It's make or break in Million

Published March 4, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - As he talked about the inaugural Derby Lane Million, Derby Lane president and board chairman Vey Weaver noted that this was the year of the dog on the Chinese calendar.

Late tonight, the greyhound industry will know who is the dog of the year.

The Derby Lane Million, an event created to generate excitement within the sport, comes to a conclusion at the area track. It took five qualifying rounds to find out which greyhounds would reach the 550-yard championship race. Now after a week of rest, the dogs race for the money and prestige that comes with being the best.

Ebony River, Greys Calibrator, Bob's Skeet, Cajun Cain, Sas Mason Jar, Jack Whistler, Kiowa Cruzechamp and Joe Hearns have combined for 142 career wins.

Which greyhound will be the champion?

"I think the race shapes up the way most people wanted it to post-position wise," kennel co-owner John Filipelli said. "The dogs that want the inside are there, and the outside dogs are where they want to be. This is the richest race in history. There's a lot of pressure, the most anyone's ever going to experience in any kind of stakes race."

The winner earns $500,000 of the $935,000 purse.

There is $65,000 at stake in the Derby Lane Consolation. Flying Nitrogen, Em's Darla, Greys Huntington, Extruding Dream, Your Lucky Charm, Kiowa Cruze Thru, Mayor Daley and Oh Well Whocares compete for the $16,000 top prize.

Three states (West Virginia, Florida and Texas) are represented in the Million. Track-record holder Greys Calibrator was the top qualifier; Bob's Skeet and Joe Hearns are the only dogs with career stakes wins; Jack Whistler is the youngest entry; and Brumage/Filipelli's Cajun Cain gave Greys Calibrator her lone qualifying loss.

There are two tips for tonight's 12-race performance: Arrive early and leave late. Weaver has put out the red carpet for a crowd he believes could reach 9,000. Thirty parimutuel tellers from Tampa Bay Downs have been hired along with extra staff in the food and beverage departments. More than 5,000 parking spaces are available, admission is free, and one fan will win a Hummer H3 in a random drawing after the Million, the final race with post time at approximately 10:45 p.m.

The drawing is limited to those who pick the event winner. Gates open at 6 p.m.

"We should be able to handle anything that the public brings us," Weaver said.

"I'm so pleased that the event has gone as smoothly as it has so far, and I think we've got a great base for building on this for the future."

HORSES: Roye McClain, 37, assistant starter at Tampa Bay Downs, died Sunday.

Sharyn Wasiluk, president of Tampa Bay Downs chapter of Race Track Chaplaincy of America, said Mr. McClain was found at his residence after he failed to show up for work. A cause of death has not been released. A memorial in honor of Mr. McClain was held Wednesday at the track pavilion. The funeral is at 11 a.m. today in Bossier, La.

"The family is setting up a trust for his 4-year-old son, Dillon," Wasiluk said. "We're accepting contributions and plan to funnel the money into the trust."

The chaplaincy telephone number is (813) 298-1576.

MORE HORSES: Sunset Kisses is the 5-2 early-line favorite for today's $60,000 Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. ... Tammi Piermarini has been selected as the track's jockey of the month after collecting her 1,500th career victory Sunday aboard Carson Unleashed. ... Jesus Castanon is now riding at Turfway Park. ... The second preliminary round of the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Association handicapping contest will be held today. ... The track celebrates Family Fiesta Day on Sunday.