ST. PETERSBURG — As Patriot kennel owner Vinny Savill made the commute on Wednesday evening from Boston to his Whitman, Mass., residence, Venus Espinosa was on his mind.
His star greyhound was going for a 10th consecutive victory at Derby Lane, less than a year after nearly being retired. But the track's top dog had his streak end with a fourth-place finish to Capabal kennel 20-1 shot Victori Twostep.
Venus Espinosa has taken Savill, 69, and Phyllis Savill, his wife of 48 years, on quite a ride. Sidelined seven months with an ankle injury, the 34-month-old male has become one of the nation's leading sprinters since returning.
"He is as good as any dog in the country," Savill said. "We're very blessed to have this kind of thing happen to us."
Savill purchased half interest in Venus Espinosa from breeder Kay Smith of Frederick, Okla. The dog didn't reach Grade A until his 32nd start and had injury issues, the most serious to an ankle that he hurt in 2011 in the $50,000 Fall Sprint. Savill and then-kennel manager-trainer Victor Hall considered two options: retire the dog or send him away for rest. They chose the latter.
Venus Espinosa went to a farm in Abilene, Kan., owned by Tom Taplin.
"We let him run around the farm for 90 days to see if we couldn't get the dog back to where we thought he should be," Savill said. "I told Tom to give me an honest appraisal after 30 to 60 days. Tom called me and said, 'I think the dog is going to be okay. … I've got nothing on the farm that can run with him.' We brought him back, and the rest is history."
A winner of 28 of 79 starts, Venus Espinosa returned in April under kennel manager-trainer Cal Holland Jr. During his win streak that began June 29, he clocked a career-best time of 30.40 seconds at 550 yards and won from every starting box except No. 1, where he lost Wednesday. His sire, Kiowa Mon Manny, won nine races in a row in 2005 at Wheeling Island (W. Va.).
But it is Venus Espinosa's dam, Sol Venus, which sparked Savill's interest in the 76-pound greyhound.
"Sol Venus was spectacular, and I just loved the breeding," he said.
Savill has purchased eight dogs from two litters out of Sol Venus, a Grade A sprinter at Lincoln Park (R.I.), which no longer has greyhound racing. Four were sired by Kiowa Mon Manny: Venus Aldridge, Venus Basaldua, Venus Coronado and Venus Espinosa. The others — Art Alex, Art Allen, Art Almost and Art's Adeline — are by Flying Penske, who is also the sire to Kiowa Mon Manny. All eight Sol Venus dogs have competed at Grade A at Derby Lane.
"Venus Espinosa is a special dog," Savill said. "With the win streak stopped, we'll probably give him a little bit of a rest and get him in good shape for the stakes races (the next one is the Fall Sprint on Sept. 15-29)."