ST. PETERSBURG — The first 3 feet of Derby Lane's track can be like kryptonite to Lamorge Aces Up. The greyhound known in the kennel as "Clark" — as in Superman's alter ego — often must play catch-up shortly after leaving the starting box.
"His one weakness is his first step," Magic City-Mighty Fine kennel owner and trainer Phil Pieper said. "For a Grade A dog, (his first step) is average or maybe slightly below average. But after that, his rush (to the first turn) is huge — second to not many."
Lamorge Aces Up is the ace of the kennel. Earlier this month, the soon-to-be 4-year-old, who has never missed a start to injury, notched a milestone 60th victory, all at 550 yards.
"He is probably the best dog I'll ever touch even if I stay here 20 years," Pieper said. "I can't imagine having another dog that's going to win 60-plus races. It's unbelievable that he can go twice a week for 21/2 years."
Owned by Lamar Porter and George Reich, Lamorge Aces Up has 189 starts during a career that began in 2008. In 37 wins, he has led at every call, and 17 have come from the No. 8 box, where he usually has a clear lane to the turn.
Lamorge Aces Up was Derby Lane's second-leading winner at the 2008-09 meet behind former kennelmate Reward Trent. He won his only career stakes that season, at Night of Stars XXI. In six subsequent stakes, he is winless.
Lamorge Aces Up has surpassed several lifetime marks of his sire, Lonesome Cry, this year's second-leading stud dog in the nation through June 30. Lonesome Cry, the 1993 win leader at Derby Lane, won 49 races (two stakes) among 116 starts. Lamorge Aces Up's dam, Honeyberry, was a Grade A sprinter on the Jacksonville circuit for Porter and Reich.
Pieper said Lamorge Aces Up is expected to be the kennel's top entry for the $50,000 Fall Sprint, which begins Sept. 18. He was eliminated after two rounds in last year's four-round qualifying event.
"He could certainly make the final if he could draw some nice 7 and 8 holes," Pieper said. "He is still running at a high level."
Pieper, 42, a native of Fond du Lac, Wis., purchased the kennel in 2009 from Randy Finegan, who had Lamorge Aces Up for his first 35 victories. The 75-pound dog has 44 Grade A wins, the last being Magic City-Mighty Fine's only top-grade victory during this meet.
The 60-dog operation was tied with Filipelli for last in the 16-kennel standings through Thursday at 24 wins. Lester Raines led with 91.
"The small kennel (like us) has got to be lucky in that we need to keep our big guns healthy," Pieper said. "Aces Up has stayed healthy, and you can see what he's done."
PHOTO FINISHES: Speedy Special finished in a dead heat Monday for her third consecutive race. The Nova kennel Grade D sprinter has been third once and fourth twice.