ST. PETERSBURG — Since joining Pauline O'Donnell kennel in 2010, manager-trainer John Graham has won more than 1,000 races with three top-five finishes in the Derby Lane kennel standings.
One element is still missing, a stakes win that Graham hopes to get in the $50,000 Fall Sprint Stakes. The 550-yard event begins tonight at Derby Lane and is the first stakes race of the season.
Graham, 53, has entered Tmc's Hazzard and Tmc's High Five for Pauline O'Donnell (the kennel changed its name last week from J.E. O'Donnell Jr.). Neither greyhound will be among the favorites, but Graham said more than a third of the 32-dog field has a legitimate shot at the $22,000 first-place paycheck.
The event has four qualifying rounds with the championship race Sept. 29. Tonight's stakes action is in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10.
"I think 12 or so dogs could win it," Graham said. "There are some pretty good dogs like Backwood Alva, (defending champion) Craigie I Am Jak and Venus Espinosa.
"It is an opportunity, because there is usually a Hi Noon Renegade (retired All-America sprinter) or some other dog that we run into that's really hard to beat. There is not one of those right now."
Graham's last stakes win came with the former Wayne Ward kennel in 2009, when Ww's Deathvalley captured the St. Petersburg Derby.
"I would feel really good to win a stakes race for the O'Donnells," he said. "If I could get that crossed off the list, we could go on and cross some other things off the list down the road."
Tmc's Pistol nearly ended the drought for Graham. He was a stakes runnerup twice to Triple Crown winner Flying Coal City, losing in the 2011 Inaugural and the 2010 Fall Sprint. He also finished third behind Hi Noon Renegade in the 2011 Sprint Classic.
Graham's top entry is Tmc's Hazzard, who starts from the 4-box in Race 10 (10:11 p.m.). He came to Derby Lane in May from Mardi Gras in Hallandale Beach. Tmc's Hazzard has nine career victories. In 26 starts at the St. Petersburg track, he has finished no worse than third 19 times with five wins.
"He's been in three-eighths for the last month because I'm trying to develop him (at the longer distance)," Graham said. "I'll be surprised if he doesn't make it to the semifinals."
Tmc's High Five drew post 8 in Race 8 (9:33). He has raced exclusively at Derby Lane, winning 10 of 56 races.
"His running style is not one of my favorites in sprinting," Graham said. "He's not an early speed dog. So he's going to have to work through trouble on the first turn and on the backstretch."
Early line favorites in tonight's qualifiers: Venus Espinosa (Race 4), Oneco Kennedy (6), Backwood Alva (8) and Skatter Mcbones (10). Craigie I Am Jak is in Race 6.
MORE DOGS: Flyin Carnoustie of McAllister kennel picked up his 70th career victory Wednesday.