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Crowd flocks to opening

Despite a weekday start and absence of feature race, Derby Lane's 78th season debuts successfully with 2,865 attending.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Earl Holbrook made sure he was available for the opening of Derby Lane's 78th season.

"The only thing that would deter me is work," said Holbrook, who has attended opening night the past three years. "I like coming to watch the people. That's almost as much fun as the betting."

On Thursday, there were many in attendance.

Because opening night fell on a weekday and there were no matinee races and no featured race in the evening, track officials feared the crowd would suffer.

But the attendance was 2,865. Last year's opening attracted 2,270 at night. Attendance for matinee races during the day was 2,147.

"We've become more of a weekend business and any time you open during the middle of the week you're going to worry about the crowd," said Vey Weaver, vice president and general manager of Derby Lane.

"We didn't have any big races tonight, but we're still very pleased with how many people showed up."

The Puppy Preview was pushed back a week to give greyhounds enough rest between starts. The St. Petersburg Inaugural will be run Saturday instead.

The favorites for the Inaugural are Narmada and Ben Awhile. They developed a rivalry at Tampa Greyhound.

Ben Awhile, who won 27 of 40 starts at Tampa, beat Narmada in the semifinals of the Juvenile stakes race in November.

Narmada got revenge, beating Ben Awhile in the final.

By drawing the favorable No. 1 post for Saturday's race, 10th of the night, Narmada has the edge.

"I definitely like the position we're in for this race," said John Filipelli, Narmada's trainer.

Ben Awhile drew the outside No. 7 post.

"I believe he prefers the outside, but he also likes to run close to the rail," said Tommy La Rosa, owner of La Rosa Enterprises Kennel and trainer for Ben Awhile.

"We'll see what happens. There are some good dogs competing and we might need some luck to win."

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