ST. PETERSBURG — In the future, Alex Hall will talk about his first stakes final. He was a teenager, less than four months on the job, and advanced two pups into the championship race.
The final chapter to that story will unfold tonight in the $20,000 Fall Juvenile Stakes at Derby Lane, where Hall starts Red Oak Racing kennel's Flying Observer and Flying Soriano in the 550-yard race (Race 8, 9:33 p.m.).
At 19, Hall is the youngest of Derby Lane's 16 kennel managers and trainers, a dual position he accepted July 13 from Red Oak manager Robert Lambert.
"I'm very blessed," Hall said. "I think a lot of people doubted me having a whole kennel to run by myself, but I showed up and rose to the occasion.
"I'm very pleased with the way this has turned out the last couple months."
The post draw wasn't kind to Hall: Flying Soriano starts from the No. 5 box and Flying Observer from No. 6.
But both dogs, owned by Vince Berland of Abilene, Kan., overcame tough times early in their careers and earned spots in their first finales. Flying Observer, who lost her first nine lifetime starts, won her first two Fall Juvenile qualifiers. Flying Soriano carried a 12-race losing streak into the event, but won two of his first three qualifying tests.
"Observer either gives it a really exploding effort to the get to the lead or she doesn't get out (of the box)," Hall said. "When she doesn't get out toward the lead, she gets banged around real hard because she's a 61-pound female. She's actually got a lot of bottom to her, which makes her such an explosive pup.
"Soriano's slump was my biggest concern going into the stakes. But he had almost double the starts (42) over a lot of other pups (entered). That's when you really have to take more experience. Plus, he's shown a lot of nice lines in Grade A."
Red Oak is the only kennel with multiple entries. Other starters from the rail: Switzler Hubble (Patriot kennel), Declan's Stone (D'Arcy), qualifying leader Lily Rose (Floyd & Porter), Kb's Epic Win (Cal Holland), Intentionally (Lester Raines) and Flying Dimarco (McAllister). First place pays $9,000.
Hall started with Red Oak as an assistant. His three-person staff cares for 62 dogs. Hall is the son of former Patriot manager-trainer Victor Hall, who led the operation to a Derby Lane win title in 2010. The elder Hall is no longer involved in the industry and lives in Connecticut.
"I really came into the dog business when I was 16 and took a helper's job with my dad," Alex said. "He taught me everything I know."
VETERANS DAY CARD: Derby Lane has a 15-race matinee performance Monday. There will be no live racing that night, but the track will remain open for poker and simulcast wagering.
HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs opened its barn area this week. The Oldsmar meet begins Dec. 1.