ST. PETERSBURG — Malcolm McAllister survived an earthquake and a typhoon in the fall. He couldn't overcome the emotion he had for the greyhounds.
McAllister and wife Barbara, the sexagenarian couple whose kennel dominated Derby Lane for nearly a decade, have reconsidered retirement and are returning to the historic dog track. The addition of the four-time wins leader is a coup for Derby Lane, one of four major changes in the track's 89th season, which kicks off Wednesday.
McAllister replaces Hambleton kennel, which is dissolving. Hambleton manager-trainer Doug Flint will take the same position with Patriot kennel and replace Cal Holland Jr., who is moving to Wheeling Island, W.Va., to oversee a new booking for Patriot owner Vincent Savill of South Easton, Mass., and breeder Tom Taplin of Abilene, Kan.
The McAllisters, who won 4,058 races in eight years at Derby Lane, left the St. Petersburg oval June 30 for what they said was retirement. They cruised halfway around the world, were in the Philippines when a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan struck in a three-week span, and vacationed from Los Angeles to Key West. But they never stopped thinking about the dogs.
"The yearning of the love of the greyhounds was pulling us back," Malcolm said. "I love Florida, and the McAllisters have a lot of respect for Derby Lane."
The McAllisters caught a break when breeders James and Helen Hambleton, of Solomon, Kan., decided to solely lease dogs and stop owning kennels. Derby Lane chief of operations David Tiano released the Hambletons from their yearlong contract recently, allowing McAllister to fill the track's 16th kennel spot.
"Derby Lane is ecstatic that Malcolm McAllister is coming back to Derby Lane," Tiano said. "Derby Lane could never turn away a trainer and operator of the McAllister kennel ever again. Malcolm is a wonderful patriarch of the kennel industry."
McAllister kennel faces early challenges. It will begin with 15 dogs from Hambleton, which is sending other greyhounds to Patriot kennel and to Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach. Barbara McAllister will be the trainer.
Flint, 69, said the dominos fell right for him. "My wife (Edith) and I don't want to move," he said. "I'm going from one job and able to go to work for this second-place kennel (Patriot) at Derby Lane . . . I'm real lucky."
Joining Flint will be assistants Derek Barsell and Jenna Holland, Cal Holland's daughter.
Cal Holland, 48, led Patriot to back-to-back kennel titles in 2012. Stronger financial possibilities at casino-boosted Wheeling Island were too much for Holland and wife Joy to pass up.
"I don't want to leave Derby Lane, but I'm going to make more money (his salary will more than double)," Holland said. "There is a bigger opportunity for me and the kennel to grow."