ST. PETERSBURG — Kentucky Fire isn't big on first impressions. She didn't stand out on a farm in Colorado. Nor was she particularly special upon her arrival at Derby Lane.
Now look at her.
Kentucky Fire is the top dog in Cal Holland kennel and among the win leaders at Derby Lane. She has won her past three starts. And in her past eight races — all at Grade A — she has six victories and a pair of seconds.
A year ago, success like that seemed unlikely. Kentucky Fire needed 43 starts to win at Grade C and 51 to win at Grade A. But she found the 660-yard course to be her bread and butter.
"I didn't know she could go that far or that she was going to become that type of dog," Holland said. "I put her (at 660) just to see what she could do. She does everything right and she's our house pet in the kennel."
Owned by Don Godby of Eaton, Colo., Kentucky Fire made her first 58 starts at 550 yards. In her first 660 race, she was knocked down. Now she runs longer and better than most. Kentucky Fire ranks second in the meet in wins with 12, two in back of Jw Titleist of Capabal. Her career-best time of 37.18 seconds at 660 is the meet's third fastest.
Kentucky Fire can set the pace or come from behind. Overall, she has 12 wins from 32 starts at 660, and nine in 62 races at 550. Kentucky Fire has been a runnerup twice this year in stakes: the 660-yard St. Petersburg Derby Consolation and 550-yard Gold Trophy Juvenile. In the Derby Consolation, she led by 4 lengths before being caught by Magic Finch.
"(Godby) never thought that much of (Kentucky Fire) on the farm," Holland said. "And even when I got her, she wasn't any great standout."
Kentucky Fire started her career slowly. In her first 26 races, not once did she have a clocking at 550 yards in less than 31 seconds. She lost 24 of them. The 60-pound greyhound is trained by Justin Holland, Cal's grandson. She is a 29-month-old female out of a litter from Dragon Fire and Rk's Tomb Raider. In 2006, Dragon Fire was an All-America first-team selection and win leader at Bluffs Run in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Rk's Tomb Raider was a multi-distance performer at Mardi Gras (formerly Tri-State) in Cross Roads, W.Va.
MORE DOGS: Defending champion McAllister kennel is Derby Lane's top operation again with a 177-161 win lead over Hambleton Racing after Thursday.
HORSES: Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jane Cibelli is attempting to become the first woman in the 65-year history of Monmouth Park to win a conditioning crown. Cibelli held a 31-25 win lead over Edwin Broome entering Friday. The Oceanport, N.J., season ends Nov. 6. … In the national win standings, Oldsmar five-time defending leading trainer Jamie Ness ranks second with 269, five behind Steve Asmussen. Deshawn Parker, who rode at the Downs last year, leads jockeys with 317.