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Patrons bid Derby Lane fond adieu

When Trisha Kotz arrived at Kevin Yoder's home early Friday night, she brought a few of her favorite magazines and a copy of Bridges of Madison County.

She assumed it would be another Friday evening of babysitting Yoder's 8-year-old daughter, Amanda.

But Kotz never got around to reading either as Yoder surprised the 16-year-old Oldsmar resident with a trip to Derby Lane.

"I've been going to the track on Fridays for quite a while now and she's been super about watching my little girl," Yoder said. "I figured I would bring her along and show her exactly what I do on Friday nights. I wanted her to be a part of it and try and repay her for all that she's done for us."

Kotz was one of many spectators who visited the greyhound track on its final night, completing its 70th season of racing.

"I had never been here before," said Kotz, who won on her first try when Yoder placed a bet for her. "This is pretty neat. I like watching the dogs up close."

Other spectators prefer watching them from afar.

Francis Templeton carried her umbrella up the stairs and leaned it against the rail on the second floor where she has sat three nights a week all season. The 58-year-old St. Petersburg resident only leaves the seat to place a bet and get a plate of french fries.

"I've sort of gotten into a habit," said Templeton, as she took out a pair of binoculars to watch the third race. "I never miss a Friday or Saturday night. It's going to be tough to kick the habit. But it always is when this time comes."

Peter Freider purposely waits until this time of the year before he leaves his winter home in Clearwater to return to Long Island, N.Y.

"I could easily leave around May or April but I've been hooked on the dogs for several years," said Freider, a retired police officer. "I love coming out here. It gives me something exciting to do and a way to enjoy myself. Watching the dogs is so much fun."

Not everyone came just to see the greyhounds.

Buddy and Alison Wagner, 12, had more important things to do as they tried to beat Primo Warfare at the video arcade.

"We've been coming here for a few weeks now just to play this," Alison said. "I guess now we'll have to find one like this at a mall."

Tony Fasulo, director of public affairs, found a lot of pleasure in the numbers at Derby Lane this year.

Fasulo said the year's handle was $136,980,718 and would be approximately $141,233,118 by the end of the night. That would be about a $4-million increase from last year's handle.

The on-site handle was slightly down (1.4 percent) but the off-track handle had a substantial increase and was 54.8 percent of the track's total handle.

Fasulo also said attendance dropped about 2 percent from last year.

"We started off the season really well but the baseball strike and not having spring training really cut into our business during the month of March and we were down about $2-million and really concerned," Fasulo said. "However, we made a concerted effort to improve and listened to our patrons about that time. That's when we suddenly saw a sharp rise in attendance and the total handle. We finished really strong."

Of course, what mattered most to Kotz was where she was going to spend Friday nights now.

"I think I want a dog now," she said. "Maybe not a greyhound, but something. This is the best night I've ever had babysitting. You think I could ask Mr. Yoder for a small puppy instead of $20?"