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Friday, December 6, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – No stakes race at Derby Lane offers more money to its champion than the $70,000 Holiday Distance Challenge.

The top prize is $32,000, more than what many of the 32 entries have earned so far in their respective careers.

Flying Zulu is one of those greyhounds, and he is expected to be the favorite this month to win his first stakes title for Everett Racing kennel.

The Holiday Distance Challenge, Derby Lane’s final stakes series of 2019, kicks off Saturday with the first of four qualifying rounds in Races 4 (8:10 p.m.), 6 (8:39), 8 (9:13) and 10 (9:47).

Eliminations begin Wednesday, when the field will be cut in half after the second qualifier. Two ensuing rounds on Dec. 14 and 18 will determine the finalists. Eight dogs with the most accumulative qualifying points in the 660-yard event compete in the Dec. 21 championship race.

Last year, Lester Raines kennel’s O Ya Ice Man dominated with an undefeated record in the Holiday Distance Challenge. He won all five races by a total of 19-1/2 lengths en route to his first title for kennel manager-trainer Jennifer Richardson.

Flying Zulu has the potential to equal O Ya Ice Man’s feat.

Trained by kennel manager Kelly Everett, the 29-month-old male from a litter by Barcelona Boss and Classy Senza has become Derby Lane’s top distance runner since his arrival this past May from Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs, Fla.

Flying Zulu ranks fourth in the meet’s win standings, and he is No. 1 among 660 runners with 16 victories. The 73-pound greyhound has been on a tear recently, winning nine of his previous 13 starts with four second-place finishes for breeder and owner Vince Berland of Abilene, Kan.

“He’s our best 3/8ths dog,’’ Derby Lane racing secretary Les Robison said. “He’s got eight of the 10 best times (of the meet) in that distance.’’

Flying Zulu, who comes off a second-place showing on Monday in his most recent start, possesses a career-best time of 36.83 seconds on Oct. 4.

“He’s dominated for the last three months,’’ Everett said. “He’s basically run first or second every time he’s run. But anything can happen in stakes races.’’

This will be the first stakes appearance for Flying Zulu, who enters with $17,918 in lifetime earnings. The greyhound has 31 victories overall from 60 starts, and in his past nine wins, has beaten his opponents by a combined 54 lengths. Flying Zulu is the 5-2 morning-line favorite from post 6 in his first qualifier.

Lester Raines runners can’t be overlooked. O Ya Smooth beat Flying Zulu by eight lengths two starts ago on Nov. 27. His owner, Gary Reicherts of Osage, Iowa, also had O Ya Ice Man. Another Lester Raines threat is Alcibiades, who won a Grade B race on Nov. 27 with a box-to-wire, three-length decision.

The Holiday Distance Challenge will be the first stakes action for both dogs. O Ya Smooth starts from box 1 in Race 6, and Alcibiades drew post 5 in Race 8. “All of the Lester Raines dogs are competitive,’’ Robison said.

Braska Rebel, who won Derby Lane’s most recent 660-yard stakes on June 29 - the $25,000 St. Petersburg Derby – starts from box 4 in Race 10 for kennel owners Jim and Kayruth Abernathy.

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.