ST. PETERSBURG — As he reflected on his most recent kennel title, Cal Holland Jr. looked toward the grandstand at Derby Lane. Several decades ago he sat in those upper-level seats, clocking greyhounds in unofficial schooling races for his grandfather.
"We were just kids back then," Holland said.
Now 47, Holland has gone from grandstand to grandeur. In the past 87 years at Derby Lane, no one has won more races in one year than Holland, who enters his second season as the manager-trainer for Patriot kennel.
"I knew (the Patriot job) would be good, but I didn't know it would be this great," he said. "That's why I took this job: to win races, to be first (in the standings), and to do the best job I could."
Patriot's second consecutive kennel championship and third overall was practically a carbon copy of its previous one. Led by top dog and All-America candidate Venus Espinosa, Patriot won the six-month meet (ended Dec. 31) with 325 victories, 64 ahead of McAllister. While the total fell short of its track-record 333 wins in the January-to-June meet (Patriot beat McAllister by 63), the kennel won 658 races in 4,668 starts over 12 months to set a record for victories during that span. McAllister held the previous mark with 643 wins from 3,182 starts in 2007-08.
"Quality and quantity are foremost," Holland said. "My boss (Vinny Savill of Whitman, Mass.) supplies me with great dogs, and I believe in keeping as many active dogs (68) as I can. I am very hands-on and I'm trying to get my help to be very hands-on."
Venus Espinosa won top-dog status with 26 victories from 41 starts, highlighted by a win in the $50,000 Fall Sprint Stakes on Sept. 29. The 39-month-old male out of a litter by Kiowa Mon Manny and Sol Venus put together a nine-race win streak that started in his final start of the previous meet, and clocked two of the top four 550-yard times (30.40 and 30.46 seconds). Venus Espinosa was nearly retired with an ankle injury before returning in April.
Holland said Venus Espinosa, who goes for his 50th career victory Monday in the $10,000 Matinee Idol Stakes (Race 10, 2:47 p.m.), is one of the best dogs he has worked with. Others were Joe Hearns of Floyd & Porter kennel, and Alabama Tide and Evening Memory, both associated with his father, Cal Holland.
"Venus Espinosa is one very special animal," Cal Jr. said.
Brothers Art Allen (14 wins) and Art Alex (12) gave Patriot three of the top nine winners at the meet. The best times were clocked by Lester Raines' Mrl No Access (30.39 seconds at 550 yards) and Pauline O'Donnell's Tmc's Roxslide (37.24 at 660).
HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs leading operation Midwest Thoroughbreds is a top candidate to win an Eclipse Award for owner tonight at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.