ST. PETERSBURG — The past decade has bred familiarity into the $75,000 Distance Classic.
Four kennels — Abernathy, D'Arcy, McAllister and the former Filipelli & O'Donnell — have won Derby Lane's richest race twice. Two greyhounds — McAllister's Flyin Bridgeport and Tmc's Remedy of Filipelli & O'Donnell — were back-to-back champions.
Don't be surprised to see a change in that pattern beginning Saturday, when 32 greyhounds are featured in first-round qualifying in the 58-year-old event. Eight dogs with the most accumulative points after four qualifiers advance to the April 8 championship race. First place in the 660-yard series pays $30,500.
"It seems to be more wide open than in past years," said Derby Lane racing secretary Les Robison. "There's no standout like Oya Stan The Man from last year."
Oya Stan The Man, a 2016 All-America first-team selection and St. Petersburg Derby champion, was the 7-5 favorite in last year's Distance Classic finale. But he finished fifth as kennelmate O Ya Cruiser Max won at 7-1 odds to give kennel owner and trainer Mick D'Arcy his sixth Distance Classic title — the first four as a conditioner for Jack and Mary Butler's former Greymeadow operation.
"The money and prestige make this one of the bigger races of the year," Robison said.
Saturday's qualifiers are Races 4 (8:10 p.m.), 6 (8:39), 8 (9:13) and 10 (9:47). The 5-2 morning-line favorites are Bella Fruitzy (Burk Greyhounds, Race 4); Fiesta Destroyer (ABC Racing, 6); Slipslidinaway (Nova, 8); and Mac's Gossie (Alabama Racing, 10).
Of all the entries, only Mac's Gossie enters with a winning streak. The 41-month-old female from a litter by Defrim Bale and Mac's Ruby Red has won her past two starts, the last one at 660 yards, for kennel owner and trainer Patricia Byers. Mac's Gossie is a two-time stakes winner.
HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs has a 10-race card Saturday with first post at 12:25 p.m. in Oldsmar. Five races will be 1 mile or longer, and four events are scheduled for the turf course.
MORE HORSES: Kid Cruz, the first stakes-winning horse owned by Steven Brandt and Rick Boylan of St. Pete Beach, has been retired from racing. The 6-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid bowed a tendon in his left front leg March 19 in what was his final start at Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, N.Y.
Trained by Linda Rice for Brandt and Boylan's Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds and co-owner Black Swan Stable, Kid Cruz earned $792,985 with seven victories from 25 races. He won six stakes, including the Grade III Excelsior and the Grade III Dwyer, both in New York. Kid Cruz ran in the 2014 Preakness Stakes, finishing eighth behind California Chrome. Brandt and Boylan claimed the Kentucky-bred as a maiden in 2013 for $50,000. Kid Cruz is expected to be gelded and reside with his breeder, Machmer Hall Farm in Paris, Ky.