ST. PETERSBURG — Saying goodbye can be challenging.
For Derby Lane kennel owner Don Burk, losing Mega Norton was more difficult than usual.
"It's bittersweet," an emotional Burk said after Mega Norton won his first stakes title June 30 in the 91st edition of the $25,000 St. Petersburg Derby. "It's nice to win … then I lose him.
"This dog has been my pet. He's got that personality. He's actually very bland and you don't even know he's there. Every time he comes in (the kennel), he just runs to the grooming bench. He's just a great kennel dog."
The morning after Mega Norton defeated seven rivals in box-to-wire fashion — his first 660-yard victory in which he led every stride, and only the second time in his 74-race career that he's never trailed throughout a race — the 25-month-old male from a litter by Djays Octane and Primed Az Mailie was placed in a dog hauler headed for Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark., to resume racing at the higher-paying track for owner Jeff Blair of Abilene, Kan.
Burk, 57, who owns ABC Racing kennel with wife Joy (also the trainer), watched Mega Norton develop in the past year from a green pup into a stakes-winning dog.
Mega Norton broke his maiden in his fifth start at 550 yards with a box-to-wire effort. He did not win a Grade A race until his 37th start, and the 72-pound dog failed to make the final in three of his first four stakes.
Along the way, Mega Norton matured. His final loss at Derby Lane showed how much heart the greyhound had when he had to finish at least fourth in the Derby semifinals to qualify for the championship race. Mega Norton entered the stretch in fifth, but rallied in the final 10 yards to overtake Mega Gee Whiz and earn a berth in Derby Lane's second-oldest stakes race.
Mega Gee Whiz would be the last dog that Mega Norton would ever pass at Derby Lane. In the Derby, Mega Norton sped first out of the No. 3 box, built a three-length lead, and held off D'Arcy kennel Distance Classic winner and 9-5 wagering favorite Ethanol by three-quarters of a length to win for the 15th time. He paid $13.60, and was clocked in 37.45 seconds. Mega Norton earned $11,000.
"When he came out and got around on top, I was in shock," Burk said. "He is not used to being on the front that early. My heart just started pumping and I was like, 'Hold on, buddy. Keep going.'"
The win gave Burk a career sweep of Derby Lane's 660-yard races. His Mega Nerfetta took the 2015 Distance Classic and the 2014 Holiday Distance Challenge.
Caitlyn Stoodard of Capabal kennel won the $5,000 Consolation Derby in 37.85 seconds, her first win on the 660 course in eight tries. She paid $12.60.
HORSES: The fifth Summer Festival of Racing at Tampa Bay Downs on June 30-July 1 saw hikes in attendance (3.98 percent) and all-source handle (2.2) in Oldsmar.