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Kennel owner aims for Holiday Distance Challenge at Derby Lane

ST. PETERSBURG — The birthday boys aren't picky about whatever gifts they may receive.

A pair of wins tonight in the $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge at Derby Lane would suffice.

Kennel owner Malcolm McAllister, who is celebrating his 69th birthday today, and his trainer Louis Amaral, who turns 57 next week, have advanced three greyhounds to the third round of the 660-yard event.

Flying Gobi (Box 6, Race 6, 8:39 p.m.) earned her way with a stunning victory on Wednesday at 17-1 odds, but her two kennelmates needed some good fortune to reach the final 16.

Barts Moondust (Box 4, Race 6) and Kiowa Spin A Web (Box 7, Race 10, 9:47) both won a draw by lot in the racing department on Thursday after being in a four-way tie for the final two berths. Flying Gobi is tied for sixth in the points standings with 22; the other two McAllister kennel dogs each have 10.

Lk's Mc Clintock (Box 2, Race 6), the only undefeated qualifier, is first with 32 for Lashmet kennel. Eight dogs with the most accumulative points after Wednesday's final qualifier move to the Dec. 12 finale.

"(Two wins) would be nice, said McAllister, the only three-time winner of the Challenge. "The dogs need to get more points to make the final, and then we'll see what happens."

Flying Gobi, a 33-month-old female out of a litter by Flying Penske and Flying Shelley, is coming off arguably her finest race for McAllister. Following a fourth-place showing in last weekend's opening round to Farmer Racing's Highlyclassified (Box 1, Race 6) — one of the event's top contenders — Flying Gobi defeated her rival on Wednesday by two lengths. It was her first top-grade victory and seventh win overall from 40 starts at Derby Lane, the third track at which she has raced.

Owner Vince Berland of Abilene, Kan., sent Flying Gobi to McAllister in May after the 62-pound dog struggled at Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs, where she won only twice from 27 starts — both at Grade D. Flying Gobi began her career in Alabama at Birmingham Race Course, winning 10 of 35 races — six at Grade A.

"(Flying Gobi) wasn't running (Naples Fort Myers) for some reason, so we traded out the dogs that might fit here," McAllister said. "We got lucky. It's a big improvement when you think she was running down in grade at Naples, and then she's in Grade A in the stakes race.

"We had hopes that she would do what she did (Wednesday). We knew she could run, but she's not super. She went off at 17-1. … I would say a lot of people felt the same. But she doesn't know that."

HORSES: The Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs has been elevated to a Grade II race by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. The 1⅛-mile turf event for fillies and mares, previously a Grade III event, will be run March 12 with a $200,000 purse. … Tampa Bay Downs has a nine-race card this afternoon in Oldsmar with first post at 12:28 p.m. … Gulfstream Park opens its 2015-16 meet today in Hallandale Beach with the Claiming Crown, an event that features claiming horses throughout North America. First post is 12:05 p.m.