ST. PETERSBURG — Trainer Victor Hall often celebrates Patriot's Day at Derby Lane.
First in practically every track statistical category, his Patriot Kennel is the trendsetter. A kennel championship would be Hall's first at Derby Lane. But with 22 performances remaining in the meet, he knows his position is precarious.
After fending off several challengers to retain his No. 1 status, Hall must deal with another competitor before the season ends June 30. Charter Kennel, guided by trainer Danielle Asbury, had pulled within two wins of Patriot, 240-238, entering Friday.
"They're the third kennel to make a run and haven't caught us yet," said Hall, 42. "I told my son (Alex, 17) we're just going to do what we've done all year, and hopefully, God willing, that will be enough to get us to the finish line in time. If we don't, we can't complain. We've been so blessed. We're first in starts, first in wins, seconds, thirds and fourths (all purse payouts), and first in (nonstakes) money run out."
When Patriot overtook previous leader Filipelli & O'Donnell on March 1, Charter was 29 wins behind. But recent injuries have slowed Patriot, and Charter's younger runners are maturing. Asbury, a trainer for only 21/2 years and one of the track's youngest at age 27, nearly won her first title during the Tampa at Derby Lane meet that ended Dec. 30. But Charter owner Rodney Cooley of Wheeling, W.Va., transferred some greyhounds to other tracks and the kennel finished second to Wayne Ward.
"(Losing dogs) is not going to happen this year," Asbury said. "I think (Cooley) wants to be on top just as well. Two months ago, I didn't think we had a chance."
Patriot has more than 600 more starts than Charter, which has four bookings around the country.
"For the number of starts, Charter is having a fine meet," Hall said. "Danielle has done a great job."
The St. Petersburg booking is the only one for Patriot owner Vincent Savill of South Easton, Mass., who recently dissolved his operation at Naples-Fort Myers. Patriot debuted at Derby Lane in January 2009, losing its first 63 starts. Patriot gained momentum with a third-place finish in the recent Tampa at Derby Lane meet.
"It gave us the confidence to know we could run with these guys," said Hall, whose only kennel title came at defunct Plainfield Park (Conn.) in 1993. "The key to kennel championships is winning maiden (and Grades) D, C, B and A. I don't have a single superstar like Flying Coal City or Aerial Battle, but I've had great balance."
Hall's top dog is Kiowa Ak Richpie. A finalist in all five career stakes, the Grade A performer is sidelined until next month with an ankle injury. Kay Smith of Frederick, Okla., Jack Sherck of Abilene, Kan., and Savill supply most Patriot runners.