ST. PETERSBURG — When All-America first-team sprinter Hi Noon Renegade captured the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile in 2011, Hans Limmer became the only Derby Lane kennel owner to win the 77-year-old puppy stakes three consecutive years.
That was 1,834 days ago, and the veteran dog man has not visited the winners circle since in the track's 55 subsequent stakes races.
Wacka Doodle can end that drought for Nova kennel in the $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge, which kicks off Wednesday night. The top four finishers in two qualifying races advance to the 550-yard finale on June 4.
"He's a steady trooper," Limmer said. "He's not the super, super dog of Renegade, but he's always there."
Wacka Doodle entered Friday on one of the best rolls of his 100-race career with top-three finishes in each of his past eight starts, including three wins. The 33-month-old male out of a litter by Derby Lane 550 track record-holder Trent Lee and Chase The Sneak shines when he leaves the starting box quickly. In 20 of his 23 career victories, Wacka Doodle has led at every call.
"Absolutely, he's got to get in front (early)," Limmer said.
Twelve of Wacka Doodle's past 16 wins have come at Grade A, but the 71-pound dog struggled this year with a career-high 15-race losing streak from Jan. 27-March 31.
If Wacka Doodle can pull off the T.L. Weaver upset for owners Elly Limmer, Hans' wife, and breeder Debra Binegar of Sutherland, Neb., it would give Nova its sixth stakes victory since joining Derby Lane in 2007. The kennel's previous stakes winners have featured an average win payout of $18.40 for a $2 ticket.
Nova is arguably the most improved Derby Lane kennel in the past year. The operation had its highest finish in the July-December 2015 meet with a fourth-place showing behind two-time defending champion Burk Greyhounds. In this meet that concludes June 30, Nova ranks fifth behind Burk.
The kennel has never ranked higher than seventh in its first 15 meets after arriving from Mile High Kennel Club in Commerce City, Colo. It had 12 double-digit finishes, losing by an average of 141 wins each meet.
"The (recent) litters have turned out good," Limmer said. "You know how it is when you breed: If you're right, you're a genius; if you're wrong, you don't look too good."
Limmer said the addition of trainer Miguel Valenzuela has propelled Nova's success.
"I have a good guy working for me as the trainer, and everything is going good right now," Limmer said. "It doesn't work like that all the time."
HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs five-time leading rider Daniel Centeno, who broke his collarbone in a Preakness day spill at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore last Saturday, is not expected to require surgery. Agent Kevin Witte told Bloodhorse this week that Centeno is recovering at his Tampa residence.