ST. PETERSBURG — When Raymond Thurber named a pup in honor of top flight thoroughbred jockey John Velazquez, the late greyhound breeder didn’t go wrong.
John Valazquez, the greyhound, is also a champion after his win in Derby Lane’s oldest stakes race, the 93rd edition of the $18,000 1925 Historical Inaugural on Jan. 6.
"This is Ray’s first stakes winner since he passed away (Sept. 11 with undisclosed causes at age 74),’’ Capabal kennel owner Henry Parker said. "It’s super. … This dog has been really carrying the kennel.’’
John Valazquez, named after the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey and 2012 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame inductee with more than 5,800 victories, now races under the ownership of Thurber’s widow, Kathleen Thurber of Vernon. Parker’s previous stakes winner, Caitlyn Stoodard ($5,000 St. Petersburg Consolation Derby on June 30), also was owned by the Thurbers and is named in honor of another thoroughbred rider, Caitlyn Stoddard.
Parker, 62, met Raymond Thurber four decades ago at Hinsdale Greyhound Park in New Hampshire. He bred and raced greyhounds before sending them to Parker.
"(Thurber) always ran his own dogs for years, but the only persons he would ever give his dogs to were me and Henry,’’ Capabal trainer Belinda Parker said. "I’ve known him for years since I was a kid at 18.’’
If any dog was capable of knocking off 2017 national win leader Rt’s Bo Jangles of Cal Holland kennel in the Inaugural, John Valazquez was no surprise. He entered the 550-yard finale with white-hot form, cashing in the money in 22 of his past 23 starts with top-four finishes. The streak included 13 wins and seven seconds.
John Valazquez, who celebrates his third birthday Jan. 24, left his seven rivals in the dust. The son of Dragon Fire and Awesome Fling broke sharply from the No. 4 box, sped to a two-length lead 50 yards from the starting box, and defeated Rt’s Bo Jangles by that margin in 30.35 seconds for his first stakes title. He paid $14.40 to win as the third wagering choice. Rt’s Bo Jangles, the prohibitive 2-5 favorite, was seeking his third stakes crown and 46th win in the past 13 months.
"I just haven’t had the best luck in stakes races the last year,’’ Henry Parker said. "I was expecting a good race (from John Valazquez). The last eight races (four wins, four seconds), he’s just ripped off.’’
The $7,700 first-place prize elevated John Valazquez’s career earnings to more than $28,000. The 76-pound speedster had a fine 2017 season with 28 victories, two stakes-final appearances (third in the $10,000 Thanksgiving and seventh in the $20,000 Remembrance), and the fastest 550 clocking in the January-to-June meet at 30.13 seconds. He also ranked at least seventh in the previous two meet win standings, including a second-place tie with kennelmate Brian Ernst in the July-to-December campaign.
Volando Orange (Burk Greyhounds kennel) was third in the Inaugural followed by Wall Nut (ABC Racing), Se’s Wepon X (Nova), Flamenco Dancer (Farmer Racing), Barts Mr Peabody (Bartley Corporation) and Ctw Party Animal (Clear The Way Kennels).