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Thursday, August 1, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – August brings heat and rain to Florida. It also attracts some of the best greyhounds that Derby Lane has to offer.

The Florida West Coast track’s stakes program kicks off later this month with the $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge on Aug. 14-17, the first of 12 stakes races totaling $375,000 to be run over 11 consecutive months.

“We have 13 participating kennels now – we’re down (one) from last year – and we still have good quality dogs here spread amongst the kennels,’’ Derby Lane racing secretary Les Robison said. “We shouldn’t have a problem fielding some decent races.’’

Of the many tasks that Robison undertakes, generating the 2019-20 stakes schedule was relatively easy. All but the $10,000 Thanksgiving Stakes will be contested on practically the same dates as the previous year, and that event was moved back a week to coincide with the turkey day holiday.

“As the years go by here, it gets a little easier and you know sort of what to expect,’’ Robison said. “I checked with the bosses, and they said just remain status quo on everything with purse money and things like that.’’

The first six stakes races will be contested in the current Tampa at Derby Lane six-month meet that concludes Dec. 31. The highlight of those events is the $70,000 Holiday Distance Challenge on Dec. 7-21. It is the track’s second richest series, and the only 660-yard event in the meet.

After the T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge, the $50,000 Husker Magic Fall Sprint is scheduled Sept. 14-28, followed by the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile Oct. 5-12; the $10,000 Howl-O-Ween Oct. 23-26; and the $10,000 Thanksgiving Nov. 27-30.

Stakes racing wastes little time in the ensuing Derby Lane six-month meet with the $18,000 1925 Historical Inaugural, the track’s oldest series entering its 95th year. Qualifying for the 550-yard Inaugural will be Jan. 1 followed by the title race on Jan. 4.

Derby Lane’s richest 550-yard stakes, the $64,000 Sprint Classic, is Feb. 14-29. After that, the first of three 660-yard events in the meet will be held with the $75,000 Distance Classic March 21-April 4. It is the track’s richest event.

After the $20,000 Remembrance Stakes on May 9-25, Derby Lane wraps up its stakes schedule with a pair of 660-yard events: the $25,000 St. Petersburg Derby and the $5,000 Consolation Derby, both June 17-27. The track’s 2019-20 season concludes June 30.

“(Stakes races) are a chance for kennel owners and owners of the dogs to earn extra money,’’ Robison said. “Every time there’s a stakes winner, we always put them foremost whenwe nominate dogs for All-American and so forth.’’

DERBY LANE 2019-20 STAKES SCHEDULE

Aug. 14-17 - $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge;

Sept. 14-28 - $50,000 Husker Magic Fall Sprint;

Oct. 5-12 - $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile;

Oct. 23-26 - $10,000 Howl-O-Ween;

Nov. 27-30 - $10,000 Thanksgiving Stake;

Dec. 7-21 - $70,000 Holiday Distance Challenge;

Jan. 1-4 - $18,000 1925 Historical Inaugural;

Feb. 15-29 - $64,000 Sprint Classic;

March 21-April 4 - $75,000 Distance Classic;

May 9-25 - $25,000 Remembrance Stake;

June 17-27 - $25,000 St. Petersburg Derby; June 17-27 - $5,000 St. Petersburg Consolation Derby.

Don Jensen

I have been a sports writer in the newspaper industry for 40 years: working in Florida, Maryland and Virginia. I moved to Florida in 1984 after serving as the publicity director of Charles Town Race Track, a thoroughbred facility in West Virginia. I reside in Tampa, Fla., and cover the Tampa Bay area parimutuel scene – both greyhounds and thoroughbreds – and write about high school sports for the Tampa Bay Times.