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Back to News » After 95 years, Derby Lane's final day
Monday, December 28, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – They came. They saw. They wanted more.

Except, there would be no more.

Derby Lane, the picturesque greyhound track on Florida’s West Coast, provided many parting snapshots for its fans on Sunday – the final day of a racing era that spanned nearly a century.

“It’s just really sad that this has come to an end after 95 years of racing, through thick and thin, and wars, and . . . .’’ said Louise Weaver, Derby Lane vice president whose great-grandfather, T.L. Weaver, kicked off the sport in Pinellas County on Jan. 3, 1925. “It’s tough to see the greyhound people lose their livelihoods. I see a subculture leaving.’’

Derby Lane and greyhound racing fans knew this day had been coming since 2018, when state voters approved a constitutional amendment to end the sport by 2021.

Richard Winning, track president and chairman of the board, and his staff decided to turn the farewell into a memorable weekend. Two Saturday performances produced a total all-source wagering handle of $929,237 (compared to $645,186 the previous Saturday), and an overflow crowd on Sunday (attendance figures were not available) led to a handle of $685,107 for the 15-race card.

The final winner at the historic facility came when LK’s Santorini of Lashmet kennel crossed the finish line at 4:59 p.m. to capture the $30,000 Grand Finale Derby.

“It is something I’ll remember forever . . . ever,’’ Lashmet kennel manager and trainer Ken Deacon said.

LK’s Santorini paid $5.80 as the second wagering choice. Ironically, it was the identical win price that Caymanacadillac of Tri-Star kennel paid in the final race held at Tampa Greyhound Track on Aug. 18, 2007 – ending that site’s 75-year run with live racing.

No future plans have been announced for the Derby Lane property, but the track will continue to offer poker and simulcast wagering like Tampa Greyhound Track is doing.

Greyhounds at Derby Lane have either been adopted out or are being transported to out-of-state tracks that continue to race.

The final performance came on a pleasant and sunny afternoon. Ninety-minutes before the first race, hundreds of fans stood in line outside the track’s main entrance, each wanting to get one of the 1,000 Derby Lane 95th anniversary caps being given away, and to claim their preferred seats or places to stand. Few, if any, parking spots remained.

Long lines formed at the concession stands and at the pari-mutuel windows.

A band performed outside for several hours, and patrons took turns swapping their favorite racing stories while taking photographs of the track facilities from every conceivable angle. Prior to the final race, fans lined the track fence to take pictures of the greyhounds and their lead-outs – giving them a thunderous applause – before they headed to the starting box for a final time.

Patrons also were treated to the trackside presence of Husker Magic, Derby Lane’s all-time win leader who closed her career with 105 victories (104 at St. Petersburg) during a 167-race career from 2013-16. Handled by Derby Lane kennel operators Jim and Kayruth Abernathy, Husker Magic was a three-time All-America first-team member (2014-16), and 2015 Rural Rube champion as the nation’s top sprinter.

For 4-1/2 hours, patrons stayed and played – focused on seeing the final race at Derby Lane.

John Lashmet was one who remained until the end.

A Derby Lane kennel owner and greyhound breeder from Eaton, Colo., Lashmet flew to Florida with wife Jill to see the track’s farewell performance. Joining them was daughter, Deidra, who took a plane from Houston. They were rewarded with a 1-2 finish in the Grand Finale Derby with their LK’s Santorini defeating kennelmate LK’s Trubulee by three lengths in 30.48 seconds – the fastest time among 119 greyhounds that raced during the afternoon on the 550-yard track.

After participating in a lengthy and packed post-race winner’s circle ceremony on the track infield, John Lashmet walked across the racing strip toward the paddock area. Overcome with emotion, Lashmet needed time to himself before speaking to anyone.

“I don’t know what to say,’’ he said, finally. “There will be no more (racing).’’

The championship by LK’s Santorini, her second career stakes title, wasn’t the only memory that Lashmet and his family took home.

Less than 19 hours earlier on the Saturday evening performance, their LK’s Crush N It recorded his 93rd lifetime victory in his 153rd and final start. The 2019 All-America first-team selection and five-time stakes winner was arguably Derby Lane’s top 550-yard athlete in recent years.

LK’s Crush N It, a son of LK’s Now R Never and LK’s All In, was the 2019 national win leader and a two-time Derby Lane meet win champion.

“Not many of them run until they’re 4 (years old, his fourth birthday was last week),’’ John Lashmet said.

LK’s Santorini, who started the year by winning the $18,000 1925 Inaugural on Jan. 4, also put the finishing touch on her first meet win crown. With 21 victories from 33 starts, she wound up six wins ahead of LK’s Crush N It and Deco Colt Gun of Nova kennel.

A 44-month-old female from a litter by LK’s Vespar and LK’s Chardonnay, LK’s Santorini raised her overall win total to 68 from 147 starts.

“It’s just an unbelievable ending to two great dogs - between Santorini and Crush N It,’’ Deacon said. “You couldn’t ask for more than that. (LK’s Santorini) is the win champion. . . . She picked up where (LK’s Crush N It) left off. She really came into her own in this final run.’’

For Deacon and the Lashmet kennel, the Grand Finale Derby represented their third consecutive stakes title and fifth in the track’s final seven stakes since Sept. 28, 2019.

Another operation that had reason to celebrate was Watson Racing kennel, which claimed its first meet win championship with 260 victories from 1,971 starts. The July-to-December campaign featured 176 performances. Watson Racing finished three wins in front of former champion Lester Raines. Three-time winner Everett Racing was third among 14 kennels at 256 victories followed by Capabal with 243 and Abernathy at 232.

Deacon and others in the industry will now begin other chapters in their respective lives. Deacon plans to return to a previous career in the Tampa Bay area as a captain for charters and commercial fishing. A kennel owner said he may accept employment in a golfing pro shop in the Florida Panhandle, while one trainer said she expects to move to Iowa without any employment plans.

As patrons began to depart the premises, track announcer Jim Peake, a 25-year Derby Lane employee, provided poignant words in his final time at the microphone.

“Good luck, good day, and good bye from St. Petersburg.’’

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.