ST. PETERSBURG — John Graham was right after all.
Six months after Tmc's Roxslide failed to qualify for the St. Petersburg Derby in what Graham believed would be her "coming-out party," the 64-pound greyhound gave him the biggest prize at Derby Lane on Dec. 15, winning the $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge.
The event, formerly named the 660-Yard Challenge, carries the track's richest paycheck at $33,500. It was the first stakes victory for Tmc's Roxslide and the first for Graham as manager-trainer of Pauline O'Donnell kennel, a position he accepted 2½ years ago.
Graham, 53, had not won a stakes since 2009, when Ww's Deathvalley took the St. Petersburg Derby. Graham worked for Wayne Ward kennel at the time but moved to Pauline O'Donnell after Wayne Ward dissolved the following season. He was with Wayne Ward for 22 years and won 17 stakes.
"I was lucky in the '90s and thought (winning stakes) was an easy game," Graham said. "But then it got a little tougher sledding once we started sending our better dogs to Wheeling (Island in West Virginia, where purses are substantially higher)."
Tmc's Roxslide, a 2½-year-old female out of a litter by 2012 leading sire Lonesome Cry and Tmc's Jiffy, beat Jack's Cruze (Cal Holland kennel) by 4½ lengths. Breaking from the No. 4 box in the 660-yard event, she never trailed and clocked her second-best time of 37.36 seconds. It was her 17th victory from 67 lifetime races. Graham said the key for Tmc's Roxslide was winning her first two qualifiers.
"She was able to show her class and get some confidence," Graham said. "I could never develop a lot of confidence with her (before), because she kept drawing some bad post positions."
Bred and owned by Eddie McDonald of Bridgeport, Texas, Tmc's Roxslide made her first 20 starts at 550 yards, including two uneventful outings in the Gold Trophy Juvenile in May. With the St. Petersburg Derby approaching, Graham moved Tmc's Roxslide to 660.
Her unlucky run of unfavorable posts continued in the Derby, where she drew the No. 8 box and was eliminated with a sixth-place finish. It was one of 14 consecutive losses for Tmc's Roxslide, who started from boxes 5 through 8 in all but one of those races.
"I thought her coming-out party would be in June, when she turned 2 and it was Derby time," Graham said. "She drew a tough race."
Tmc's Roxslide has the season's best time at 37.24 seconds.
"She ran exactly the perfect race (in the finale)," Graham said. "She hit the box, saved ground and didn't let up at all."
HOLIDAY SCHEDULE: Christmas Eve: Derby Lane — live matinee performance, poker and simulcast wagering, closes at 6 p.m.; Tampa Bay Downs — poker only, closes at midnight; Tampa Greyhound Track — poker and simulcast wagering, closes at 6 p.m.; Christmas — All sites are closed.