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Blanchard captures 2023 Wheeling kennel championship

Stan Pawloski

Feb 12, 2024

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After three straight years finishing runner up to Lester Raines in the kennel standings at Wheeling Island, the Blanchard Kennel roared to an early lead in January 2023 and never looked back in winning the kennel championship.

            It was the second Wheeling kennel crown for James Blanchard after capturing the championship back in 2019. The kennel was booked at Wheeling in July 2017.

            The Blanchard Kennel amassed 640 victories in 2023, the most wins at Wheeling Island since the ZEZ Kennel posted 645 wins in 1999 and 659 victories in 2000. Charter Kennel took runner up honors to Blanchard with 565 wins while defending kennel champion Lester Raines finished third with 540 victories last year.

            Charter made a run at Blanchard in October – cutting the lead to 15 wins – but Blanchard caught fire in the last two months of the racing season, posting 125 victories to pull away.

            For Blanchard, their goal every year is the top spot in the standings.

            “It’s a great feeling and exciting to win the kennel championship after finishing runner up the last three years. We have an extremely dedicated team who love what they are doing and worked hard for it which makes it very special,” Blanchard said. “To win a championship, it takes a combination of a lot of talented greyhounds, but you got to have some luck along the way. I am so appreciative of everyone who had a hand in our success last year.”

            Next in line behind Blanchard (640), Charter (565) and Lester Raines (540) in the final 2023 standings were Steve Sarras (482), Jacobs Racing (432), Imark (394), Code Red (384), Wayne Ward (346), Patriot/Taplin (323), Xtrem Hess Racing (313), Rangel (255), A Ray (184) and Brad Boeckenstedt (149).

            The A Ray Kennel ceased operations at the end of October while the Brad Boeckenstedt Kennel pulled out at the end of June.

            The Blanchard Kennel had 15 greyhounds reach double figures in wins last year, including three in the racetrack’s top five – track co-win leader Artex Pumbaa (22), Tenacity (21) and Arkans TMC Athos (18).

            “Artex Pumbaa is so consistent and tries hard every race. He can break on top or come from behind. Tenacity is very talented and may be the fastest greyhound in the kennel. She needs to get position early,” Blanchard said. “Arkans TMC Athos is another consistent greyhound with a big-time rush to the turn. He will be back this year, after some time off. Anytime these three weigh-in, there’s a good chance of winning.”

            Other double-digit winners for the Blanchard Kennel were Easi Utley (17), Arkwild B Soleil, About To Rock, BNC R Rooney and TR Hill (13 each), Arkans Pride and Arma Guiness (12 each), Ark RB Heyward, Arkans Lust, Arkwild B Shalom, TMC’s Zoomzoomba and Easi Gil (10 each). Seven greyhounds had nine victories each – Arkans So Long, Artex Kusapin, Artex Suave, JW Bon Jovi, Kabluwie, Stars Align and CNS Kansasthrill.

            Blanchard praised his fellow Wheeling kennel crew members – trainer Chris Maynard, Kayla Purdy, Jeff Bowers and his wife, Sarah Blanchard. Maynard worked for the Blanchards at their Florida bookings since 2013 before coming to Wheeling in February 2022, after taking some time off after the Florida tracks closed at the end of 2020.

            “I was impressed with Chris (Maynard) when he worked for my dad (Jim Blanchard) at Orange Park in Florida. I thought he had a great future and he wanted to learn,” Blanchard said. “Kayla (Purdy) is great with the greyhounds and always puts the dogs above everything. Jeff (Bowers) recently joined our team and has been a great addition. We are a tight-knit greyhound family. At the end of the day, the dogs, our love for them and this sport, is what truly makes our operation what it is.”

            Three greyhound owners/breeders – Tracy Wildey, Rachelle Henry and Darren Henry – play significant roles in the Blanchard Kennel operation, contributing to the kennel’s success.

            “They are our core. We have a system, and they are a vital piece of the puzzle,” Blanchard said. “They are part of the breeding, raising and training. We couldn’t do it without them.”

            Several other owners race their greyhounds out of the Blanchard Kennel at Wheeling. They include Jim Rosga, Brian Brady, Allyn Shaw, Joe Frey, Ray Wong, Mike Pence, Jeff Junk, Tom Sugahara, Eddie McDonald, David Strong, CNB Racing (Trish Cescolini and Shannon Lorenz), Kim Sessions, Cathy Cameron, Warp Drive Kennel (Tabbatha Couch and Jayme Gordon) and Christine Johnson-Procopis.

            As for 2024, Blanchard expects another competitive fight for the top spot in the kennel standings.

            “It’ll be a battle, but we love a challenge,” Blanchard said. “Right now, our kennel is a little top-grade heavy. We’re hoping we have a good group of pups come in this year.”

            Handling the greyhounds is a passion for Blanchard.

            “I’ve been around greyhounds my whole life. It’s what I want to do,” Blanchard said. “Each day I wake up and can’t wait to get to the kennel.”

            In addition to garnering the most wins in 2023, the Blanchard Kennel was tops in seconds (603), thirds (508) and fourths (510).

            Blanchard and Charter were the leaders in winning percentage with 16 percent. Next in line were Lester Raines, 15 percent; Steve Sarras and Imark, 13 percent.

            Blanchard and Charter led all kennels with a 44 percent trifecta mark. Lester Raines and Steve Sarras were next with 41 percent.

            Topping the charts in starts was Blanchard (3,915) followed by Lester Raines (3,570) and Steve Sarras (3,507).

Artex Pumbaa, captain of the 2023 all-Wheeling team, was the anchor of the Blanchard Kennel last year with a track-leading 22 wins.

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