her a couple of races to get her courage back."
Byers was a one-person operation, working more than 100 hours a week, until her recent hire of trainer Gerardo Velez. "I lost 20 pounds and had to get new clothes," she said. "Everything was falling off."
LABOR DAY RACING: Derby Lane will hold a 15-race matinee performance Monday. There will be no evening card, but the track will remain open for poker and simulcast wagering.