ST. PETERSBURG — Jimmy Morgan is a meat-and-potatoes man and an Alan Jackson country music fan. Those not familiar with the Royal Racing Team trainer have become fast learners.
Morgan is the new face at Derby Lane, seldom without his Yankees baseball cap and always expecting to win. He has been the impetus behind a royal start by the 68-dog kennel. Royal has won at least one race in 14 of the past 15 performances to move into second in the track standings. Entering Friday, Royal had 33 victories, four behind defending champion Patriot.
"I'm very competitive and don't like to lose," Morgan said. "It rubs off on my dogs, too. They get to strutting their stuff."
Royal's breakout is somewhat surprising: Morgan has been at the St. Petersburg greyhound track since only July 1, and Royal is in its first full season. "It is a youthful kennel with a lot of sprinters," he said.
Morgan, 40, came from his native Colorado Springs, Colo., accompanied by girlfriend Carmen Mange. It is his first job in Florida since the late 1980s, when he worked for Ralph Long kennel on the Miami circuit.
Morgan received his training license 22 years ago and has handled dogs in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Oregon and Texas. He is no stranger to Derby Lane dog men, working for Cal Holland in Colorado and Ken Lesperance in Miami.
"I really did know most of the people here," he said. "I've been wanting to get back to Florida for years."
His father, James Morgan, supplies Royal with the Jiminy-prefix named dogs. The younger Morgan said he has won at least five career stakes, the last with Nimby Jack in the 2006 Kansas Bred Sprint at Woodlands, the track in Kansas City, Kan., that closed two years ago.
"There's a lot of tough kennels (at Derby Lane)," he said. "If I could finish in the top five, I'll be happy."
Royal joined Derby Lane in February. Bobby Sidhu and wife Neetu, owners of Malwa Greyhound Farms in Ocala, bought the kennel from Tom La Rosa, who retired. Royal ended the past meet with 112 victories, finishing ahead of one kennel. Sidhu was part of Derby Lane history in 2006, teaming with Gayle Darville to nominate Greys Calibrator for the inaugural Derby Lane Million, an event won by the D'Arcy Kennel-based sprinter. The richest race in greyhound history ceased after 2007.
Tidbits: Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Rasnake said track officials have not been approached about their Gandy Boulevard facility becoming a possible site to a baseball stadium for the Rays. St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster mentioned Derby Lane as a potential location this week. … Kennel owner James Campbell scored a major upset with his other booking at Flagler in Miami. His sprinter, Lonesome Baby, ended the 22-race win streak of Where's Big Cash on July 16, winning by a nose at 19-1 odds.