ST. PETERSBURG — Donald Burk Jr. woke up Tuesday morning unaware of where he was.
The night before, his Burk Greyhounds kennel had moved into a first-place tie with three-time champion Patriot in the Derby Lane win standings.
"When I went to bed, I had no idea we were tied for first," Burk said. "I knew we were close, but miracles do happen."
The kennel's rise has defied the norm. It doesn't have a greyhound ranked in the Top 10, either in wins or best times. But perhaps most noticeable is that Burk is the only kennel without a Grade A win.
"Isn't that strange?" Burk said. "I don't have a Husker Magic, an Odd Grayson (both with Abernathy kennel) or a Joey Ice (Capabal). But we do have a lot of actives that are hard-working pluggers. The way I look at it is (Derby Lane) usually runs out two Grade As a night. … That leaves 13 other races we have a shot at winning."
Burk, 55, a 35-year veteran of the dog business, has never won a kennel title. The Boston native came to Derby Lane in 2013 from Sanford Orlando Kennel Club in Longwood, filling the vacancy left by Malcolm and Barbara McAllister (they have since returned). The kennel finished last, 263 victories behind champion Red Oak. Only five times from 206 performances did Burk win more than one race on the same card.
This year's January-June meet saw improvement. The kennel was 12th with 179 wins, 84 behind champion Capabal.
Wins have come in bunches at the current meet for Burk. In the first 68 performances, the kennel had multiple wins on a card 34 times and at least one victory on 54 performances. Burk is the only operation to record double-digit wins in each of the past seven weeks and entered Friday with a 99-97 lead over Patriot.
Jeff Blair of Abilene, Kan., and William O'Donnell of Boston have supplied most of the kennel's dogs. Joy Burk, Donald's wife of 30 years, assists along with sons Garrett, 27, and Alek, 25, and daughter-in-law Shannon Burk. Garrett Burk is the trainer.
"It wouldn't be possible without them," Donald Burk said. "With not having the top dogs, it's really amazing (to be in first). I think we've done a heck of an accomplishment to be where we are."
LABOR DAY: Derby Lane will hold a matinee performance Monday with no night racing.