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Thursday, April 6, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – ABC Racing kennel owner Don Burk sat on the paddock bench at Derby Lane, studying the racing lines of Fiesta Destroyer. The statistical data supported Burk’s remarks that his greyhound is one with huge upside.

“I knew he was going to be a distance dog, and I knew he was a nice dog,’’ he said. “I get them so young that it takes them a while to mature. That’s what has happened.

’’ Fiesta Destroyer enters the $75,000 Distance Classic Saturday night with a target on his back as Burk attempts to win Derby Lane’s richest race for the second time in three years. The 22-month-old son of Pat C Clement and Kelsos Yesindeed won all four qualifying rounds, and will be the youngest of the eight starters in Race 10 at 9:47.

When the Distance Classic began two weeks ago, Fiesta Destroyer was Burk’s second of three entries. He was the only ABC athlete to survive the first round of cuts, and went on to win all four qualifiers by a combined 15-1/2 lengths. His final two clockings of 37.14 and 37.19 seconds ranked only behind the 37.11 by D’Arcy kennel’s Ethanol in the series. Fiesta Destroyer dominated the points standings with 64, 20 more than Bella Fruitzy of Burk Greyhounds.

“He happened to hit his break a few times,’’ Burk said. “Whether he can keep it up and not get tired (is yet to be seen). It’s three days (between races), four days, three days, four days (and) three days. It’s hard on distance dogs.’’

Burk received Fiesta Destroyer from owner Jeff Blair of Abilene, Kan., at an early age. The 69-pound dog was only 13 months old when he arrived at Derby Lane, and Burk began to school him two months later. Fiesta Destroyer broke his maiden by five lengths in his career debut, but lost his next nine races.

A move from the 550-yard course to 660 ignited his career under trainer Joy Burk, Don’s wife. Fiesta Destroyer has won seven of 17 starts at the longer distance after losing 26 of 30 races at 550. Another improvement has come in his box speed. He never broke first in his first 25 starts, but has since gotten out of the box first in seven of 22 outings. Fiesta Destroyer entered the Distance Classic without a Grade A win.

Burk won the 2015 event with Mega Nerfetta. He said there is a common denominator between Fiesta Destroyer and the two-time stakes-winning Mega Nerfetta.

“They broke in the same way (winning their first race) and just progressed,’’ Burk said. “You don’t know what the limit is. Some dogs break in like a house on fire and that’s it – they never get any better. Then some dogs get better and might win a (Grade) B or an A, and back and forth. (Fiesta Destroyer) is winning stakes rounds. . . That’s what Nerfetta did.’’

Other finalists: Bella Fruitzy, Ethanol, Flying Tidalwave (McAllister Racing), Kay Aj Hostak (Patriot), two-time stakes winner Mac’s Gossie (Alabama Racing), Noelles Bella (Floyd) and Penrose Evamarie (Cal Holland). First place pays $30,500.