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Oxford Shoes a Derby Lane Great

Patti and I were recently headed back to Tampa from El Cap in St. Petersburg when we pulled into Derby Lane just to experience something different.

I promptly lost six bucks betting on the Nos. 5 and 6 dogs to win coupled with a 5-6 Quinella — all because I saw No. 5 rid himself of some excess cargo prior to the race — then we headed home.

800px-Toward_finish_line_at_derby_laneThe experience brought back the memory of my visit with Oxford Shoes back in the early ’90s.

Shoes had been a champion of such magnitude that the night I watched him run, he went off as a 1-5 favorite, which translated to 20 cents on the dollar if he won.

Brindle colored with white toes on each paw and white at the end of his tail and on his chest, Shoes strutted past the grandstand toward the starting boxes, bobbing his head sheepishly like he wasn’t quite loose. The theatrics brought to mind former Yankees outfielder Mickey Rivers, who would limp around like each step pained him until a ball was hit his way or he was stealing a base. At said junctures, Rivers suddenly would became a sprinter with few peers.

The energy in the stands felt palpable when Shoes passed. Unlike a Lebron James or a Russell Wilson, who fans give their heartfelt adoration to because they enjoy and admire their performances, Shoes gained an even more faithful following that didn’t come from the heart, rather the pocketbook. Even the worst track soothsayers could cash a ticket on the Shoes.

The track lights came to life, the mechanical rabbit started around to the the boxes, prompting the doors to fly open. The dogs spotted the rabbit and sprinted from their confinement, sending clumps of dirt flying chaotically in all directions.

Shoes broke third, then moved to second by the last turn of the three-eighths-mile race. Down the homestretch, Shoes pulled even with Oshkosh Quake, then blew past her in the final 10 feet to win. Shoes’ winning time was two-tenths of a second slower than his winning time the previous Saturday, but Shoes had done the Al Davis thing, he just won, baby.

My interview with Shoes came two days later at E.J. Anderson’s kennel, located west of Derby Lane.

Entering the building to visit Shoes, the smell of liniment was enough to burn one’s nostrils. The sound of Fireman Dale’s bark was constant in the background, while an assistant trainer stood in the middle of the building mixing a washtub full of food. Wearing rubber gloves, the man gushed around the concoction of meat and meal until it reached a consistency resembling uncooked chili.

Ironically, Oxford Shoes, the name synonymous with winning, was not the champion’s true identity. Around the kennel every dog had another name. Shoes’ real name was “Don.”

I learned that his daily regimen included five walks or workouts away from his cage, one meal, and plenty of sleep. His modest lifestyle and accommodations were not familiar to most successful athletes, especially ones in their prime. There were no Gravy Train commercials or midnight rendezvous with shapely track groupies. Just eat, sleep and exercise.

Rockwell, Shoes’ brother, lived in a cage directly above Shoes. Both were January 1989 sons of Kelso’s Hot Rod-Tender Handmaid.

Rockwell was of similar talents to Shoes during kennel school, but didn’t fare as well once the lights came on. Nobody could forecast how talented a greyhound was until it ran against other competition.

Once Shoes’ racing career ended, I was told he would move to Ocala to perform stud duties. Even in greyhound racing, to the victor went the spoils.

bchastain19@gmail.com

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©2020 by Bill Chastain. Photo credits: Jill Doty Photography