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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Friday is Derby day at Derby Lane.

The greyhound track’s second-oldest stakes race also could be referred to this year as the Jeff Blair Invitational. “No, I wouldn’t go that far,’’ Derby Lane director of racing Les Robison said. “At this time of the year, (Blair) has the better 3/8th dogs running right now.’’

Blair, a greyhound owner from Abilene, Kan., will be represented by half of the eight-dog field in the 91st annual St. Petersburg Derby, headliner of the $30,000 Derby series. Blair also has two starters in the 87th Consolation Derby. Both 660-yard races are on Derby Lane’s closing night of the 2016-17 season. The Derby, which pays $11,000 to the winner, is Race 10 (9:47 p.m.). The Consolation Derby (Race 6, 8:39) carries a $2,200 first-place prize.

Ethanol, winner of the $75,000 Distance Classic on April 8, is expected to be the wagering favorite from box 2 for D’Arcy kennel. The 29-month-old female from a litter by Djays Octane and Jet Force was the only greyhound to win both qualifying races. Kennel owner-trainer Mick D’Arcy captured last year’s Derby with All-America first-team member Oya Stan The Man, and another top effort by Ethanol would bolster her chances of industry recognition this year.

Blair’s Derby starters were consistent performers throughout qualifying with their eight combined top-four placings highlighted by a pair of victories and two seconds. ABC Racing owner Don Burk will start three of the dogs: Mega Norton (box 3), Bella Cypress (6) and Bella Clarice (7). The greyhounds are 25-month-old littermates by Djays Octane and Primed Az Mailie. Joy Burk, Don’s wife, is their trainer. The other Blair athlete, Bella Fruitzy, is coming off one of her best lifetime efforts. Running for Burk Greyhounds manager-trainer Garrett Burk, Don’s son, Bella Fruitzy won by three lengths in 37.41 seconds - matching her seventh-best 660 clocking. She has made her past 89 starts on the distance course after winning only one of 17 races at 550. Bella Fruitzy has 15 total victories and will start from the 8 hole. “(Bella Fruitzy) has actually got her (preferred starting) spot,’’ Robison said. “She’s a strong contender from outside. “You don’t notice her too much during the regular racing season. But she is very capable when she draws her (favorite) box like she has this time. Based on where the other dogs are breaking from, she’s going to have a pretty good advantage to stay outside and run well. She should be really well placed at the end of the race.’’

Bella Fruitzy, a 29-month-old female from a litter by Derby Lane 550 track record-holder Trent Lee and Bella Glenda, is a late runner with every victory coming from off the pace. She has five career losing streaks of at least 10 races, and scored back-to-back wins twice.

Other Derby starters: Tiznow Alex (1 box) and Tmc’s Moonbeam (4), both from Pauline O’Donnell kennel, and Lk’s Glory Days (5) of Lashmet. The Consolation Derby field from the rail: Kentucky Hotspot (Cal Holland), Emerald Necklace (D’Arcy), Caitlyn Stoodard (Capabal), Yolo Pink (Burk Greyhounds), Lucas Hood (Farmer Racing), Pj Im Sprung (Abernathy), Mega Gee Whiz (Alderson) and Noelles Bella (Floyd). Blair owns Yolo Pink and Mega Gee Whiz.

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.