Once a magnet for greyhound racing aficionados, Florida’s Derby Lane has transformed since ending dog racing in 2020 due to Amendment 13. Operating since 1925, this change marked the end of a long chapter in the venue’s history.
Richard Winning, great-grandson of the founder, approached this transition with optimism, saying, “When they give you lemons, you gotta learn to make lemonade somehow.”
Today, the Derby Club building hosts poker games, simulcast races, and horse races nationwide. Though animal rights groups like GREY2K USA hailed the end of greyhound racing, Winning argued that the statistics on injuries and euthanasia were exaggerated. Yet, the activists prevailed, and greyhound racing in Florida became history.
Winning fondly remembers the excitement of the races and the once-crowded grandstands, now replaced with grass. The journey of Derby Lane, from its inception to its heyday in the 1980s, followed by its decline after the Florida Lottery and the opening of Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, has been eventful. Despite these challenges, Derby Lane, now Win! Derby, operates on a leaner budget.
Faced with the challenges of its Coastal High Hazard area location, Winning considers building a more efficient facility on the property. Though its future is uncertain, Derby Lane’s legacy as a symbol of resilience and adaptability endures. Winning and his team are committed to finding new ways to prosper in a world without greyhound racing.
Once a buzzing hub for greyhound racing enthusiasts, Derby Lane now stands as a testament to change and adaptability. Located on Gandy Boulevard, St. Petersburg, Florida, the track officially ceased its dog racing operations at the end of 2020, following Florida’s Amendment 13 that banned greyhound racing in the state. This marked the end of an era for a venue that had been operating since 1925 and was known as The Oldest Continually Operating Greyhound Track in the Nation.
Richard Winning, the great-grandson of Derby Lane founder T.L. Weaver, was at the helm of the St. Petersburg Kennel Club Inc. (the track’s official company name) during this significant transition. With a history working in various roles at the track since the mid-1970s, Winning embodied a glass-half-full attitude, embracing the change with a sense of optimism. “When they give you lemons,” he says, “you gotta learn to make lemonade somehow.”
Today, the Derby Club building is alive with activity, hosting visitors for poker games and simulcast greyhound races from West Virginia, the only state where it’s still legal, as well as horse races from all over the country. Despite the end of live greyhound races, the facility is well-maintained and continues to generate revenue from these activities and by leasing its vast parking lot to businesses like Amazon.
While the animal rights groups, most notably GREY2K USA, celebrated the end of what they deemed as cruel and inhumane greyhound racing, Winning believes the statistics on dog injuries and euthanasia were sensationalized. He argues that injuries are a part of any sport, whether it involves humans or animals. Nevertheless, the activists won, and greyhound racing became a thing of the past in Florida.
Reminiscing about the past, Winning admits to missing the excitement of the races and the roar of the crowd. The grandstands, once packed with cheering spectators, are now silent, and the quarter-mile track has been replaced with grass. The story of Derby Lane spans almost a century, from its inception by T.L. Weaver to its peak in the 1980s, attracting 10,000 visitors on a summer’s night and generating a track record of $105 million wagered in 1986 alone.
The decline began with the introduction of the Florida Lottery in 1988, followed by the debut of Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in 2003. By 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 13, sealing the fate of greyhound racing in the state. Despite the challenges, Derby Lane, now rebranded as Win! Derby, continues to operate, albeit on a tighter budget.
Looking to the future, Winning acknowledges that the facility won’t be there forever. The Coastal High Hazard area location makes the land susceptible to flooding, and potential buyers are wary of governmental limits on construction. However, Winning is determined to make the most of the situation, considering building a smaller, more efficient facility on the property.
As Derby Lane stands at a crossroads, its future is uncertain, but its legacy as a symbol of change and resilience in the face of adversity is assured. Despite the challenges, Winning and his team are determined to adapt and find new ways to thrive in a world without greyhound racing.