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Friday, October 4, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – After going coast to coast, Sabotage Steve finally has room to boast.

An invader from Florida’s east coast, where the 25-month-old son of Djays Octane and Omega Miss couldn’t win, Sabotage Steve has found the state’s west coast to be more conducive to his running style.

Following a surprising second-place finish at 22-1 odds in this past weekend’s $50,000 Husker Magic Fall Sprint, Sabotage Steve is expected to be one of the dogs to beat Saturday in the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile at Derby Lane.

The 550-yard stakes for 32 youthful greyhounds features two qualifying rounds, with athletes needing a top-four finish in each event to advance. First-round action is in Races 4 (8:10 p.m.), 6 (8:39), 8 (9:13) and 10 (9:47). Qualifying ends Wednesday with two final races, which send eight dogs to the Oct. 12 championship. First place pays $9,000.

Sabotage Steve drew into Race 10 and will start from box 1 as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Other first-round, morning-line top picks include Lashmet kennel’s LK’s Turbo Tyler (Race 4); Capabal kennel’s CBJ Trifecta (6); and Everett Racing kennel’s Flying Romanian (8).

Abernathy entered two other greyhounds: Shes Got A Way (Race 4) and Worry About You (8).

Winning the Gold Trophy has been a challenge for favorites in the title race. Since 2005, only two dogs – Hi Noon Renegade of Nova kennel (2011) and Brady Thomas of Floyd kennel (2006) – have prevailed when going off as the wagering choice. Ten champions have paid double digits, and the average $2 mutuel ticket for a winner during that span has been $15.

Sabotage Steve possesses only one Grade A victory so far, but his effort in the Husker Magic has kennel operators Jim and Kayruth Abernathy gaining confidence in their 73-month-old athlete. Competing in his first stakes race, Sabotage Steve was the youngest of the eight Husker Magic finalists and the longest shot on the tote board.

He broke seventh and closed strongly to finish 4-1/2 lengths behind LK’s Crush N It, who clocked a career-best time of 30.14 seconds on the 550-yard course.

“I told my help, ‘About the only way he has a shot is if all the speed breaks at the same time, and goes down (to the first turn) and gives (Sabotage Steve) a little room on the rail,’ ’’ Abernathy said.

“That’s exactly what happened.’’

The performance resulted in Sabotage Steve’s biggest paycheck for one race, $11,000 – the bulk of his $15,541 lifetime earnings.

“He’s a young pup,’’ Abernathy said. “Hopefully, he can get better. He’s just now maturing and coming into his own. So we’ll see what we’ve got.’’

Owned by Steve Sarras of Wheeling, W.Va., Sabotage Steve started his career in February at Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. He lost all four starts there before being moved in May to the third-ranked kennel at Derby Lane.

“He’s a little bit of a closer, and the speed at Palm Beach is what hurt him over there,’’ Abernathy said. “He’s just a nice dog, tries hard every time, and is real close at the end every time.’’

The change of scenery to Derby Lane benefited Sabotage Steve from the outset. He won his first two starts, and four of his first six. Competition became tougher after that, and Sabotage Steve has won only three of his ensuing 25 starts against Grade A and B runners. But he has finished no worse than fourth in eight of his past nine races, displaying his late-running style each time. Overall, he has won seven of 35 outings – all at 550 yards.

“After the puppy stakes (Gold Trophy), I may try him at 3/8ths and see if he can go that distance,’’ Abernathy said. “We’ll see how he does.

“He’s great (in the kennel). He’s laid back, and he knows where his crate is. You just call him and say ‘Steve!’ and he comes and walks next to you.’’

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.