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Thursday, February 13, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – No 550-yard stakes series at Derby Lane is more lucrative than the $64,000 Sprint Classic.

With $25,000 going to the champion, the stakes will be high Saturday when one of the track’s premier events gets underway.

Since Montague Maze of Moses-Crawford kennel prevailed in the inaugural series in 1976, 44 greyhounds have won the Sprint Classic. No dog has won it twice. That could change if defending champion LK’s Crush N It has his way again in the 45th edition.

“I think he can do it if he gets right and starts breaking again,’’ Lashmet kennel manager and trainer Ken Deacon said. “He’s had almost 100 races against the best.

“I gave him a little bit of time off. He’s back, and if he gets back to his sharp form, he has a chance of winning it again . . . without a doubt.’’

Thirty-two greyhounds have been entered in Races 4 (8:10 p.m.), 6 (8:39), 8 (9:13) and 10 (9:47). The field will be cut in half after Wednesday’s second round. Two final qualifiers will determine the eight-dog championship field on Feb. 29. Points are accumulated in each race by order of finish on a 16-10-8-6-3-2-1-0 scale.

LK’s Crush N It was fabulous in 2019. His Sprint Classic title was the highlight in a season that featured four stakes championships, a national win title with 50 victories, and a pair of Derby Lane top-dog crowns.

The 38-month-old male from a litter by LK’s Now R Never and LK’s All In captured the Sprint Classic with an unblemished record – winning all five races, including four qualifiers – to become the second dog in series history to claim the title in unbeaten fashion. The first greyhound to pull off the feat was 2007 winner Hometown Boy of Floyd & Porter kennel.

LK’s Crush N It’s clocking of 30.24 seconds in the title race was the fourth fastest in a Sprint Classic finale. Lego Andrew, winner of the 2016 event for Floyd kennel, owns the best time of 30.06 seconds.

A lifetime winner of 69 races and more than $103,000 in career earnings from 98 starts, LK’s Crush N It prepped for the Sprint Classic on Monday with a box-to-wire, 7-length victory in 30.44 seconds.

LK’s Crush N It drew into Race 8 and starts from box 3. His kennelmate, LK’s Santorini, winner of the $18,000 Inaugural on Jan. 4, is another solid contender in Race 6 and begins from post 6. She is a 34-month-old daughter of LK’s Vespar and LK’s Chardonnay. Both greyhounds are owned by kennel operators and breeders John and Jill Lashmet of Eaton, Colo.

“(LK’s Santorini) is running better than the big dog (LK’s Crush N It) is right now,’’ Deacon said. “She’s won six of her last nine races and has only been out of the money once in 10 starts (either first or second). I give her just as much as a chance (as LK’s Crush N It).’’

Lashmet, which ranked in third place in wins among the 14 kennels through Thursday, can become the first operation in 10 years to repeat as a Sprint Classic champion. Only four kennels have won at least two titles consecutively, the last being McAllister in 2009-10. Greymeadow (1998-2000) won the title three years in a row, while E.J. Alderson (1988-89) and Darby Henry (1983-84) were back-to-back champions.

Deacon likes his chances to repeat, but he also has an eye on Shoot The Breeze of Floyd kennel. Shoot The Breeze, which has won his past three starts by a total of 24-1/2 lengths, has clocked the meet’s four quickest times on the 550-yard course, including 30.05 seconds on Feb. 3.

The 28-month-old son of Derby Lane track record holder Trent Lee and Danicas Go Daddy is owned by kennel operators Randy and Pat Floyd. He drew box 8 in Race 10.

“Shoot The Breeze is the best dog here at the track at the moment,’’ Deacon said. “He’s running hard. Everybody’s saying (there’s) a new sheriff in town.

“But they run the races and things happen. He’s definitely the main challenger.’’

Deacon says getting off to a good start – both out of the starting box and in the series – is the recipe to success.

“The break is 95 percent of it,’’ he said. “If you break, you get away and get around the trouble. Once you get a lead on a good Grade A dog, it’s tough to catch it. The post position plays a big part here.

“I always want to win the first couple of races (in qualifying). If you win one of the first two (rounds), it almost guarantees you (to advance) with 16 points.’’

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.