ST. PETERSBURG — Jim Abernathy focuses on the numbers game — the one in his kennel, not the one related to early anomalies at Derby Lane.
The third-generation kennel owner didn't seem concerned when Abernathy Kennel lost its first 27 races and was the last operation to record a win (Holland Dj on July 3) or Grade A victory (Craigie Penske on Monday).
Through 28 performances, Abernathy ranks fifth among 16 kennels with 26 wins, 20 behind defending champion McAllister Kennels. It is a huge turnaround from the past five Derby Lane meets, where Abernathy finished 14th to 17th.
"I knew it was going to be a different meet," Abernathy said. "I knew I would have the numbers."
Abernathy refers to the 68 greyhounds in his kennel. Thirty-three are on the active roster, with another 17 expected to be racing in several weeks. The kennel has more than a win per performance since its slow start.
Abernathy once was a regular top-10 kennel that won practically every stakes at Derby Lane since its booking in 1995. But for the past five years, Abernathy has struggled. With track purses on the decline, Abernathy shut down its greyhound farm in Nebraska 2½ years ago, forcing the family to go elsewhere for dogs.
"We try to be a quality kennel and couldn't afford to do both — keeping the racing kennel and raising the dogs," Abernathy said. "We bred 60 to 70 dogs a year. That was big for us; we basically supplied ourselves. (But) when you've only got 20 to 25 dogs running, it puts a wear and tear on them. You just can't compete when you're getting 40 starts a week and everyone else is getting 60 to 70."
Rebuilding the kennel became his goal. He bought 15 dogs at the National Greyhound Association spring meet in Abilene, Kan., added a litter of his own and acquired dogs from owners in Kansas and Oklahoma.
Abernathy is counting on that depth to avoid a past issue. From 2004 to 2008, Abernathy made 4,012 fewer starts than the combined total of those meets' most active kennels.
"(Winning) makes a difference with everyone's attitude," Abernathy said. "Knowing you've got eight to nine starts a night instead of two or three, you can afford to have some bad races."
Horses: Tampa Bay Downs graduates have been entered in stakes races today. At Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Bayou's Lassie and Lady Digby go to the post in the Grade I $500,000 Diana Stakes. At Arlington Park in Illinois, Therecomesatiger and Vanquisher are in the $150,000 Sea O'Erin Handicap, and Lookinforthesecret, Fort Prado, Prosico and The Nnth Degree in the $50,000 Taylor's Special. Wayzata Bay will be saddled by trainer Judi Hicklin in the $75,000 Prairie Meadows Handicap at the track in Altoona, Iowa. At Pinnacle Race Course near Detroit, Valley Loot races in the $50,000 Larkspur Handicap.
New house of Cards: A new poker room will highlight a $2.5-million renovation approved by Derby Lane's board of directors, track spokeswoman Vera Filipelli said Friday. The card room will be built on the Derby Club ground floor and be more serviceable to patrons with easier access to the playing areas, live greyhound racing and track amenities, vice president Richard Winning said. Construction is expected to begin in August with hopes of being completed by the end of the year.
Saratoga: My Princess Jess won the $150,000 Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by three-quarters of a length after slipping through a narrow gap midstretch at the track in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. My Princess Jess won for the third time in a row and has four wins in seven starts. Alwajeeha was second, and Zee Zee was third.