ST. PETERSBURG — These are the dog days at Derby Lane.
Beginning today, the St. Petersburg greyhound track hosts 165 races over the next eight days. There will be four doubleheaders, including Memorial Day matinee-evening performances, and the $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Challenge. Malcolm McAllister hopes to make an impact each day.
McAllister, Derby Lane's leading kennel owner in victories and stakes wins since his 2005 arrival, will have limited resources throughout the week. But he is expected to start one of the favorites in the T.L. Weaver, Flying Coal City, who escaped serious injury recently in a nasty spill. The T.L. Weaver, in its 14th year, is held in honor of Derby Lane's late founder, great-grandfather of track president and chairman of the board Vey Weaver and vice president Richard Winning. It is the final 550-yard stakes of the 2009-10 season. Qualifying is Wednesday night with 16 dogs in two heats. The top-four finishers in each race advance to the June 5 finale. First place pays $3,200.
McAllister Kennels has been the top performer in the past two Memorial Day doubleheaders, winning six races in 2009 and four in 2008. "I have no idea why that is," said McAllister, who runs the operation with his wife, Barbara. "It might be less (wins) this year, because I've got less active (35 dogs) than since I've been here. Farmers are putting their dogs where the money is, at casino tracks like Wheeling (W. Va.), Bluffs Run (Council Bluffs, Iowa) and Flagler (now known as Magic City in Miami)."
Entering Friday, McAllister ranked fifth in the 16-kennel standings with 195 wins, 28 behind leader Patriot. McAllister and Capabal have the most Grade A victories with 52 apiece. Since coming from Gulf Greyhound Track in La Marque, Texas, McAllister has been the alpha dog at Derby Lane, winning more races (2,291) and stakes (15) than any other kennel operator.
This has been a roller-coaster month for McAllister. For the first time in his 31-year career, he had a dog disqualified from entering a stakes final when Flyin Carnoustie interfered with a rival in the last qualifying round of the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile on May 12. Flying Coal City, winner of the $85,000 Sprint Classic and an All-America candidate, gave McAllister a scare on May 22 when he tumbled onto his back in a backstretch fall. On Monday, Craig's Gal won her first Grade A race for McAllister at 51-1 odds. The $105.60 payout on a $2 win ticket was the highest in recent Derby Lane history. "It's been topsy-turvy," McAllister said. "But I've got two or three litters coming that I'm really anxious to see, and I'm committed to six litters from a top breeder. I'm going for quality and better caliber dogs."