ST. PETERSBURG — Cal Holland Jr. always walks into the kitchen.
It is the area in his St. Petersburg home where he pays tribute to his late mother, Brenda, whose ashes are contained in one of several urns in the family's china cabinet.
"That's sort of our sacred ground," Holland said. "I look at the urn every day and say, 'Mom, you're the one that got me here. You're the one that's made me the man I am today.' Then I'll blow it a kiss, put my hand on it and go on about my day."
Family is Holland's No. 1 priority. A close second is his job.
And what a job he has done as the manager and trainer for Patriot kennel at Derby Lane. Since taking over the greyhound operation in December 2011, the Hialeah native has won consecutive kennel championships in record style. Patriot again is atop the standings, and if it can remain there through June 30, the kennel would be the first to win three titles in a row since Ryan Farms in 1999-2001.
"(Patriot) was a great kennel when I took it over," Holland said. "My two goals were to make it a first-place kennel and stay there, and to win stakes races and have a dog in every stakes race."
Supported by assistants David Keck and Gloria Morse, Holland, 47, hasn't missed a beat. Patriot won two crowns in 2012, becoming the first kennel at the 88-year-old track to surpass 300 wins in a six-month meet.
With quality and quantity as the common denominators, Patriot won the January-to-June meet by 63 victories with 333, and the July-to-December meet by 64 with 325, both times finishing ahead of four-time champion McAllister kennel. The 658 wins for 12 consecutive months eclipsed the track's previous mark of 643 by McAllister in 2007-08. Patriot made 4,668 starts during that span; Nova was a distant second at 3,559.
"Every little injury, I'm on. … I think that's why we have more starts than anybody," Holland said. "The first turnout (in the morning) is the most important. I watch every single dog to see how they're doing. Those dogs are my kids, and all 68 want my attention."
Holland joined Patriot after a successful eight-year run as the trainer for Floyd & Porter kennel.
"Cal deserves all the accolades," kennel owner Randy Floyd said. "He took over a top kennel and he's kept it on top. That says something. You put good dogs with a good handler, it's going to have a good outcome."
Patriot captured a pair of stakes in 2012: the $50,000 Fall Sprint with All-America second-team member and defending wins leader Venus Espinosa, and the $10,000 St. Petersburg Consolation Derby with Art Allen. The two standouts have combined for 99 career victories and more than $87,000 in purse earnings.
The Consolation Derby victory came 18 days after Brenda Holland's death from pneumonia at age 64.
"It was probably one of the most exciting races because it was right after my mom had passed away," Holland said. "When we went out to the winner's circle, everyone hollered, 'Brenda Holland.' "
Patriot has come a long way since its Derby Lane arrival in 2009. Owned by Vinny and Phyllis Savill of Whitman, Mass., Patriot lost its first 63 starts before winning its first title in 2010 (January to June). When former manager-trainer Victor Hall moved to Vermont, the door opened for Holland, whose family's participation in dog racing spans four generations.
His grandparents, Calvin and Evelyn Holland, got the ball rolling. His father, Cal, a Derby Lane kennel owner and president of the Tampa Bay Greyhound Association, followed.
Cal Holland Jr. has worked with greyhounds since he was 13. His children, Justin, 25, and Jenna, 20, handle dogs at the Gandy Boulevard facility along with his stepdaughter, Patricia Isaac, 20. Three years ago, Holland married the former Joyce Isaac.
"Joy is my best friend and the rock in my life now since my mom has passed away," Holland said. "My dad was very good to me, but my mom molded me into what I am. I'm blessed to have my family and my job that I love very, very much."