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    Greyhound Racing DERBY LANE MILLION
    Posted byadmin on Wednesday, February 08 @ 23:06:52 EST
    Contributed by admin

    By DON JENSEN, Times Staff Writer Published February 8, 2006

    ST. PETERSBURG - Fans strutted through turnstiles at Derby Lane to watch the star show his stuff. As standout greyhound Keefer won the Distance Classic on Feb. 22, 1986, a record crowd of 12,779 occupied every seat and bench. Many stood along the track fence.

    A picture from that historical night hangs in the office of Derby Lane marketing director Fran Williamson. It serves as a reminder of the track in its heyday.

    The Derby Lane Million, a tournament-style event that runs Saturday through March 4, is expected to rekindle those memories at Derby Lane. It will be the industry's inaugural $1-million race, and has been the talk at every greyhound track from Florida to Australia.

    "This will be the No. 1 event ever held here," Derby Lane president and chairman of the board Vey Weaver said. "I always said if there's going to be a $1-million race in this business, I want it here and I'd do what it takes to get it here. We are the best track in the business based on our hist ory, status and standing in the industry."

    Sixty-four of the top greyhounds from around the world were nominated for the 550-yard event. Two dogs are from Australia, two from Ireland, and the others from many of America's 40 greyhound tracks. Ac*****ulative points based on order of finish in qualifying races will determine which dogs make it to championship night. Top prize is $500,000.

    The Derby Lane Million began to take shape last year when Weaver was approached by Jack Sherck, president of Racing Life Challenge, a group of top breeders and American kennel operators.

    "We felt that we could raise two-thirds of $1-million if we could find a sponsor," Sherck said. "We knew the only sponsor that would do a thing like this would be Vey. I broached the idea with him, he went to his board, and it became surprisingly easy. But I don't know where my next visit would have been. It seemed to be Derby Lane or nothing for a format like this."

    Sherck's plan wasn't the first. A contending idea for a similar tournament had been proposed by Paschal Taggart of the Irish Greyhound Racing Board.

    "(Taggart) wanted to make it an international series," Weaver said. "Teams of dogs from England, Ireland, Australia and the United States would compete, and races would rotate from country to country.

    "But the amount of money we would have had to put up was more than I could ask my shareholders for. It was a great idea for international competition, but the financial aspects just didn't work out. The Derby Lane Million is a lot more economically feasible for us."

    Greyhounds were entered through the Racing Life Challenge by nominators, each paying $10,000. That makes up a majority of the purse with the remainder being obtained from sponsorship, including Derby Lane. One stipulation is that all nominators have to run their dogs through one of th e 20 contracted Derby Lane kennels.

    The first of five qualifying rounds begins Saturday; semifinals are Feb. 25; and the Derby Lane Million and Derby Lane Million Consolation are March 4.

    "It's the biggest event that's ever happened to the business," C&C Kennel trainer Dale Horan said. "All of the best dogs in the country are here now. The prestige will be huge because the dog that wins it will end up with a big breeding career."

    The Derby Lane Million champion will earn more purse money in 30 seconds than Derby Lane kennel champion Bahama Mama Greyhounds received for the entire 2004-05 meet: $285,053.

    "The quality of dogs that have been brought in is phenomenal," Weaver said. "I've never seen so many good dogs in one place at one time. Ever."

    Future wagering on the event began Sunday.

    Williamson said fans are in for a treat on championship night. There will be free admission and former Derby Lane band leader John Baker will provide entertainment with his musical group, Late Night Brass. One patron will win a Hummer 3 in a random drawing of fans who select the winner of the Derby Lane Million, the 12th and final race.

    "We want to involve the public as much as possible," Williamson said. "They'll get to be part of a whole evening of championship greyhound racing, including the Derby Lane Million and Derby Lane Consolation (race 10). We expect it to be a wonderful night for everyone, one they'll always remember."

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