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Friday, May 19, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Just when Derby Lane racing secretary Les Robison believed he had all the entries for the $20,000 Remembrance Stakes, his telephone rang. Garrett Burk was on the other end, requesting a late change

. Enter Fiesta Ironman, a greyhound who showed Burk something earlier that day on the May 5 matinee card. Burk, who had already entered Ozark Mike and Ozark Fred for the 550-yard puppy stakes, adjusted that plan after Fiesta Ironman rolled to a seven-length Grade B win.

“Garrett was like, ‘I’m going to put Ironman in (the Remembrance). . . . He looks like a better dog than Ozark Fred,’ ’’ said Shannon Burk, 34, Garrett’s wife and co-owner of her husband’s Burks Greyhounds kennel. “He changed it at the last minute (and took out Ozark Fred).’’

Fiesta Ironman, who struggled mightily when he arrived at Derby Lane this past October, is a dog on the rise. The 21-month-old male from a litter by Pg Tiger and Mega Dunia kicked off the Remembrance on May 13 with his first career Grade A victory, a four-length upset at 12-1 odds in 30.75 seconds – his fastest clocking on the 550-yard course. It was Fiesta Ironman’s seventh overall win, and only the third time in 32 starts that he had run faster than 31 seconds.

“He’s been coming around a lot lately,’’ Burk said.

Fiesta Ironman spent plenty of time on the track before making his racing debut on Dec. 2, alternating between official and unofficial schooling. In his first five official schoolings, the 71-pound dog lost by 25, 17, 19, 16 and 17 lengths. Fiesta Ironman broke his maiden in his fourth start.

“We’ve had him since he was 13 months old,’’ Burk said. “He schooled, and did terrible. He even graded off (once). We put him back in schooling and kept trying.’’

The first-round win by Fiesta Ironman ensured that the sprinter would advance to Saturday’s third round for owner Jeff Blair of Abilene, Kan. He ranks sixth with 22 points after a fourth-place finish in Wednesday’s second qualifier. The point leaders are undefeated Brian Ernst and John Valazaquez, both with Capabal kennel, at 32. A three-way tie for third at 26 exists between David Lopez (Capabal), Jeff Sessions (Farmer Racing) and Rt’s Bo Jangles (Cal Holland).

“I would prefer (Fiesta Ironman) to win the (championship) race, and not work so hard in these (qualifying) races,’’ Burk said. “He’s a sweetheart (in the kennel). He’s so calm. . . . For being a puppy, he’s still well-behaved.’’

Fiesta Ironman, whose sire Pg Tiger won the 2009 Fall Juvenile Stakes at Bluffs Run Greyhound Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa, is in Race 6 at 8:39 p.m. Ozark Mike also advanced with 11 points and is in Race 10 at 9:47.

MORE DOGS. Lester Raines rejoined the Derby Lane roster Monday. The kennel left for Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark., on Dec. 26, 2012. Tom Artzer is the trainer.

Don Jensen

I have been a sports writer in the newspaper industry for 40 years: working in Florida, Maryland and Virginia. I moved to Florida in 1984 after serving as the publicity director of Charles Town Race Track, a thoroughbred facility in West Virginia. I reside in Tampa, Fla., and cover the Tampa Bay area parimutuel scene – both greyhounds and thoroughbreds – and write about high school sports for the Tampa Bay Times.