Although the dates are tentative, the $35,000 West Virginia Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association Juvenile and the $65,000 WVGOBA Sprint are docketed for October and November.
According to track officials, those are the only two stake races scheduled for Wheeling Island this year.
No $100,000 Wheeling Island Invitational, Panhandle Classic, Holiday Sprint, Buckeye Cup and George Kellas Memorial Cup.
“At this time, we have no plans for any stake races this year other than the two West Virginia-bred stakes. With the racing industry declining and with gaming competition from Pennsylvania, our best approach right now is to stop and assess what we are doing,” Wheeling Island President and General Manager Jim Simms said. “We want racing to thrive, but we want to take a look and see what racing programs are working and not working.”
The George Kellas Memorial Cup paid tribute to the late radio personality and one of greyhound racing’s most passionate fans and supporters. Having the event in Kellas’ honor each year means a lot to his family, who have attended the stake final each year.
One possibility, Simms noted, is having a hot box race in Kellas’ honor. While a small consolation, it would be a nice gesture.
The two WVGOBA stake races are state-mandated and funded through the breeders’ program. The West Virginia-bred races do not cost the track any money (the purses come from the state), but the track benefits as the stake races draw fans to the facility.
It’s unfortunate and disappointing that Wheeling Island, regarded as one of the top greyhound tracks in the country, has decided not to have a stakes program in 2011.
Stake races have been part of the racing landscape for years, they draw national attention, fans look forward to watching them and they have a direct bearing on how voters select All-Americans.
With a full slate of stake races in 2010, Wheeling placed two greyhounds on the All-American first team — KB’s Ruckus and Cry Case — and two more on the second unit — WP’s Cameo and Gale WW Wanika.
The Wheeling stakes program has been funded the last few years through simulcast money, according to a former racing director. Each week a percentage of simulcast money was set aside with half going into weekly purses and the other half funding the stake program.
While the simulcast money is still available to use, track management has decided not to use it for a stakes program. The total in the past has amounted to more than $300,000 a year.
One of Wheeling’s sister tracks — Southland Greyhound Park in Arkansas — has a full slate of stake races this year, including the $5,000 Hound Madness, $10,000 Spring Futurity, $25,000 Razorback Classic, $55,000 Southland Derby and $50,000 Festival of Stakes.
Funding for the Southland stake program comes from a percentage of the horse and greyhound simulcasts (similar to the Wheeling funding mechanism before this year). Southland also kicked in money from their marketing budget.
Stake events also dot the racing season at other racetracks across the country.
Currently, one of Wheeling’s top and most exciting distance runners — Midnight Light — is competing at Derby Lane. She made the final of the Distance Classic at the Florida track and is expected to be entered in the St. Petersburg Derby in June.
Several other greyhounds shipped South for the World Classic at Mardi Gras (Hollywood) in March.
Although it’s nice when Wheeling greyhounds travel and fare well, they shouldn’t have to go to other tracks for stake races because none are offered at their home surface. It’s called taking care of your own athletes and fans at their home track.
In early March, Wheeling racing director Jane Horvath expressed disappointment when Wheeling greyhounds did not win either the Flashy Sir or Rural Rube awards. Be prepared for a bigger disappointment next year when no Wheeling dogs make All-American because the track did not have a stakes program.
Both the Flashy Sir (top distance runner) and Rural Rube (top sprinter) awards were won by Flying Coal City, who raced at Derby Lane where a full array of stake events are held each year.
Wayne Ward Kennel’s WW’s Patriots has won four out of her last five Grade AA 3/8 races for trainer Ron Otto. Kennel-mates WW’s Cowboys (AA) and WW’s Power Press (A, AA) have back-to-back wins.
Wheeling Hot Dogs (as of April 20)
Bussmann Balakas Kennel’s Kiowa Grand Girl has won three out of her last four Grade AA trips for trainer David O’Keefe.
A Ray Kennel’s Dakotas Alene has won three out of his last four outings (A, AA) for trainer Joe Palmer. Kennel-mate AMF Ex President has back-to-back victories (A, AA).
C And C Kennel’s CTW Neuroblast has three straight wins (D, C, B) for trainer Patrick Bever. Kennel-mate PC’s Seneca Rock has back-to-back victories (B, A).
Gable Kennel’s Cry Exxon has three wins (B, A, AA) and a second in his last four 3/8 trips for trainer Wayne Piquette. Kennel-mate Gable Alice has back-to-back victories (B, A).
Wayne Strong Kennel’s MK Seitz has two straight Grade AA wins for trainer Melinda McCardle.
Darren Henry Kennel’s BD’s Raven has back-to-back victories (A, AA) for trainer Terry Green.
Abrahamson Kennel’s Flying Bassey has two wins in a row (B, A) for trainer Tom Engle.
HOLLYWOODIAN: Four greyhounds who either launched their racing careers or spent time at Wheeling are competing in the $30,000 Hollywoodian at Mardi Gras in Florida.
Following are their finishes in the first round earlier this week: AMF Buckeye, second; WW’s Aunt Bea, second; AMF Mountaineer, third; and Kiowa Myth, eighth.
The second round is tonight with future qualifying rounds set for Sunday, April 24, and Thursday, April 28. The championship final is scheduled for Friday, May 6.
By Stan Pawloski