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Friday, December 22, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Capabal kennel owner Henry Parker has won at least one stakes championship each of the past four seasons at Derby Lane. He can add to that streak Saturday in the $70,000 Holiday Distance Challenge, the track’s final stakes race of 2017.

The event (Race 10, 9:47 p.m.) offers Derby Lane’s richest first-place prize of $32,000.

Parker is the only dog man with two qualifiers in the 660-yard race, and both are littermates: Hula Hoopn Haley and Mocha Maya.

“(Mocha Maya) has been steady all meet, and (Hula Hoopn Haley) has been having a little trouble getting going in 3/8ths,’’ Parker said. “But (Hula Hoopn Haley) is probably better than the sister.’’

The 3-year-old females from a litter by Raiders Blaze and BKR Raven are among eight starters in a field that includes WW’s Odessabeach of Patriot kennel, who has won 10 of her past 11 starts on the distance course. She was the only dog to win three of four qualifiers, and topped the point standings with 48.

Parker has won eight stakes since the 2013-14 meet, the last on June 30 with Caitlyn Stoodard in the St. Petersburg Consolation Derby.

“You’ve got to have a little bit of luck,’’ Parker said. “That helps.’’

Hula Hoopn Haley and Mocha Maya are owned by Ann Occhino of Thornton, Colo. They were bred by Al Occhino, Ann’s son, and are trained by Belinda Parker. The dogs started their careers at Melbourne Greyhound Track, but were moved after each won only once in their first five starts. They made their Derby Lane debuts on May 1. Chris Palmieri, who races dogs and teamed with Parker to win St. Petersburg stakes races with SE’s Chewie (2012 Sprint Classic) and PNJ’s Barr (2004 St. Petersburg Derby), was the driving force behind Hula Hoopn Haley and Mocha Maya moving across the state.

“I do business with (Palmieri), and he broke (the dogs) in over (at Melbourne),’’ Parker said. “He was pretty high on them, pretty confident they would run (well at Derby Lane). He’s had a pretty good eye for that sort of thing. . . I was like, ‘OK, we’ll see.’’

Hula Hoopn Haley has more career wins (nine from 39 starts), but seven-time winner Mocha Maya has been more consistent in 50 outings with an in-the-money percentage of 76 with top-four finishes. The pair has combined to win 14 of 16 races by rallying from off the pace.

The field in post-position order: Mega Trujillo (Burk Greyhounds kennel), Hula Hoopn Haley, TMC’s Moonbeam (Steubenville), JSK Bye Bye Baby (Cal Holland), WW’s Odessabeach, Mocha Maya, LR Checkers (Floyd) and Mega Toledo (ABC Racing).

TMC’s Moonbeam, the second-leading qualifier with 42 points, is the only qualifier with a stakes title. He won the 550-yard Husker Magic Fall Sprint on Sept. 30 for owner Eddie McDonald of Bridgeport, Texas, and kennel manager-trainer John Graham.

Cal Holland has won Derby Lane’s past two stakes races, both with All-America candidate RT’s Bo Jangles in the Thanksgiving and Howl-O-Ween.

Don Jensen

I have been a sports writer in the newspaper industry for 40 years: working in Florida, Maryland and Virginia. I moved to Florida in 1984 after serving as the publicity director of Charles Town Race Track, a thoroughbred facility in West Virginia. I reside in Tampa, Fla., and cover the Tampa Bay area parimutuel scene – both greyhounds and thoroughbreds – and write about high school sports for the Tampa Bay Times.