ST. PETERSBURG — Nova kennel isn't just pushing the envelope at Derby Lane, it is bulldozing it.
Since kennel owners Hans and Elly Limmer moved their operation from Colorado in 2007, Nova has struggled to be a consistent winner at the St. Petersburg oval. In 17 previous meets, Nova's average finish in the kennel standings has been 10th place, 131 victories behind the champion.
Things have changed.
When the inaugural $10,000 Thanksgiving Stakes has qualifying Wednesday night for its Nov. 26 finale, Nova will be in the spotlight. The kennel can win its first stakes race since 2011 if it can advance its sprinter to the championship race. Nova nominated Hi Noon Viper as its top entry. Berths in the 550-yard finale go to the first four finishers in each semifinal.
Nova is enjoying a renaissance under the Limmers, a couple who have been married for 54 years. For the first time, Nova is atop the 17-kennel win standings. Heading into the Friday schedule, it led Abernathy kennel 205-184.
"It's been great (being in first place)," Elly Limmer said. "We've been here for 10 years, so this is the first time (we've challenged for a title)."
The meet ends Dec. 31
Nova's most recent stakes winner was Hi Noon Renegade in the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile. That was the kennel's third consecutive win in the puppy stakes, the only operation in Derby Lane history to accomplish the feat. Hi Noon Renegade was a two-time stakes winner and 2011 All-America first-team selection.
Patrons who have supported Nova's stakes winners have been well rewarded. An upset win by Hi Noon Rembrandt ($36.80) in the 2009 Gold Trophy — Nova's first of five overall stakes crowns — resulted in one of the largest $2 win mutuels in recent stakes history. Only D'Arcy kennel's Kinloch Brae ($41.80 in the $64,000 Sprint Classic in 2008) and Burk Greyhounds' Mega Nerfetta ($38.80 in the $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge in 2014) paid more to win in the 145 stakes races since 2004-05. Four of Nova's stakes winners have returned at least $11.80 to win.
Nova has been the win leader since Aug. 20, a span of 102 performances. It has won at least 10 races in 12 of 21 weeks, topped by a 16-win showing from Sept. 5-10. Nova failed to rank higher than eighth in the kennel race in its first 14 meets before finishing seventh and fourth (twice) in the past three meets.
"Hans is excited and he's 78," Elly Limmer said. "It's a big thrill."
Her husband has been dividing his time between St. Petersburg and Harlingen, Texas, where he and son Peter Limmer are operating a kennel for a three-month meet at Valley Race Park. Trainer Miguel Valenzuela and assistant Leo Rojas are handling the Derby Lane kennel.
Elly Limmer said Nova dog suppliers include Dr. Rodger Barr and wife Donna Barr, Charles Haliburton III, David Hays and Steven Ward.