ST. PETERSBURG — With his wife out of the country, Jim Abernathy had some anxiety before Derby Lane's richest race. The kennel owner didn't know what to wear, and he didn't eat.
Magic Finch made everything right as the greyhound used a determined stretch run to win the $80,000 Distance Classic on April 9. It was the second stakes victory since January for Abernathy, whose last major stakes win before this year was the 1996 Distance Classic with Husker Gazette.
"There's nothing like winning," he said.
Abernathy, 45, dedicated the victory to his wife, Kayruth, who returns in May from Venezuela, where she is visiting her mother. Kayruth, the kennel trainer, called moments after Magic Finch won her first stakes in a career-best time of 37.33 seconds at 660 yards. Kayruth watched the race on the Internet.
"Hey, baby," Jim said. "I've got a nice trophy for you when you come home."
He made no mention of his attire, a blue shirt and yellow tie.
"Whenever we're in a stakes race, (Kayruth) loves to get dressed up," he said. "She has her outfit and puts mine with it. With her not here, I didn't even know how to get dressed. I had a salmon-colored shirt on at first, but couldn't find a tie. I told my son (Daniel), we'll probably win this race because she's not here to get dressed up."
Daniel, 18, said Jim didn't eat on stakes night. But Magic Finch had the appetite to win, overtaking Uss Gazillionair near the wire after leading into the paddock turn. The race had seven dogs with the injury scratch of morning-line favorite Kelsos Ace High.
It was the first Derby Lane stakes win for Haber Kennels, a Summerfield-based operation owned by the Haber brothers, Terry and Scott. Magic Finch, a 23-month-old female out of a litter by Lonesome Cry and Bird A Flyin, had only 20 previous starts and lacked a Grade A win until the event's third round.
"I give Terry all the credit in the world," Abernathy said. "He could take Magic Finch to Wheeling (Island in West Virginia), where he could make $200 a point. He's running the dog here for $70 a point. … I appreciate that."
MORE DOGS: Flying Coal City, the 2010 All-America team captain and winner of the Rural Rube (sprinter) and Flashy Sir (distance) awards for McAllister kennel, will be honored at the National Greyhound Association spring meet Thursday in Abilene, Kan.
HORSES: Sam F. Davis winner Brethren runs in the Grade I $1 million Arkansas Derby (Race 11, 6:58 tonight) at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.