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Dog racing a family business for Bartleys

ST. PETERSBURG — The thermometer read 3 below zero and the temperature was expected to get colder recently at the 42-acre farm of Rick and Rhonda Bartley in Abilene, Kan.

"It is supposed to be 25 below in the morning with a wind coming up in the night," Rick Bartley, 66, said. "There's a little snow and ice on the ground, and they've even canceled school."

Moments later, greyhound racing — not the weather — became the topic of discussion.

For the Bartleys, who were married 35 years ago after meeting at a dog track, it was easy to forget the frigid conditions. Time had come to reminisce about their first kennel championship at Derby Lane.

"You always want the best kennels," Rick Bartley said. "The money is a little better (and) now, you've got to be in that top three to five (place in the standings) or it gets pretty hard to stay in the black."

His Bartley Corp. operation, which joined Derby Lane in the summer of 2015, won the kennel crown at the previous July-to-December meet by a 232-223 margin over Capabal. Bartley didn't have a dog finish in the top 10 in wins, but clinched the title among 17 kennels with 59 victories in the final 51 performances.

The crown capped a terrific turnaround for Bartley. In its previous four meets, the operation never finished higher than seventh place — losing to the eventual champions by an average margin of 90 victories.

Familiarity was the common denominator for Bartley. Every athlete came from the Bartley farm, where 300 greyhounds are whelped and trained yearly. Kennel manager-trainer Ken Brotherton, a long-time associate of the Bartleys, provided stability with diligent daily work of the 66-dog kennel.

"We're like thinkers," Bartley said. "Kenny can read a dog, he knows how to feed one, and he knows when one's not right. I'm trusting him with a lot of dollars worth of animals … and he knows it, too."

The Bartleys joined Derby Lane when Bluffs Run in Council Bluffs, Iowa, announced it was ending greyhound racing. Brotherton, who had worked with the Bartley operation in Iowa, made the move as well.

"St. Pete has worked out great for us," Bartley said. "They will let us race pups when they're young. That's an advantage for us."

Besides stocking his Derby Lane operation, Bartley sends greyhounds to Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark., Wheeling Island in West Virginia, and (West) Palm Beach.

Don and Esther Bartley, Rick's late parents, put the greyhound bug into him at an early age.

"I was 14," Bartley said. "My dad had a used car lot in Colorado Springs (Colo.), and he got to know dogs. Then, he talked my mom into going into the dog business. They decided to go to Abilene and opened a farm."

Bartley operated his own kennel before meeting his wife at Sodrac Park Kennel Club in North Sioux City, S.D.

"We came home to Abilene, found a little piece of ground, and started raising pups," Bartley said. "We've spent 35 years together — all day, every day — and still made it."