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Thursday, January 28, 2021


JS Drinkmepretty helped Lester Raines capture the 2020 kennel championship at Wheeling Island with 12 victories during the season. The sprinter is held by Amanda McCardle. (Photo by Stan Pawloski)

In 2018, Lester Raines captured the kennel championship on the final night of the racing season at Wheeling Island – edging the Blanchard Kennel by two victories.

After a runner up finish to Blanchard in 2019, the Lester Raines Kennel ruled as king again last year – taking charge after a 3-month shutdown due to the coronavirus-19 pandemic closed the racetrack from mid-March until early June. Once on top, the Joel Roden-trained kennel never looked back.

Lester Raines posted 426 victories last year, easily outdistancing runner up Blanchard (389) and Jacobs Racing (383).

For Roden, 2020 marked his third championship with Lester Raines – following up crowns in 2016 and 2018. The kennel previously won Wheeling titles in 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1996.

The thrill of the competition at Wheeling Island still fuels Roden.

“Every year our goal as a kennel is to do as well as we possibly can, day-by-day, so each championship is special and means a lot. I still love doing what I do and hope I am doing it for a lot longer,” Roden said. “My parents were in the business, so I grew up with it and very proud of that. We get into the business for the competition – that’s what it’s all about.”

Next in line behind Lester Raines (426), Blanchard (389) and Jacobs Racing (383) in the final 2020 standings were Patriot/Taplin (335), Charter (315), Xtrem Hess Racing (311), A Ray (301), Imark (294), Steve Sarras (292), Abrahamson (285), Brad Boeckenstedt (285), Wayne Ward (264) and Rangel (179).

Lester Raines was locked in a tight race atop the kennel standings early in the 2020 racing season when the state ordered the closure of the track March 16. In the next 12 weeks the track was idle for live racing, but the greyhounds participated in schooling sessions on the island surface three days every week.

“Although we were shut down, it was still a lot of work schooling the greyhounds every week. I think the closing actually helped our kennel,” Roden noted. “We had a lot of young pups and the shutdown gave them some time to mature and get acclimated to the racetrack.”

Pacing the Lester Raines’ attack last year were Craigie Pirate with 15 victories and JS Drinkmepretty with 12 wins. Two other sprinters reached double figures in victories – Craigie Deuce with 11 and RS Perfectionist with 10.

“Craigie Pirate was one of our pups helped by the shutdown. He learned how to run the racetrack while schooling,” Roden said. “Drinkmepretty is a little warrior, a little beast.”

Checking in with nine victories apiece were JS Wanna Bee, JS Fine Toon and Rooftop Blondish. Recording eight wins each were CTW Cant Stop It, K One More Thing, KBF Country Gal, Kelsos Rasta Man, SNL Firebird, Super C Kix and ZB Tremonti.

“We didn’t have a lot of superstars last year, but we had a kennel full of consistent, solid greyhounds,” Roden said. “It was a mix of young pups and veteran greyhounds that contributed throughout the year.”

Roden credited his Wheeling crew – Julie Roden, Amanda McCardle, Kenneth Kelly and Dean Ellis – for playing a key role in the kennel’s success in 2020.

 “We got a combined effort from our team, Lester Raines, the greyhounds and our lease customers,” Roden said.

As for 2021, Roden expects the competition to be as keen as ever with greyhounds coming in from other racetracks.

“It’ll be a challenge again,” Roden said.

In addition to having the most wins in 2020, Lester Raines garnered the most seconds (396) while Blanchard was tops in thirds (416).

Lester Raines was the leader in win percentage with 16 percent followed by Jacobs Racing with 14 percent and Blanchard with 13 percent.

Lester Raines led all kennels with a 45 percent trifecta mark. Jacobs Racing was next with 41 percent while Blanchard and Wayne Ward followed with 40 percent each.

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.