ST. PETERSBURG — More title races. More balance. More excitement. Change is coming to Derby Lane.
The St. Petersburg greyhound track has restructured its stakes schedule, adding more pizazz to its most popular races with stakes activity in each of the final 11 months of the 2016-17 season. The first stakes event — the $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge, formerly held in June — kicks off the 12-race, $375,000 program Aug. 24-27.
"This (change) benefits mostly the dog men," Derby Lane racing secretary Les Robison said. "They like it. It's better for Derby Lane, (and) it's better for the public. They have more choices, and there's more things to do in the fall season. "In the past, July through December has been a slow season. We only had three stakes races (during that time). Now we have six."
The current meet ends Dec. 31. The other six stakes races will be held from January to June.
Two $10,000 races have been added: the Howl-O-Ween Stakes on Oct. 26-31, and the Thanksgiving Stakes on Nov. 23-26. The $10,000 Matinee Idol was dropped.
Total stakes money remains the same as the past year. Robison said purses were reduced "a hair" in some races, and the St. Petersburg Derby 660-yard series June 21-30 has been reduced $10,000, to $30,000. It features the track's final two stakes events: the St. Petersburg Derby and the Consolation Derby. The 1925 Historical Inaugural — formerly called the Inaugural and the track's longest-running stakes, entering its 92nd year — received a $10,000 increase, to $18,000. The 550-yard race, which reflects Derby Lane's opening season, is Jan. 4-7.
The 1925 Historical Inaugural is one of several races with revised names. The Remembrance Stakes, a $20,000 event for pups May 13-29, is the new name for the Fall Juvenile, which was usually held in October and November. The 550-yard event will be part of a celebratory month centered on Memorial Day.
The track also has a new name for its 550-yard stakes later this year, the Husker Magic Fall Sprint on Sept. 10-24. The $50,000 event is named after the only Derby Lane greyhound to reach the century mark in victories. Husker Magic retired June 21 with 105 wins for kennel owners Jim and Kayruth Abernathy. Husker Magic was the 2015 All-America captain and Rural Rube award winner as the nation's top sprinter.
"We had a lot of people in the public that love Husker Magic," Robison said. "They were asking, 'Why don't we do something (with her)?' So this is a response to not only celebrating her career here and her achievements, but to the public."
Derby Lane's richest race, the $75,000 Distance Classic, is March 25-April 8.
The other stakes races are the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile on Oct. 1-15, the $70,000 Holiday Distance Challenge on Dec. 7-23 and the $64,000 Sprint Classic on Feb. 18-March 4.