ST. PETERSBURG — New dogs, new employees, and a new place.
First place for Cal Holland, whose first career Derby Lane kennel title in the recent January-to-June campaign capped a phenomenal meet for the 72-year-old dog man.
"It was a great meet," said Holland, owner of Cal Holland kennel and Tampa Bay Greyhound Association president. "The dogs ran fantastic, and we had two green (helpers)."
Holland hit the exacta at Derby Lane's 206-performance meet. Not only did his kennel hold off defending champion Nova 242-231 for the win crown, Holland also had the top dog in Rt's Bo Jangles, whose 20 victories were three more than Imark Keefer of Abernathy kennel. He was Holland's first top dog since Kentucky Fire in 2011.
Holland's Somerset Roy also clocked the meet's best 660-yard time of 37.03 seconds, and his Kentucky Kat was the meet's third-best winner with 16. Kentucky Kat, who won Derby Lane's premier 550-yard stakes, the $64,000 Sprint Classic on March 4, led the standings most of the way until she was sidelined in early June with a shoulder issue. She returned July 15.
"(Kentucky Kat) should have been the win leader, but I had to pull her off (because of the injury)," Holland said.
Winning a kennel championship is something Holland did not see coming.
"I never expected anything, because (of the way) we ended up the (previous) season," he said.
Cal Holland kennel struggled in 2016, ending both six-month meets in 13th place and at least 122 wins behind the eventual champion. Since finishing fourth in the two 2013 meets, Cal Holland had never placed higher than eighth in six ensuing meets — losing by an average of 107 wins.
At the recently concluded meet, the operation won 14.5 percent of its starts, and 48.7 percent of its greyhounds ran in the money with top-four finishes. Eighty percent of the dogs were supplied by owners Don Godby of Eaton, Colo.; and Nick DeSalvo and son-in-law Randy Toler, both of Penrose Colo.
Holland also had to mentor two new young employees: Rob Beiswanger and Brianna Heller. Beiswanger, the grandson to Gladys Holland — Cal's wife — had never seen a greyhound until 2016. Heller is a former Derby Lane leadout. Gladys Holland handles the kennel books and the operation's website.
"(Greyhound racing) is (Cal's) world," Gladys Holland said. "He was born into it, he lives it (and) he absolutely loves the dogs."
Cal Holland, who splits time in Hernando Beach and St. Petersburg, raced at Derby Lane in the 1980s. He left the area for stints in Colorado, Kansas and Wisconsin before returning in 1993.
"It's nice to see Cal win (the title)," Derby Lane secretary of racing Les Robison said. "He's one of the guys who's been here the longest. He had a very good meet. He semiretired, and came back. Since then, his dogs have been flying around the track."