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Thursday, May 16, 2019

 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Turn the calendar back 98 weeks.

  It was a Friday night at Derby Lane, which was wrapping up its 2016-17 meet. The highlight of the season’s final performance was the $25,000 St. Petersburg Derby, second oldest stakes at the Florida West Coast track.

  Mega Norton would capture the title, and ABC Racing kennel owner Don Burk was among those taking part in the post-race celebration. For Burk, a Boston native, it was his last stakes victory at Derby Lane.

  The stakes-winning drought for Burk could end in the $20,000 Remembrance Stakes, which features third-round qualifying in Saturday’s evening performance. Both of Burk’s entries, Son Shine and Wide Open, remain in contention in the 550-yard sprint series.

  “It’s a good feeling,’’ Burk said. “You just have to get a little bit lucky.’’

  Burk often works with inexperienced dogs for owners who eventually move their better performers to higher paying tracks such as Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark., and Wheeling Island in West Virginia – making it challenging for him to field top challengers for Derby Lane’s stakes races.

  But with the Remembrance focusing on younger talent, Burk’s chances of having another stakes winner appear better.

  Son Shine and Wide Open are 25-month-old females out of a litter by two-time All-America first-team sprinter SH Avatar and Jennah. They were bred by owner William O’Donnell and his North Shore Kennel Of Lynn operation in Massachusetts.

  Entering Round 3, Son Shine is fourth in the points standings with 22, four behind leader Imark Hersey of Abernathy kennel. Wide Open is tied for eighth at 17. The two Shannon Shull trainees collected most of their points with first-round victories.

  “Son Shine is the better of the two,’’ Burk said. “They’re very quiet around the kennel, and have gotten better as they’ve gotten older. Son Shine is not the fastest dog (at Derby Lane), but she’s a nice dog.’’

  The first-round win by Son Shine (a box-to-wire 5-length victory in 30.58 seconds) represented her first top-grade triumph in her 40th lifetime start. It was the 10th career win for the 66-pound athlete.

  Wide Open has 11 victories from 41 starts.

  Both littermates started racing this past October with Burk, who eventually tried them on the 660-yard course.

  “I thought they might be 3/8ths dogs,’’ Burk said. “They can’t take a big dose of it, though. So, I put them back in sprints, and they began to run decent.’’

  Son Shine drew into Race 6 (8:39 p.m.) and starts from box 2. Wide Open is in Race 10 (9:47) and wears the No. 7 blanket.

  The first eight qualifying races have been won by different greyhounds.

  Qualifying wraps up Wednesday. Eight greyhounds with the most accumulative points advance to the championship race slated for the Memorial Day matinee performance on May 27. First place pays $9,000.   

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.