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Racing News

Published Mar 13, 2024
by Mike Henry

Florida Cup Day, a collection of six $110,000 stakes races bringing together some of the top state-bred horses in training, will be held Sunday, March 24 at Tampa Bay Downs.

Nominations for the 21st annual event closed Sunday in the Racing Office, with a total of 119 nominations across the six races. Horses must be registered Florida-breds to compete.

The event has produced such outstanding winners as Munnys Gold, who set the Oldsmar oval’s 7-furlong main track record of 1:20.09 in winning last year’s Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies Stakes; World Approval, a two-time Florida Cup winner (2015 Equistaff Sophomore Turf and 2017 Turf Classic), who went on to win the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Mile; and Imperial Hint, a four-time Grade I winner and 2017 TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up who won the 2016 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes and the 2018 NYRABETS Sprint.

The Florida Cup celebrates the state’s rich tradition of breeding, raising and racing champion Thoroughbreds. That group includes such all-time greats as 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed; Kentucky Derby winners Unbridled, Silver Charm, Carry Back, Needles, Foolish Pleasure and Medina Spirit; Dr. Fager; Holy Bull; and Afleet Alex.

The race lineup remains unchanged from last year. One new sponsor has climbed aboard – ESMARK, a Pittsburgh-based company focusing on steel services, oil and gas exploration, aviation, real estate, technology and sports management.

The ESMARK Turf Classic is a mile-and-an-eighth race on the Tampa Bay Downs grass course for Florida-breds 4-years-old-and-upward. The 22 nominees include trainer Michael Maker’s 7-year-old gelding Me and Mr. C, who won the race in 2021 and was second last year, and trainer Kelsey Danner’s 4-year-old colt Otago, who won last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore.

There are 22 horses nominated to the NYRABETS Sprint, a 6-furlong race on the main dirt track. Top nominees include 5-year-old gelding Dean Delivers, a Grade III winner from the barn of Michael Yates; Grade III winner Octane, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Juan Alvarado; and Mish, trainer Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.’s 7-year-old gelding who just missed upsetting Sibelius here in last month’s Pelican Stakes.

There are 21 horses nominated to the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, a 7-furlong race for 3-year-olds on the main track. The nominees include Pure Class, a David Fawkes-trained colt who has finished first or second in five of six career starts, and unbeaten (4-for-4) Sugar Boy, trainer Jose Francisco D’Angelo’s colt who has done all his running at Hipodromo Camarero in Puerto Rico.

The Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, for 3-year-old females going 7 furlongs on the dirt, attracted 16 nominees. There may not be another Munnys Gold, but Joseph’s R Harper Rose is a Grade III winner who is 4-for-5 and Maker’s Let Them Watch and Herman Wilensky’s Chi Chi finished 1-2 here on Dec. 2 in the Sandpiper Stakes.

The Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf for fillies and mares 3-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth attracted 21 nominees. Grade III-winning 4-year-old Mohawk Trail, trained by Danner, and defending champion Sweet Dani Girl, a multiple-stakes winner trained by Christophe Clement, are on the list.

The Equistaff Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds traveling a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, drew 17 colt and gelding nominees. Standing out on paper is Danner’s colt Shards, who has not raced since finishing fifth on Nov. 3 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, beaten only 2 ¼ lengths by winner Big Evs.

All licensed owners, breeders and trainers are invited to a luncheon free of charge on Florida Cup Day from noon-3 p.m., upon display of their license, under the big tent adjacent to the paddock.

Around the oval. Today’s 20-cent Ultimate 6 wager was hit by one bettor to the tune of $59,756. The wager requires bettors to select the winners of each of the last six races on the card, and for the entire pool to be paid out, there can be only one winner.

That’s what happened today. The winning numbers in races 4-through-9 were 4-1-1-3-7-4. The Ultimate 6 will start from scratch again Friday.

Tyler Gaffalione earned the Jockeys’ Guild Jockey of the Week Award for his performance on Saturday’s Festival Day 44 card at Tampa Bay Downs. Gaffalione piloted Domestic Product to victory in the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, a race his father Steve Gaffalione won in 1989 with Storm Predicitions. Earlier on the card, Tyler captured the Grade III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes on Skippylongstocking.

He also won Saturday’s fifth race, a maiden special weight affair on the turf, on Alimara.

Mike Dini won both halves of the early daily double on today’s card. The trainer sent out 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Platinum Diva to win the first race on the turf under jockey Charlie Marquez. Dini is also the owner.

Dini added the second race with Oscar Gaze, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Laura Barrish with Kevin Gomez aboard. Gomez also won the eighth race on Tucker Road, a 5-year-old gelding owned and trained by Carlos Sepulveda.

Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:20 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule and is open every day except Easter Sunday, March 31 for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.




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