ST. PETERSBURG — The birthday girl received a rare gift on Monday.
Jan Alderson clinched her first Derby Lane top dog title in six years when Fiesta Mercury, a greyhound that started his career with the St. Petersburg kennel owner and trainer, scored his most impressive victory — a 15-length romp in a Grade A sprint.
Fiesta Mercury's 19th victory snapped a tie with two-time defending top dog and 2014 All-America standout Husker Magic of Abernathy kennel, becoming Alderson's first greyhound to claim a win crown since her Dewey Millions tied Career Goals in 2009.
The six-month meet concluded Thursday.
"He's no trouble in the kennel. … You don't even know he's there," Alderson said. "He's a very sweet boy."
It was a grand way for Fiesta Mercury to bid farewell to Alderson. Fiesta Mercury will be one of three Alderson greyhounds to leave today for Southland Park, a track in West Memphis, Ark., with casino-enhanced purses. It is an arrangement Alderson has with dog breeders David and Jeff Blair of Abilene, Kan.
"I'm lucky to get (the Blairs') dogs, and they take very few back," Alderson said. "I'm very grateful for that, and it's working out for both sides."
A win crown seemed remote for Fiesta Mercury. The 22-month-old male out of a litter by Bella Infrared and Kelsos Yesindeed entered the meet on July 1 with only one lifetime start, and Husker Magic soared atop the win standings with victories in her first eight races. But Husker Magic, a two-time stakes champion and career winner of 95 races, didn't make another start in the final 36 days of the meet.
"She needed a rest," kennel owner Jim Abernathy said. "It would have been nice (to win another title), and she probably would have had it. We're just being cautious."
Abernathy wants Husker Magic fresh for the $35,000 Daytona 550 National Championship on Jan. 23 at Daytona Beach Kennel Club, and the $64,000 Sprint Classic on Feb. 20 to March 5 at Derby Lane — events that she won last year.
Fiesta Mercury made 45 starts and clocked the fastest 550-yard time of 30.01 seconds on Oct. 20. He also made two stakes finals: finishing sixth in the $20,000 Fall Juvenile on Nov. 7, and eighth in the $50,000 Fall Sprint on Oct. 3.
"He never stood out (at first), because we get them so young," Alderson said. "But we always liked him."
Also in the meet, D'Arcy kennel's Night Goddess had the best 660 clocking at 36.89 seconds. Burk Greyhounds repeated as the kennel champion with 276 wins in 209 performances.
Derby Lane has the first stakes race of its 91st season today with the $8,000 Inaugural, a 550-yard event (Race 10, 9:47).
HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo was second in the 2015 national win standings with 320, and trainer Jamie Ness, who helped Midwest Thoroughbreds take the owner title, was fourth with 234.