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Burk Greyhounds wins third straight Derby Lane kennel title

Published Jul. 9, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Donald Burk Jr. simply laughed when asked what hobbies he had outside of greyhound racing.

Time is precious to the blue-collar worker, whose family has pulled off a tour de force at Derby Lane.

Burk, 56, said he just wanted to "make a living" when he brought his greyhound operation to Derby Lane in 2013 from Sanford Orlando Kennel Club in Longwood. Instead, he has made history.

Burk Greyhounds ruled in the January-to-June meet that recently concluded: first in wins (286), starts (2,312) and combined purse money earned ($191,933). It was Burk's third consecutive kennel title, the first Derby Lane operation to accomplish a three-peat in more than a decade.

Since 2003, five other kennels won back-to-back crowns, but all came up short the following campaign. Burk's closing kick — 49 wins in the meet's final 27 performances — was the difference. It finished 35 ahead of Lashmet kennel.

"Whether you're the top kennel or the bottom kennel, it's still a lot of hours," said Burk, a native of Boston. "We were fortunate and had the better dogs. It's not like we do a lot more than anybody else … and there's probably some kennels that do more than us."

In Burk's first six-month meet at Derby Lane, he won only 65 races. Then things changed — beginning with 179 wins in the next meet, followed by 277, 292, 276 and 286.

Burk's key has been the confidence shown by dog suppliers, including David and Jeff Blair of Abilene, Kan. But change is inevitable, particularly when some greyhounds blossom and are moved to higher-paying tracks. One example is Mega Revelation, who started at Derby Lane and eventually was transported to Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark., where she won the Razorback Classic on June 4.

Jmb's Turbo was Burk's top performer at the recent meet, ranking fourth with 15 victories and clocking the second-best 550-yard time, 30.21 seconds.

When Burk operated a greyhound farm from 1984-2011 in Chico, Texas, he said he never envisioned being this successful.

"I couldn't imagine (winning three consecutive titles)," said Burk, who previously had never won a kennel championship. "When we came (to Derby Lane), it was like, if we can be competitive and making a living, you're happy. Anything above that is gravy, because it could have went so easily the other way where you couldn't get better dogs and you're out of business."

Business is so good for Burk that his family has been awarded a second booking at Derby Lane: ABC Racing. The trainer is Joy Burk, his wife of 32 years, with son Alek, 28, assisting. Burk Greyhounds is being handled by another son, Garrett Burk, 29.

HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs had a 36.6 percent increase in all-source handle at $3,986,590 for its fourth annual Summer Festival of Racing on June 30 and July 1. Live racing resumes Nov. 26.

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