ST. PETERSBURG — Heading into the 51st edition of the $100,000 Distance Classic, kennel owner Malcolm McAllister focused on form and the format. His Flying Coal City was wonderful in qualifying. Now McAllister wonders how a grueling series will affect the star greyhound.
For the second consecutive year, McAllister brings an undefeated qualifier into the Distance Classic championship race. If Flying Coal City can end tonight with an exclamation point, he will enter the Derby Lane record book. A win enables him to join Cayman Went (2004) and Uncle Albert (1988) as the only dogs to win the 660-yard Distance Classic and 550-yard Sprint Classic in the same year.
Flying Coal City (post 5) carries an eight-race win streak into Race 10 (10:11 p.m.) of the track's richest event. His seven foes have 167 total wins and 31 stakes appearances. Defending champion Tmc's Remedy can become the fourth Distance Classic back-to-back winner. He has two stakes victories among 51 lifetime wins for Filipelli & O'Donnell. McAllister speedster Kiowa Knockout is another stakes winner. Backwood Nan (Campbell), Carry Out (Lester Raines), Kiowa Ak Richpie (Patriot), Kiowa Louis (Filipelli & O'Donnell) and Odd Inspector (Charter) are looking for their first stakes win. First place pays $32,000.
Flying Coal City, a 25-month-old son by Kiowa Sweet Trey, won four qualifying races, clocking times that all ranked in the top five of the meet for trainer Barbara McAllister, Malcolm's wife. His 36.84-second effort on March 31 was the fastest at the track since 2006, when record-holder Jr's Boy clocked a 36.53. Tonight after Race 8, Jr's Boy will be honored trackside with kennel owner James Campbell. Flying Coal City is going for his 20th victory for owner Greg McLaughlin. "He is peaking out at the right time," Malcolm said.
The finale is the fifth race in 15 days for the dogs. It comes three nights after the final qualifier. Malcolm says a rule change would benefit all dogs. "It should be a format where you, at least, have seven days off before the final," he said. "Everyone is zapped from the three days; I'm worried about that. I'm not humiliating Derby Lane's rules in any way, but it is wrong to bring back any athlete (and) expect them to run their best in three days after a round."
In the 2009 Distance Classic, Flying Mancini won four qualifiers by 31 total lengths but finished fifth in the final. Flying Coal City has started five races within a 15-day span three times previously, winning the fifth race twice.
THOROUGHBREDS: Tampa Bay Derby winner Odysseus runs today in the Grade I $750,000 Blue Grass (Race 9, 5:30 p.m.) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Tampa Bay Derby third-place finisher Super Saver is in the Grade I $1 million Arkansas Derby (Race 9, 5:47 p.m.) at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.