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Friday, January 6, 2017

 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Don Burk Jr. is no stranger to the big stage at Derby Lane.

The native of Boston joined the track roster in 2013, and became the first kennel operator in more than a decade to win three consecutive kennel crowns with Burk Greyhounds. But six months ago, he turned the operation over to son Garrett Burk, and Donald Burk started ABC Racing kennel with wife Joy Burk as his trainer.

Just how much more history Burk can make depends on Mega Norton, who will be a decided underdog Saturday in the 1925 Historical Inaugural Stakes – the first Derby Lane stakes race of 2017. The $18,000 event, a 550-yard sprint, is the track’s oldest stakes race in its 92nd year. Post time for the Inaugural in Race 10 is 9:47 p.m. First place pays $7,700.

Mega Norton, a 20-month-old male bred and owned by Jeff Blair of Abilene, KS., became Burk’s first stakes finalist under the ABC Racing brand in Wednesday’s qualifying with a stunning win at 14-1 odds. The son of Djays Octane and Primed Az Mailie broke last, but rallied in the final yards to snap a career-long eight-race losing streak. He drew box 6 in the Inaugural finale. “(Mega Norton) got lucky, because he went down to the turn eighth and (several rivals) blew out a little bit and he sneaked around on the rail,’’ Burk said. “I know (from) the past breedings of his mama, she has thrown a lot of distance dogs and closers.’’

Burk has two Derby Lane stakes wins, both with Mega Nerfetta. She won the track’s two richest 660-yard stakes: the 2014 Holiday Distance Challenge and the 2015 Distance Classic. Burk said there is little comparison between Mega Norton and Mega Nerfetta.

“Two different animals,’’ he said. “Nerfetta was more to the front. She could pick up shorter dogs, but she had more early speed. (Mega Norton) doesn’t have the early foot that Mega Nerfetta had.’’

Mega Norton had won six of 37 starts, five by coming from off the pace. His first 24 races were on the 550 course before trying 660. He came within one round of qualifying for the Holiday Distance Challenge in December

Inaugural starters from the rail: Lego Andrew (Floyd kennel), Bella Gigan (Alderson), JW Let Me Win (Capabal), Kentucky Kat (Cal Holland), Mac’s Kelly (Alabama Racing), WW’s Odessabeach (Patriot) and Hi Noon Viper (Nova).

Hi Noon Viper (Thanksgiving Stakes), Kentucky Kat (T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge) and Lego Andrew (Sprint Classic) all won stakes races last year. Kentucky Kat and Lego Andrew also tied for the best 550 clocking at the recent July-to-December meet at 30.09 seconds.

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.