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Saturday, September 10, 2016

For more than two hours, Husker Magic received the royal treatment at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Her toenails were painted blue and green, and a championship blanket covered the fawn-colored female. Her retirement party was under way.

With kennel co-owner Kayruth Abernathy holding the dog’s leash, fans petted Derby Lane’s all-time win leader on the tarmac – offering final goodbyes.

Husker Magic’s farewell appearance on Aug. 27 evoked memories of three decades earlier when Keefer ruled the St. Petersburg racing scene. He was one of the most talked-about greyhounds in 1986 with his flamboyant personality and dominant running style. The dog even had a book written about him.

But Keefer never had a Derby Lane stakes race named in his honor like Husker Magic has.

The inaugural $50,000 Husker Magic Fall Sprint, a 550-yard event formerly called the Fall Sprint, kicks off the first of four qualifying rounds tonight in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10. The finale is Sept. 24.

Derby Lane vice president Louise Weaver, the track historian, and facility spokeswoman Alexis Winning said this will be the first stakes race in the track’s 91 years to be named after a greyhound.

“We did discuss maybe doing one after Keefer, but Keefer went on to race elsewhere (at Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark.),’’ Winning said. “This (stakes) had a lot of support from upper management to executives. It was (a) real quick (decision) when we decided to do a reformation and reconfiguring of the stakes schedule this year.

“She’s definitely taken names here. She’s got quite the following – the personality, the painted nails, and all.’’

Husker Magic, who was retired June 22 after her 105th victory, is the only greyhound to reach the century mark in wins at Derby Lane. All but one victory – the $35,000 Daytona 500 National Championship at Daytona Beach Kennel Club in 2015, her first of three stakes titles – came in St. Petersburg.

“There’s never been a dog like Husker Magic that ever ran at Derby Lane,’’ said kennel co-owner Jim Abernathy, Kayruth’s husband. “She deserves it.’’

Jim Abernathy shares ownership in Husker Magic with Arthur Kaufman of Sarasota and Terry Haber of Grapevine, Ark.

Kaufman started the Husker Magic journey by purchasing her dam, Casino Zada, for $3,000 at the National Greyhound Association meet in Abilene, Kan. Haber eventually bred her to Husker Magic’s sire, Rhythmless.

“The whole litter was A-grade,’’ said Kaufman, 75, who is retired from the insurance industry. “(Husker Magic) deserves the honors, Jim deserves the honors, and of course, Kayruth did all the work (and) deserves the honors.

“Meeting the best people has been a wonderful experience. (Jim and Carol Abernathy, Jim’s parents who live in Sarasota) are very close friends of ours, and (racing dogs) is just a fun experience.’’

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.