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Friday, March 20, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Jennifer Richardson appeared to have the better cards in her back pocket last year in the $75,000 Distance Classic at Derby Lane.

The Lester Raines kennel manager and trainer possessed three of the eight finalists, including undefeated qualifier O Ya Sniper.

Then, LK’s Hi Pockets of Lashmet kennel ruined Richardson’s party.

When O Ya Sniper, the 8-5 race favorite, and his brother, O Ya Ice Man, incurred traffic issues on the final turn, LK’s Hi Pockets had clear sailing for a three-length victory in the Florida West Coast track’s richest race.

Richardson will have another chance to turn the tables on her rival kennels when she starts JS Bumpin Buds, O Ya Fast Money and O Ya Diesel in the 61st edition of the 660-yards series, which begins Saturday.

Thirty-two greyhounds will compete in the first of four qualifying rounds in Races 4 (8:10 p.m.), 6 (8:39), 8 (9:13), and 10 (9:47). After Wednesday’s second round, the field will be cut in half for the final two qualifiers on March 28 and April 1. Eight dogs with the most accumulative points advance to the April 4 championship race. Greyhounds earn points in each race based on order of finish on a 16-10-8-6-3-2-1-0 scale.

First place is worth $30,500.

Richardson compares O Ya Diesel (Race 8, box 4) to O Ya Sniper, who won all four qualifying races in the 2019 Distance Classic before finishing sixth in the title event. He wound up seven lengths behind LK’s Hi Pockets, who paid $14.40 to win as the fifth wagering choice. The loss ended O Ya Sniper’s career-best, six-race win streak.

“We actually jokingly called (O Ya Diesel) Sniper a lot, because he reminded us of him,’’ said Richardson, who has led Lester Raines atop Derby Lane’s win standings in the 14-kennel race. “He looks like him, and he runs like him.

“Neither (dog) started (their racing careers) so great. It took them a while (to be successful). Actually, Sniper had a rougher go at first than Diesel. He struggled at 550 (yards) and we’re like, ‘I’m going to put him in 3/8ths and see if we get a dog out of him . . . or whether he’s not going to make it.’ (Once) in 3/8ths, that dog took off.’’

O Ya Sniper dominated Distance Classic qualifying last year, winning his four qualifiers by a total of 18-1/2 lengths. After his defeat in the championship event, O Ya Sniper was moved two months later to Southland in West Memphis, Ark., where he continues to compete.

Richardson’s other two Distance Classic finalists, O Ya Ice Man and B Mister Blu, finished fourth and seventh, respectively.

O Ya Diesel, a son of SH Avatar and O Ya Victoria, turned 2 years old on Wednesday. He has been with Richardson since his racing career began this past August. O Ya Diesel’s first 11 races came at 550 yards before Richardson moved him primarily to the 660 course.

“We knew whenever he was breaking in, he always wanted to close out real late,’’ Richardson said. “We could see a lot of bottom.’’

Owned by Gary Reicherts of Osage, Iowa, O Ya Diesel has 10 victories from 38 starts. Seven of his wins have been from 24 races at 660. He also has the meet’s fastest 660 clocking of 37.12 seconds on Feb. 13.

This will be O Ya Diesel’s second stakes appearance. In the $70,000 Holiday Distance Challenge this past December, he was eliminated after the fourth and final qualifying round.

“He’s starting to shine a little bit now. . . coming out of his shell,’’ Richardson said. “He’s probably the best 3/8ths dog we have right now in the kennel.

“We took him off (recently) to give him a little bit of a rest. He ran two races that weren’t so great (a pair of sixth-place showings), so we rested him and put him back on (for the Distance Classic).’’ O Ya Diesel finished second in his most recent start on March 13.

Lester Raines’ previous stakes championship came this past October with O Ya Elvira in the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile.

JS Bumpin Buds starts in Race 4 from post 4, and O Ya Fast Money drew box 8 in Race 6.

Richardson said winning the Distance Classic won’t be easy.

“Nova (kennel) has some tough dogs to beat,’’ she said. “Lashmet has a couple of good dogs, too.’’

Lashmet has won Derby Lane’s past three stakes races, and five of eight in the 2019-2020 campaign.

Farmer Racing’s Rich N Famous is the only entry that has appeared in the past two Distance Classic championship races. He finished fifth last year after leading the race early, and was seventh in 2018.

Rich N Famous starts in Race 4 out of box. He celebrates his fifth birthday in November and has not won a stakes title from 185 starts. Rich N Famous has 24 victories overall.

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.