ST. PETERSBURG — The Derby Lane meet started with Lester Raines kennel losing its first 12 starts and Flying Coal City suffering his only career defeat in a 550-yard stakes final in Night of Stars XXIII.
Mere speed bumps on the road to success.
Lester Raines, a West Virginia-based powerhouse operation, won its first kennel championship at St. Petersburg, while Flying Coal City of McAllister kennel was the top greyhound at the six-month meet, which ended Friday. Lester Raines entered the 208th and final performance with an insurmountable 296-276 advantage in wins over Patriot. Flying Coal City led in victories with 25, five more than Kiowa Lazy Lazy.
Derby Lane's 86th year begins today with a matinee-evening doubleheader.
"It always feels good to win," said Jeanne Lesperance, wife of Lester Raines kennel manager and trainer Ken Lesperance. "It's especially nice for Lester."
She said Raines purchased the Derby Lane kennel more than 20 years ago from R.L. "Tex" Block, a 1984 Greyhound Hall of Fame pioneer inductee. Lester Raines took the meet lead for good on Oct. 29 over Patriot, which had over 400 more starts. Lester Raines had four of the season's top winners: Kiowa Lazy Lazy, Uss Gazillionair, Kiowa Lazy Lott and Kiowa Lazy Larry. Uss Gazillionair's win in the $20,000 Fall Juvenile on Nov. 13 extended the kennel's streak of winning a Derby Lane stakes to six straight meets.
"We never get excited about not starting (the meet) on top," Jeanne said. "We're in it for the long haul. We're very proud of the dogs and definitely worked hard to earn the title."
Flying Coal City, trained by Barbara McAllister, clocked the best times at both distances: 30.21 seconds at 550 yards and 36.91 at 660. He has the best 660 times in the past three meets, and the top 550 times at the past two meets. Flying Coal City finished second on Friday, denying him a chance to tie Palm Beach dog Where's Big Cash for the North American win title at 49.
MORE DOGS: The $8,000 Inaugural Stakes begins Wednesday night with two 550-yard races. The top four finishers in each qualifier advance to the Jan. 8 finale. … Former wins leader Aerial Battle and Ll's Dormarbuddy started schooling Tuesday for Capabal kennel. Injuries have sidelined the pair for several months.
HORSES: My Irish Girl is the 7-2 morning-line favorite today in the $50,000 Minaret Stakes (Race 9, 4:07 p.m.), a 6-furlong dirt sprint for older fillies and mares at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. … The Morning Glory Club begins at 10 a.m. today in the lower grandstand with track announcer Richard Grunder interviewing racing personalities. His guest is Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube. … Trainer Jamie Ness finished second in the 2010 national win standings with 291, and jockey Daniel Centeno was eighth at 278. Both were career highs.