ST. PETERSBURG — It is the length of the $75,000 660-Yard Challenge, not the distance, that may be Flying Coal City's biggest hurdle in tonight's championship race at Derby Lane.
Kennel owner Malcolm McAllister says his standout greyhound is in fine form for the track's final stakes of the year. But he is concerned that Flying Coal City may not be at his best. The stakes format requires dogs to run the finale on three days' rest, and five times in 15 days.
"He's looking good," McAllister said. "But I don't know how much he's got left for the final. If you had a week off between qualifying and the final, you could reserve all that energy back."
Flying Coal City was undefeated in four qualifying races for owner Vince Berland and trainer Barbara McAllister, Malcolm's wife. A win would give him his fourth stakes of the year and first at 660 yards. It also would enable him to take the 2010 national win lead from Palm Beach sprinter Where's Big Cash. Each has 46. Flying Coal City drew the No. 1 post in Race 10 (10:11 p.m.). Other finalists, from the rail: Jack's Shortfuse (Cal Holland kennel), Knock Out (Nova), Kelsos Ace High (Lester Raines), Tmc's Jail Bait (J.E. O'Donnell Jr.), Kiowa Sky Selma (J.E. O'Donnell Jr.), Greta's Cryhondo (Capabal) and Daring Diva (Royal Racing Team).
"It's going to be a great final," McAllister said. "Early speed, like one of O'Donnell's dogs, will dash to the front. Kelsos Ace High keeps coming. If you see an upset, it would be a dog like Knock Out, who never won a round and could win because everyone else is wore out."
McAllister presented a perfect scenario for Flying Coal City: "Get around the first turn third, be second on the backstretch, take the lead in the far turn, and hope that someone isn't following him all the way that's got more in the tank."
The first-place prize of $33,500 is the richest at Derby Lane.
TAMPA BAY DOWNS: Four-time defending leading trainer Jamie Ness has an active winter planned with 40 stalls and 30 more at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., where he will race for the first time, beginning Jan. 14. … Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger has stalls. … Stablemates Musket Man (2009 Tampa Bay Derby winner) and Schoolyard Dreams (2010 Tampa Bay Derby runnerup) are at Oldsmar. … Forty-three 2-year-olds have been nominated for the $75,000 Inaugural and $75,000 Sandpiper on Cotillion Festival Day, on Dec. 26.
HOLIDAY SCHEDULE: Derby Lane: Christmas Eve, open 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m., with 15-race matinee performance, poker and simulcast wagering; Christmas, closed. Tampa Bay Downs: Christmas Eve, open 10 a.m.-1 a.m. for poker; Christmas, closed. Tampa Greyhound Track: Christmas Eve, open 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. for poker and simulcast wagering; Christmas, closed.