St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Memories of Derby Lane's good ol' days

By DON JENSEN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 8, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Excel Queen kept admiring the photograph. He was one of three lead-outs in the picture, standing with the top three greyhounds in the West Coast Classic at Derby Lane.

"It was 1932," Queen said. "We were dressed like Florida Highway Patrol state troopers with the uniforms and high black boots because that's what lead-outs wore back then."

Stories like that have been common this week at Derby Lane, which concludes its 80-year anniversary celebration today. Queen, a former leadout and parimutuel clerk, is believed to be the oldest living former Derby Lane employee. The 90-year-old Largo resident worked at the track off and on for 10 years in the 1930s and 1950s.

"I loved working at Derby Lane," Queen said. "Something was always going on, and we made good money."

Queen was paid $50 a week as a leadout. "Back then, people were lucky to make $15 a week during the Depression," he said.

Being a leadout had its challenges. Like the time Derby Lane had monkeys ride greyhounds in occasional novelty races.

"We were afraid the monkeys would bite us until their handlers told us differently," Queen said. "When the race was over, we just took the monkeys off the greyhounds and led the dogs away. No one ever got bit."

Hurdle races put another twist on the track's program, Queen said.

One of his favorite greyhounds was Blue Rose of the Alderson Kennel.

"If she yelped leaving the starting box, you went straight to the cashier's window because she would always win," Queen said. "If she didn't do that, you just threw your tickets away."

As a parimutuel clerk, Queen never accommodated fans who sought tips on upcoming races. "I didn't know as much as people thought," he said.

Queen, an avid golfer, still attends Derby Lane. The World War II veteran is a former St. Petersburg City Council member who sold real estate and retired from Sears, Roebuck and Co. 20 years ago.

In his 1932 photograph, Queen stands beside race runnerup Mr. Education. Par Ex won the event in track-record time with Smile Girl third.

"It certainly brings back a lot of memories," Queen said.

Anniversary week ends with a doubleheader. Family day will be highlighted during the matinee, and anniversary T-shirts will be given away tonight.

KENNEL ADDITIONS: Magic City Kennel, which previously raced at Orange Park (near Jacksonville), now competes at Derby Lane. The Robert Thorne Kennel became Thorne/Herron after Brian Herron became a partner recently.

MINARET STAKES: Second-leading trainer Ron Allen Sr. has two horses entered in today's $60,000 Minaret Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Allen will have Kentucky breds Crafty Tears and Bird Chatter in the second and third post positions, respectively. Crafty Tears won the 2004 Gasparilla Stakes. The Minaret, a 6-furlong test for 14 fillies and mares, is the first of three races in the Distaff Classic Series.

The rest of the field, in post position order, includes Tiz a Dancer, Kuanyan, Sorbet, Ms Maryann N, Diablosangeleyes, Romancin Dixie, Really Royal, Debere, Lady Aflair, Roman Romance, Beautiful Honor and Slews Final Answer. The Minaret will be the 10th race with post time at about 4:25 p.m. Allen, the track's trainer of the month, trails Anthony Pecoraro by one in the standings with six victories.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.