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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

When considering the best greyhound to ever grace the Wheeling Island oval, two names always come to the surface – Friend Delilah and DD’s Nelson.

Both were superstars in the 1980s, Friend Delilah from 1980-82 and DD’s Nelson shortly thereafter from 1985-88. The pair combined for 186 victories during their Wheeling careers.

While Friend Delilah opened her career in Florida, she spent most of her racing years at Wheeling Downs (later changed to Wheeling Island). She never captured a stake race final but still holds records for most career Wheeling victories (106) and most wins in a single year (47).

DD’s Nelson not only shined at Wheeling but on the national stage – receiving All-American honors in 1987 when he won the Stroh’s Invitational Sprint in Colorado, the New Hampshire Invitational Cup, and the Wheeling Countdown Stakes. He had 80 Wheeling victories during his career.

With the month of August marking 46 years of Wheeling greyhound racing, let’s take a little trip down memory lane to recognize the accomplishments of the only greyhound in Wheeling racing history to surpass 100 career victories – Friend Delilah.

The sprinter arrived in West Virginia from Jacksonville, Fla., in the spring of 1980 – winning 23 races her first year at the Wheeling Island oval and making the final of the $45,000 City of Wheeling Stakes. The next season Delilah blossomed into one of the track’s all-time greats.

Not only was Friend Delilah the Wheeling win champion in 1981 with 47 victories, but she shared the national win crown with J.R.’s Speck (Tucson, AZ).

Friend Delilah captured 10 straight races in her stellar season (a track record at the time) and she established two 5/16 track marks – 30.43 on April 9 and 30.34 on April 14 (both since broken). She was a finalist for the second straight year in the $45,000 City of Wheeling Stakes.

In addition to her 47 victories, Friend Delilah, who raced out of the Julian Dial Kennel, had 12 seconds and 4 thirds in 76 starts in 1981 – a 61 percent win mark, a 77 percent quiniela finish and an 82 percent in the money record.

Friend Delilah was a darling – a greyhound fans adored.

“She epitomized the term fan favorite. In fact, she became a legend during the 1981-82 racing seasons. Back in those days, fans would make sure they were on hand for the race cards when she drew in. She was the mutual favorite in 66 of her 76 races in 1981,” Robin Reed, local greyhound racing historian, related. “I recall West Virginia Gov. Jay Rockefeller took a photo op with Delilah and her trainer Ken Purdy during one of his visits to Wheeling. One fan even made up a song in honor of Delilah. Near the end of her great career, fans gave her a standing ovation when she won her much anticipated victory No. 100 in the summer of 1982. That was truly a golden age for Wheeling racing and I’m glad many patrons still have memories of what a great greyhound she was.”

In late 1981, Purdy knew he was handling one of the greats in Friend Delilah – owned by Vernon and Julian Dial.

“She’s always had the desire and it never wore off. She’s all desire,” Purdy said. “She’s special and she knows it.”

Friend Delilah’s game was getting out of the box and to the first turn on top.

Friend Delilah, a December 1977 greyhound out of Opposed-My Friend Dee, was the Wheeling win champ again in 1982 with 36 victories to go along with 17 seconds and 6 thirds in 70 starts. In 214 career races at Wheeling, Delilah had 106 wins, 45 seconds and 22 thirds.

At Jacksonville in 1979, Friend Delilah had 6 wins, 5 seconds and 6 thirds in 51 races – a track where she was baffled by the outside lure. She was Grade C when she came to Wheeling, but quickly made the climb up the ladder to Grade AA.

In 265 career races, Friend Delilah had 112 victories, 50 seconds and 28 thirds. She was the tenth greyhound in the Sport of Queen’s history to reach 100 career wins and her 112 victories overall place her seventeenth on the all-time win list.

Purdy said “she can’t win every time, nobody does,” but she made a habit of crossing the wire first.

Reed said Friend Delilah’s performance during the 1981 racing year was one for the ages.

“Delilah’s 1981 season was historic. Few Wheeling greyhounds have ever come close to dominating the island oval as she did that year. She set track records for most wins in a calendar year, most consecutive wins and two speed records,” Reed said. “Plus, she made the finals of the track’s premier sprint stake race. It’s amazing to me that her 47 wins record is still intact after 41 years.”

The closest was 42 wins in 1990 by DC Jay Bird, who shared the national win championship that year with JL Rat.

Greyhounds ahead of Friend Deliliah on the all-time win list are JR’s Ripper, 143; Indy Ann and Happy Voyage, 137 each; JJ Littlerichard, 132; L.L.’s Doug, 128; JJ Doc Richard and WW Headliner, 123 each; LD’s Bahama, 121; Sarah Cap and JL Rat, 120 each; Okie Bootsy and Darius Stone, 118 each; Miss Whirl and and Algoe Boss, 115 each; Marathon Hound and Gilded Sherry, 113 each.

