ST. PETERSBURG — Kennel owner Jim Abernathy comes into the $8,000 Inaugural Stakes loaded for bear.
Rk's Big Bear has a chance to defeat some of Derby Lane's best sprinters tonight because, Abernathy says, "It's greyhound racing, and anything can happen." He acknowledges four-time stakes winner Flying Coal City and Kiowa Lazy Lazy, the top winners from the previous meet, are favored and his 30-month-old is the second-youngest qualifier who lacks experience.
But upsets can happen. And no one would be happier if Rk's Big Bear could pull one off than Abernathy and wife Kayruth, the dog's trainer.
Three weeks ago, Rk's Big Bear wasn't expected to be in the Inaugural, greyhound racing's longest continuous stakes now in its 86th year. Casino Zada was going to start for Abernathy until a race-related hock injury ended her career. Enter Rk's Big Bear for Sarasota owner Arthur Kaufman, who also owns Casino Zada.
"I'd like to win it for the owner," said Abernathy, who has finalized a breeding deal with Casino Zada. "After what happened to Zada, it would be real nice."
Rk's Big Bear drew the No. 8 box for the 550-yarder (Race 10, 10:07 p.m.). Other starters from the rail:
• Rc China Doll (Red Oak kennel's first stakes finalist)
• Kiowa Lazy Lazy (Lester Raines)
• Flying Coal City (McAllister)
• Tmc's Pistol (J.E. O'Donnell Jr.)
• Sovereign Gold (D'Arcy)
• Cool Pinto Bay (Charter)
• Kiowa Ak Crier (Patriot)
Abernathy hasn't won a major Derby Lane stakes since the 1996 Distance Classic with Husker Gazette. Rk's Big Bear has 16 wins among 65 starts, including a four-race win streak in early November. The 77-pound male out of a litter by Maryville Rumble and Rk's High Octane has finished among the top four in 23 of 26 races after a six-week rest.
"He tries hard and is just now maturing," Abernathy said. "The next six months should be the best of his career. If he can get around the (first) turn second or third, he's got a shot."
Flying Coal City and Kiowa Lazy Lazy have combined for 97 victories. In their last meeting, Dec. 31, Kiowa Lazy Lazy denied Flying Coal City a share of the 2010 national win title.
Favorites have won the past three Derby Lane stakes, the longest streak in at least seven years. And since 2004, favorites have won 27 of 78. The top 10 upset winners have paid at least $20, led by D'Arcy speedster Kinloch Brae's $41.80 in the 2008 Sprint Classic.
A win by Rk's Big Bear could approach that.
HORSES: Wildcat Frankie drew the No. 1 post and is the morning-line pick for today's $60,000 Pelican Stakes (Race 9, 4:07 p.m.), a 6-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and older on the main track at Tampa Bay Downs.