By Jeff “Laca” Conway
When Florida voters overwhelming approved the banning of dog racing by a 69-31% vote in a 2018 constitutional amendment, the 11 surviving dog tracks had to make plans to phase out their business that had been going on for nearly 100 years.
It appears only two tracks remain open as the final deadline to run live races is December 31st, 2020 – St. Pete’s Derby Lane and West Palm Beach’s Palm Beach Kennel Club.
But only the PBKC is going out with New Years Eve in a blast. The kennel club will be racing up until the final seconds till the amendment takes effect. That’s right, this New Year’s Eve, the famed dog track, in their 88th and final season, will have live racing for 12 hours. The first face will take off at 12 noon and the last race will end all dog racing in the state of Florida at 11:59pm, finishing up just 25 seconds or so till the amendment takes place.
The celebration will include live entertainment all day long with bands, Lake Worth High School ROTC, Irish dancers, and even a traveling polka band. The first 1,000 guest will get a PBKC wallet and a midnight toast of complimentary champagne for all guests 21 and over. The last race will feature The Long Run 1932-2020 Championship and the Twin-Tri and Tri-super jackpots will be forced out.
Meanwhile, St. Pete’s world famous Derby Lane will be wrapping up their racing season next weekend. They will be giving away hats to the first 2,000 fans over the weekend and their live brass band will be playing in attendance. Beer drinkers will like the special on their final racing day Sunday. Guests 21 and over will receive two complimentary Fast Dog Blonde Ale with a local craft beer festival going one. A Grand Finale Stakes race will then take place to close out live racing. I had made New Years Eve plans set over two year ago for December 31st to head to Derby Lane for its last race, but unfortunately it will be 4 days earlier.
The St. Pete Kennel Club opened on January 3, 1925 and regulars included the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Don Zimmer. I remember being there when the most famous racing dog in the country, Keefer, raced before a record 12,770 fans in 1986 in a stakes race. For decades, men had to wear a sports jacket to enter their famous restaurant. A tuxedo dressed band would perform before each race before crowds that were usually over 10,000 a performance on the weekends. There were multiple floors to wager any pari-mutual race with multiple restaurants and a huge gift shop.
It’s hard to believe the government can shut down a business that had been around nearly 100 years and hadn’t changed or done anything illegally. Kind of like what’s going on in NYC and California, I guess.