While August marks 46 years of live greyhound racing at Wheeling, the rich history of the island facility dates back 100 plus years – first serving as a fairground before becoming a track for thoroughbreds and harness racing.

When horse racing fizzled in the early 1970s, Wheeling Downs (later changed to Wheeling Island) opened as a greyhound track on Aug. 18, 1976 – a year after dog racing was approved by the State of West Virginia. Greyhound racing re-energized the facility as more than 4,000 fans attended opening day.

In the history of the racetrack, five greyhounds in the U.S. Greyhound Hall of Fame set paws on the Wheeling Island oval.

Kiowa Sweet Trey is the only one who considered Wheeling his home track while the others – K’s Broadway, EA’s Itzaboy, Rooster Cogburn and Dutch Bahama – competed in stake races at the island raceway. All have most of their accomplishments from competing nationally, but each won at least one race in Wheeling as part of their Hall of Fame resume.

Following are capsule looks at the five Hall of Famers:

KIOWA SWEET TREY – Inducted 2011; owned by Vince Berland and Smith Greyhounds; 12-race win streak from Maiden debut through Grade AA in 2001 (track record); captured 16 out of 18 starts and two Hot Box races the same year.

K’S BROADWAY – Inducted 2015; owned by Jack Hahn; won 1987 Wheeling Challenge Invitational.

EA’s ITZABOY – Inducted 2014; owned by Frederick Fulchino; captured the 2002 Commissioner’s Cup and fourth in the 2003 Commissioner’s Cup.

ROOSTER COGBURN – Inducted 2007; owned by Wayne Strong; won the 1977 Thomas F. Shehan Sprint Classic.

DUTCH BAHAMA – Inducted 1990; owned by Herb “Dutch” Koerner; won first round of the 1985 West Virginia Classic, checked in the second round and was disqualified.

FRIEND DELILAH TIMELINE

February 1, 1980 – Friend Delilah made her debut at Wheeling with a Grade B victory in a time of 32.03 and paid $6.60 to win. She previously raced on the Jacksonville circuit in Florida compiling a record of 6 wins, 5 seconds and 6 thirds in 51 starts.

October 10, 1980 – Finished eighth in the finals of the $45,000 City of Wheeling Stakes, a sprint event won by 1980 track win champ J’s Susie. Delilah had 3 wins, 1 third and 1 fourth in five qualifying round races.

March 24, 1981 – Completed an eight-race winning streak with a 2-length Grade AA win in a time of 31.28. The streak tied the track record previously held alone by Roman Princess (1976).

April 9, 1981 – Broke the 5/16th track record with a 30.43 effort in an 8-length box-to-wire victory. The previous mark was held by Mr. Tomo, who stopped the clock in 30.44 in November 1980.

April 14, 1981 – Broke her own 5/16th track record in back-to-back efforts with a 30.34 in another box-to-wire 6 ½-length victory.

July 24, 1981 – Finished seventh in the finals of the $45,000 City of Wheeling Stakes, a sprint event won by Florida invader Dr. Futch. Delilah had 2 wins, 1 second and 1 third in five preliminary round starts.

September 24, 1981 – Posted her record-breaking 34th win of 1981, besting the single season mark of 33 victories held by J’s Susie.

December 11, 1981 – Completed a record-breaking 10-race winning streak with a 1-length box-to-wire effort, her 45th victory of the year.

December 26, 1981 – Won her 47th race of the year, establishing a calendar year win record for Wheeling which still stands.

April 16, 1982 – Posted a 2-length box-to-wire victory to complete what would be a 20-race in-the-money streak, the longest of her career. She had 16 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds in the streak.

June 14, 1982 – Ran second by a head in the Governor’s Cup Trophy Race, caught in the stretch by 17-1 longshot River Roy.

July 19, 1982 – Won her 100th career race with a 3-length box-to-wire effort in a time of 30.63, becoming only the 10th greyhound in the history of the sport to reach 100 career wins at the time.

November 29, 1982 – Posted the 112th win of her career with a 1-length victory over Urban Cowboy in a time of 30.93. It would be the final win of her illustrious career.

December 13, 1982 – Finished out of the money in what ended up being the final race of her career after injuring an ankle and placed on the inactive list.

(Compiled by Robin Reed, local greyhound historian)

Friend Delilah, a star at Wheeling Downs in the early 1980s, won 112 career races which places her seventeenth on the all-time win list.

I was introduced to greyhound racing by a friend in the late 1970s at Wheeling Downs and fell in love with the sport and the athletes immediately. Throughout the years, I have developed a deep passion for racing. In the mid 1990s, I started writing a weekly greyhound column and shortly thereafter became a writer for The Greyhound Review.

I have enjoyed watching and writing about these wonderful competitors, including All-Americans DD's Nelson, Kiowa Sweet Trey, Gene's Champion, WW Apple Jax, Greys Royalcrown, Nimby TP Jan, Hi Noon Hero, Gable Sour Cream, KB's Ruckus and Cry Case.