ST. PETERSBURG — Dazed by a stressed economy and increased competition, Derby Lane plans to dazzle greyhound racing fans on the final Saturday of its 2009-10 meet.
The showdown tonight between Flying Coal City and Tmc's Remedy in the 84th annual St. Petersburg Derby on Fan Appreciation Night could provide a memorable moment in what has been a challenging year for the St. Petersburg greyhound track. The $30,000 Derby is Race 10 (10:11 p.m.), preceded by the $10,000 Consolation Derby in Race 8 (9:33 p.m.).
Arguably two of the nation's top 660-yard performers, Flying Coal City (McAllister Kennel) and Tmc's Remedy (Filipelli & O'Donnell) may be facing each other for the final time. Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Filipelli said Tmc's Remedy, a 2009 All-America member, will be retired to stud at the conclusion of the season Wednesday. Both dogs have won two stakes at the current meet and finished in a dead heat for the win in their Derby qualifier.
Fan Appreciation Night has been a winner for Derby Lane the past two seasons, averaging 2,660 patrons and more than $433,000 handle on the 15-race program. Numbers like that have been rare this season. Track president and chairman of the board Vey Weaver said Derby Lane will show declines in most statistical categories for the 417-performance meet.
Projected decreases will be in live on-track wagering (down 12.93 percent at $21,902.595), intrastate wagering (13.89 percent at $33,748,572), total wagering (3.68 percent at $116,104,644), attendance (3.86 percent at 704,511) and guest simulcast wagering (14.17 percent at $57,145,603).
Derby Lane's popularity outside Florida will be a boost with interstate wagering up 7.59 percent at $60,453,477. Card room revenue will be flat at $6,461,227, an increase of $11,334.
The Seminole Indian Tribe's gambling compact approved in April by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist limits gambling options for Derby Lane. But the pact allows for growth in poker, something Derby Lane will capitalize on. Beginning Thursday, the poker room will open a high-stakes area and expand its hours — 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11:30 a.m. to 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Renovation to main-line restrooms also is planned. Derby Lane will supplement purses for its 16 kennels and host the six-month Tampa Greyhound Track meet, beginning Thursday. The new season's first stakes race is Friday with Night of Stars XXIII, a national simulcast benefiting greyhound adoption.
"We have downsized (and are) carrying 50-some less employees than we had at the same time last year," Weaver said. "We're managing our expenses, but we're staying viable and profitable. We're excited about the new year coming up with the things going on in the poker room."