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Still thrills for longtime Derby Lane employee

ST. PETERSBURG — Derby Lane lure operator Eddie "Chubby" Dodson says he doesn't have a "real job."

Between races, he often reads or watches television.

"But," he said, "for that 32 seconds (in a 550-yard race), you've got to be on the ball."

Tonight, Dodson will be in his usual place — inside the tote board, where the lure room is located — as Derby Lane wraps up a weekend celebration of its 84th year of greyhound racing. Dodson, 72, the track's longest tenured employee, is in his 49th season.

"No, I didn't think I'd be working here (this long)," said Dodson, who began in valet parking in 1960, later moved to maintenance and became the lure operator in 1993. "The work was all right, but it was the excitement of gambling. And the Weavers have been great to work for."

The $8,000 Inaugural Stakes (Race 10, 10:07) tops tonight's performance. Derby Lane kicked off festivities Friday with the opening of Derby Club, a new poker room and simulcast area — all part of a $2.5-million renovation. The 21,000-square-foot poker room features 50 tables and 50 television monitors. It is located on the Derby Club ground floor, with the simulcast area in Derby Club 4. And the track is more eco-friendly.

"Fans are going to like the way things are," spokeswoman Vera Filipelli said. "We'll have a challenge (with the economy downturn) this season, but we've done everything we can to give our customers what they want."

Derby Lane has always been linked to the Weaver family. Vey Weaver is the track's seventh president. His great-grandfather, T.L. Weaver, opened the facility Jan. 2, 1925.

The field for the Inaugural Stakes (in post position order): Kelsos Hathaway, Born To Dream, Echo Summit, Lamorge Streaker, Tmc's Trail Boss, Flying Mancini, Deco Ellen Alone and Bow Tie Brigade. Before the 550-yard event, retired 2007 Inaugural winner Extruding Dream of Magic City Kennel will parade onto the track.

MORE DERBY LANE: Patriot Kennel, an operation from Massachusetts, will soon be added to the roster. … Derby Lane started running under its racing permit Thursday after racing under the permit of Tampa Greyhound Track the previous six months. The move allowed Tampa to host simulcast wagering and poker without live greyhound racing.

HORSES: Breeders' Cup runner Dream Rush is among 10 fillies and mares entered today in the 6-furlong $65,000 Minaret Stakes (Race 10, 4:37 p.m.) at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. … Two $100,000 stakes, Grade III Hal's Hope and Spectacular Bid, highlight the meet-opening card today at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.

Still thrills for longtime Derby Lane employee 01/02/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 4, 2009 2:02pm]

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