ST. PETERSBURG — Flying Coal City arrived at Derby Lane with a big buildup. A rebuilt shoulder has helped him live up to the hype.
A winner of the $85,000 Sprint Classic this month, Flying Coal City can join elite company with a victory in the 51st edition of the $100,000 Distance Classic that begins tonight. The McAllister Kennels' dual-distance runner is trying to become the third greyhound to win the track's two richest races in the same year.
"It would be the icing toward the end of my career (and) something to read about when I'm sitting in my recliner," said kennel owner Malcolm McAllister, 64.
The Distance Classic is a stern 660-yard test with 32 dogs entered in the four-round qualifying series spanning 12 days. Tonight's qualifiers are Races 4, 6, 8 and 10. The top eight dogs advance to the April 10 finale. First place pays $32,000.
Cayman Went (2004) and Uncle Albert (1988) are the only greyhounds that have won the Distance Classic and 550-yard Sprint Classic; both earned All-America status. McAllister said Flying Coal City is "a future All-American and one of the best dogs in America on the backside."
A 24-month-old son by 2007-08 national leading sire Kiowa Sweet Trey, Flying Coal City was sidelined three months with a torn right shoulder muscle. He returned in January for Kansas owner Greg McLaughlin. The 76-pound dog has won his past four starts, raising his career win total to 15 in 32 races under trainer Barbara McAllister, Malcolm's wife. He has clocked the second- and third-fastest 660-yard times this meet at 37.35 and 37.36 seconds. He had the best 660 time of 37.26 seconds at the 2009 Tampa at Derby Lane campaign.
Before his career debut in July, Flying Coal City drew comparisons to Flying Stanley, the sport's all-time leading earner and winner of the 2007 Derby Lane Million under McAllister.
"The owner told me from the training track that the dog was running the same times as Stanley, but with late speed added (and) he could be a distance dog," McAllister said. "His backstretch drive is awesome, and he's not short (on distance)."
Flying Coal City is in Race 10 (10:11 p.m.) and faces one of his main rivals, Tmc's Remedy. The Filipelli & O'Donnell dog is the defending champion and was named to the 2009 All-America team this week. Three dogs have been repeat winners in the Distance Classic, the last being McAllister's All-America runner Flyin Bridgeport (2007-08).
MORE DOGS: Lamorge Streaker (Alderson) got her 75th career win March 20.
HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs graduate Gio Ponti races in the Dubai World Cup (1:45 p.m. today) in the United Arab Emirates. … Two Kentucky Derby preps, Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and the Lane's End at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., will be on USA from 5 to 6 p.m.