ST. PETERSBURG — Ready and rested, defending champion Flying Coal City returns tonight for the $64,000 Sprint Classic at Derby Lane.
The five-time stakes winner is favored to win the track's richest 550-yard event, so much so that kennel owner Malcolm McAllister, given the option of choosing between Flying Coal City and the rest of the field, would side with his greyhound.
"I'm sure the gamblers would take the other 31 (dogs)," McAllister said. "I'd pick Coal City without a shadow of a doubt."
When Flying Coal City starts in Race 10 (10:11 p.m.), the first of four qualifiers over 12 days, it will be his first race since capturing the $8,000 Inaugural on Jan. 8.
Sidelined with a shoulder injury, Flying Coal City, owned by Vince Berland and trained by Barbara McAllister (Malcolm's wife), has schooled twice since, winning both sprints by a combined 161/2 lengths.
The March 5 finale pays $25,000 to the winner, which would lift Flying Coal City's winnings to more than $170,000.
Monday, Flying Coal City, a winner of 58 races, is expected to be named to the 2010 All-America team at the American Greyhound Track Operators Association conference in Las Vegas. If chosen the captain, he would be the second McAllister dog to achieve that honor, joining Flying Stanley in 2007.
If McAllister is denied his 20th Derby Lane stakes victory, he said it would be fitting for James Campbell to win his first since 2005. Campbell, a kennel owner who entered Backwood Amigo and Backwood Cody, rescued all 46 of his dogs Tuesday from a Derby Lane kennel fire that destroyed a building.
"I'm very proud of him and proud to be a friend of his," McAllister said. "He put the dogs ahead of everything by going into a burning building. He was standing up for the whole greyhound industry."
Derby talk: Gulfstream Park has entered the picture to host the 3-year-old debut of Uncle Mo, a favorite for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. The Hallandale Beach track scheduled an ungraded $100,000 stakes, the Time Writer, for March 12, the same day as the Tampa Bay Derby. If trainer Todd Pletcher keeps Uncle Mo in South Florida, it could pave the way for Sam F. Davis winner Brethren to return to Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. Unlike Uncle Mo, Brethren needs more graded earnings to qualify for the Derby.
More HORSES: Trainer Jamie Ness goes for his fifth straight win in the $75,000 Turf Dash today with defending champ Sneaking Uponyou in Race 8 (3:54 p.m.) at Tampa Bay Downs. … Boosted by a spike in handle, Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube has increased daily purses by about $5,000 for the rest of the meet, allotting to claiming races of $12,500 or lower.