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Monday, January 18, 2021

Another exciting and fun-filled season of Wheeling Island greyhound racing is in the history books, but 2020 was unlike any of the previous years due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Under state orders, the Wheeling Island facility temporarily ceased operations on both the racing and casino sides on March 16. Nearly 12 weeks later on June 5, greyhound racing resumed but without fans until June 24.

It is believed to be the longest the racetrack has been shut down since the flood of 1996 when the operation was closed from mid-January until March 1.

There were numerous highlights on the track throughout 2020, including the $100,000 Mountaineer Classic, two West Virginia bred stake events and win streaks which generated interest. In addition, a number of youngsters with promising futures opened their careers and the track experienced an influx of racers from other operations.

Top greyhound honors went to Wayne Ward Kennel’s WW Slick Simon, who posted 17 victories in the shortened season. Next in line was Lester Raines Kennel’s Craigie Pirate with 15 wins.

The Lester Raines Kennel, trained by Joel Roden, captured the 2020 kennel championship after finishing runner up to the Blanchard Kennel in 2019. It was Raines’ third crown in the last five years.

In the $100,000 Mountaineer Classic in late October, Abrahamson Kennel’s CG’s Penny Shoe closed deep in the stretch to catch Patriot/Taplin Kennel’s TNT Free Falling, the early pacesetter, for a 1 ½-length victory in 29.82 to capture the racetrack’s featured stakes event for 2020. Abrahamson Kennel’s Atascocita Birma rounded out the trifecta ticket – just 2 lengths back.

Completing the Mountaineer Classic final field were Penrose Boss (Blanchard Kennel), fourth; Craigie Pirate (Lester Raines Kennel), fifth; AD Black Falcon (Xtrem Hess Racing Kennel), sixth; L’s Luv It (Blanchard Kennel), seventh; and TNT Twister City (Patriot/Taplin Kennel), eighth.

CG’s Penny Shoe came up to Wheeling from Tri-State Greyhound Park where he had 27 wins in 2020, including 12 straight Grade AA races. In 2019 at Wheeling, the sprinter finished runner up in the West Virginia Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association Juvenile to littermate CG’s Sneaker.

In the $35,000 West Virginia Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association Juvenile in late September, A Ray Kennel’s Mac’s Tayloranne rocketed to an early lead and then held off Steve Sarras Kennel’s CET Dirty Dilly by a head at the wire in 30.14 to capture the stakes crown. Rounding out the trifecta ticket was Steve Sarras Kennel’s CET Sassy.

Completing the final field were Baby Face Nelson (Lester Raines Kennel), fourth; Go On Horse (Abrahamson Kennel), fifth; CET Ozzy (Steve Sarras Kennel), sixth; CET Motley Crew (Steve Sarras Kennel), seventh; and Coach Oh Boy (Patriot/Taplin Kennel), eighth.

In the $65,000 WVGOBA Panhandle Championship in late November, Lester Raines Kennel’s RS Perfectionist pulled away in the stretch for a 4-length victory in 30.02. Steve Sarras Kennel’s CET Dirty Dan and CET Godiva rounded out the trifecta ticket.

Completing the final field were CET Pistol Pete (Steve Sarras Kennel), fourth; CG’s Penny Shoe (Abrahamson Kennel), fifth; RS’s Kingofkings (Lester Raines Kennel), sixth; Rico’s Dreamer (A Ray Kennel), seventh; and Go On Horse (Abrahamson Kennel), eighth.

The longest winning streak during the 2020 racing season was six in a row by Imark Kennel’s Imark Solo. Five of the sprinter’s six wins were in Grade AA.

Blanchard Kennel’s HKF Friskyfranny won five straight 3/8th races while five greyhounds won four in a row – Craigie Pirate and JS Wanna Bee (Lester Raines), JSK Roulette (Jacobs Racing), BWC Kreeli (Blanchard) and AMF Whisterical (A Ray).

With the closing of all the Florida tracks in December, Wheeling experienced record handles late in the year. For five cards from Dec. 30 through Jan. 3, the track handled $3.4 million.

I was introduced to greyhound racing by a friend in the late 1970s at Wheeling Downs and fell in love with the sport and the athletes immediately. Throughout the years, I have developed a deep passion for racing. In the mid 1990s, I started writing a weekly greyhound column and shortly thereafter became a writer for The Greyhound Review.

I have enjoyed watching and writing about these wonderful competitors, including All-Americans DD's Nelson, Kiowa Sweet Trey, Gene's Champion, WW Apple Jax, Greys Royalcrown, Nimby TP Jan, Hi Noon Hero, Gable Sour Cream, KB's Ruckus and Cry Case.