ST. PETERSBURG — Cal Holland welcomes great news at any time. Even at 3:39 in the morning.
Awakened by a ringing cell phone in the early hours of May 7, Holland learned that legislation threatening greyhound racing in Florida had failed to pass the Legislature.
"It was one of the nicest calls I ever got," said Holland, Tampa Bay Greyhound Association president and Derby Lane kennel owner.
Senate Bill 1594 and House Bill 1145 were written to decouple the state requirement that dog track owners hold a certain number of live races to maintain licenses for a card room or casino, or simulcast wagering. The Senate allowed the bills to die.
It was a stunning development considering the Senate version passed its only two votes and the House version passed all five of its votes. "I was kind of shocked, in a way," Holland said. "But I knew where all the ducks in a row were. We can give our thanks to our lobbyist, Jack Cory, for planning ahead and having the right people in the right places that we could count on."
Cory, chief lobbyist for the Florida and national greyhound associations, said on the Florida group's website: "The tracks' attempt to get slot machines was killed in the Florida House, and the tracks' attempts to get additional tax cuts failed."
Another issue was the dogs. Had the legislation passed, a perfect storm could have resulted in a racing shutdown as early as July 1. Greyhound adoption groups would have been unable to absorb more than 8,000 greyhounds within the state at one time.
Holland, 66, worked tirelessly to defend the sport to which his grandfather introduced him. "Everyone (in racing) is relieved," he said. "It gives us another year or two of racing. Then if (track owners) really want to phase us out, they'll be back (in Tallahassee) next year. … I'm sure they will be."
Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Rasnake said the decision had no bearing on the St. Petersburg track. "Regardless if that bill passed or not, we still planned on carrying on business as usual," she said. "It doesn't change anything for us — eight weekly performances year-round."
Holland said the bill, if passed, would have allowed tracks until Aug. 31 to amend their racing dates for the 2011-12 season. Derby Lane is one of 13 operating dog tracks in the state.
Now Holland can look ahead to the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile that enters third-round qualifying tonight at Derby Lane. His littermates, Kentucky Fire (Race 6) and Kentucky Harold (Race 10), are in the top six in points, at 22 and 20, respectively.
Hi Noon Renegade of Nova kennel is the points leader with 32. He goes for a career-best seventh straight victory in Race 10. Qualifying ends Wednesday for the 550-yard finale May 21.