ST. PETERSBURG — Patience, not persistence, has been the best policy with Magic Finch.
Sidelined 38 percent of her racing career by minor injuries, the Abernathy kennel greyhound is attempting to defend her title in the $80,000 Distance Classic, Derby Lane's richest stakes race, which begins tonight.
"I think she's ready," kennel owner Jim Abernathy said. "She hasn't run consistent enough to win that many races. Usually we get her maybe 10 starts in a row until something happens. We just need to put a stakes race into her."
Magic Finch, a two-time stakes winner, gets that opportunity in Race 4 (8:18 p.m.), the first of four qualifiers on the evening performance.
The 660-yard event features four qualifying rounds over the next 12 nights. Eight of the 32 dogs with the most accumulative points advance to the April 7 finale. First place pays $32,000.
Other top contenders include Kiowa Mind Mia (J.E. O'Donnell Jr. kennel) in Race 6; Brother Buck (D'Arcy) in Race 8; Kentucky Fire (Cal Holland), a runnerup in three stakes, and two-time stakes winner Tiger Boy (McAllister) in Race 10.
Owned by Haber Kennels of Summerfield, Magic Finch has been sidelined three times totaling 24 weeks with leg, neck, shoulder and tail issues. She has 15 victories from 60 lifetime starts and earned $50,561 under trainer Kayruth Abernathy, Jim's wife.
Magic Finch is a 34-month-old female out of a litter by Lonesome Cry and Bird A Flyin. She won the Distance Classic and the $10,000 St. Petersburg Consolation Derby, also in 2011, by running down rivals in the stretch. Two starts ago, she clocked her second-fastest career 660 time, 37.31 seconds.
"I think (Magic Finch) is the best female dog at the track," said Kayruth Abernathy, who also entered Ahk Colormegone and Magic Bagels.
Patriot, Derby Lane's top kennel under first-year manager/trainer and former Floyd & Porter conditioner Cal Holland Jr., leads with five starters: Art Alex, Art Allen, Kiowa Mad Penske, Kiowa Powell and Kiowa Wildbraves.
Art Allen, who wasn't eligible for the Distance Classic until his fourth 660 start Wednesday, shares the track wins lead with Kiow Aloe Randy (McAllister) at 10 apiece and drew Race 8.
"Art Allen is a pretty special dog," Holland Jr. said. "I wanted to get him over there (660), because one of his brothers (Art Almost) has been over there pretty much his whole life.
"Kentucky Fire is most definitely one of the ones to beat. I love my dad, but when it comes to (winning races), I'm competitive, and I want to beat anybody and everybody."
HORSES: Kentucky Derby hopefuls have two major preps this weekend: today's Grade III $500,000 Spiral Stakes (Race 10, 5:45 p.m.) at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., and Sunday's Grade III $800,000 Sunland (Park) Derby (Race 12, 7:45) in New Mexico.