ST. PETERSBURG — If the $50,000 Fall Sprint turns out to be the "last hurrah" for Derby Lane favorites Aerial Battle and Flying Coal City, track racing secretary Jerry Miller says don't forget about the men who got the dogs this far: kennel owners Henry Parker and Malcolm McAllister.
"I love to see people handle their nice greyhounds the way that (Parker and McAllister) have," Miller said. "Henry is extremely patient and makes sure his dogs are right before he does anything with them. Malcolm is not afraid to pull a dog off (the active list) and give him what he needs to try to get his confidence back. You've got good dogs and good people handling them."
The fifth annual Fall Sprint begins tonight with qualifying in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10. It is Derby Lane's first stakes of the meet.
Joining Aerial Battle (Capabal kennel) and defending champion Flying Coal City (McAllister) as top threats in the 32-dog field are track wins leader Jw Titleist (Capabal), St. Petersburg Derby winner Storm Rush (Hambleton) and Fall Juvenile winner Uss Gazillionair (Lester Raines). Two-time stakes winner Hi Noon Renegade (Nova) is out with an injury. Four 550-yard qualifying rounds precede the Oct. 1 final. First place pays $22,000.
"This is going to be one of the better, competitive tournaments that I've run in the last few years," Miller said. "There will be no four-round winner going into the final. It's going to be a bit of a survivor series until they hit the final."
The Fall Sprint could be the final stakes for Aerial Battle (Race 10) and Flying Coal City (Race 6). Aerial Battle turned 4 on Sept. 5, and Flying Coal City reaches that age in March. The pair recently returned from injuries. Aerial Battle, a winner of one stakes and lifetime earner of more than $57,000, has overcome a stopper bone issue and a sprained hock.
Shoulder problems have plagued Flying Coal City, who has five stakes wins and $148,115 in earnings. In 2010, Flying Coal City was awarded the industry's Triple Crown (All-America captain, Rural Rube for top sprinter, and Flashy Sir for distance).
While Flying Coal City has achieved more status than Aerial Battle, their careers are mirror images. Aerial Battle won his 60th Grade A race Wednesday, raising his career victory total to 66. Flying Coal City has totaled 63 wins, 56 at Grade A (22 in stakes). Both former track win leaders share the same career-high win streak of eight, and are 4-4 against each other in head-to-head meetings.
"They're both extremely seasoned greyhounds with excellent careers," Miller said. "This could be their last hurrah. … You never know."
STILL PERFECT: Derby Lane employee Radivoje (Rod) Kalajdzic, 20, raised his light-heavyweight professional boxing record to 2-0 with a 90-second knockout of Marlon Farr on Sept. 9 in Tampa.