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Racing News

Published Mar 23, 2024
by Mike Henry
Story lines abound leading to Sunday’s 21st edition of the Florida Cup, an idea conceived by Tampa Bay Downs President & Treasurer Stella F. Thayer and Vice President of Marketing […]

Story lines abound leading to Sunday’s 21st edition of the Florida Cup, an idea conceived by Tampa Bay Downs President & Treasurer Stella F. Thayer and Vice President of Marketing & Publicity Margo Flynn after attending a similar event in 2002 at Delaware Park.

The event has been run every year since 2003 with the exception of 2020, when it was cancelled because of COVID-19. It has blossomed into an anticipated ritual of spring, with breeders, owners and trainers vying for bragging rights via the talents of their top Florida-bred runners. Every so often, a winner capable of excelling at the graded-stakes level emerges, but most of the races are the equivalent of your family’s backyard post-Thanksgiving football games – full of intense competition, memory-making surprises and a healthy respect for a rival’s best efforts.

A lineup of six $110,000 stakes races on a 12-race card beginning at 12:15 p.m. has attracted three of the top seven jockeys (by wins) from Gulfstream Park in south Florida: Paco Lopez, Edgard Zayas and Javier Castellano. The first two are named to ride all six Florida Cup races, while Castellano is named for four of the six.

Castellano, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on Mage, will arrive here whenever the gods of travel permit after riding nine races today at Turfway Park in Kentucky, including the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on Otello. The last time Castellano attempted such a turnaround to ride in the Florida Cup was 2018, when he captured four Florida Cup races (and five overall) a day after riding six horses on Louisiana Derby Day at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

The Florida Cup starts with the sixth race, the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies for 3-year-old females going 7 furlongs on the main track. Owner-trainer Mike Dini’s Hopesndreams has won her last three starts at the Oldsmar oval, but her speed figures suggest she’ll need improvement to defeat likely wagering favorite Mystic Lake, from the barn of trainer Saffie A. Joseph, Jr. Mystic Lake won the 7-furlong Gasparilla Stakes here on Jan. 13.

Jesus Castanon will ride Hopesndreams and Zayas will be aboard Mystic Lake. Miss Sayely, trained by Jose Francisco D’Angelo with Lopez named to ride, has seven starts under her belt, and while they have all been at Gulfstream, her experience could make a difference.

Seven horses are entered for the seventh race, the Equistaff Sophomore Turf, but that field will likely be reduced to six as Everdoit is entered as a “main track only” competitor and the race is almost certain to be on the turf after Saturday’s sunny and windy weather did its part to dry out the course. The 3-year-olds will travel a mile-and-a-sixteenth.

Castellano is set to ride the morning-line 9-5 favorite, Crystal Quest, for trainer Michael Trombetta. He is a homebred son of Uncle Mo racing for owner Live Oak Plantation, which has won the Sophomore Turf four times. Ninja Star, trained by Kevin Rice with Marcos Meneses to ride, has been consistent on the local turf course, while trainer Joseph Orseno’s And Uwish and Lopez are intriguing based on a first and second at Gulfstream sprinting on the all-weather track.

The eighth race is the NYRABETS Sprint, with a field of seven headed by 5-year-old gelding Dean Delivers and 7-year-old gelding Mish set to run 6 furlongs. Dean Delivers is Grade I-placed, and trainer Michael Yates is hopeful he can use this race as a springboard to the kind of season he enjoyed last year, when he won the Grade III Smile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream. Castellano will ride.

Oldsmar’s leading jockey, Samy Camacho, will be on Mish for trainer Joseph. They came up a neck shy of Sibelius in the Pelican Stakes here last month, and Sibelius is preparing to defend his title next week in the Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan Racecourse. The 5-year-old If Not for Luck has been improving, but might need a career best to find the winner’s circle for trainer Carlos L. Perez and jockey Jesus Rios.

A seven-horse field is likely for the ninth race, the mile-and-an-eighth ESMARK Turf Classic, with Knox a “main track only” entrant. Michael Maker-trainee Me and Mr. C, now 7, won this race three years ago and finished second last year to Drama Chorus, and will go for another under Zayas.

Other likely contenders include trainer Kelsey Danner’s 4-year-old colt Otago, making his first start in more than 10 months, with Adam Beschizza in from Turfway Park to ride; Forever Souper, a 5-year-old gelding who looks to repeat his January victory in the Sunshine Turf Stakes at Gulfstream for Trombetta and Lopez; and the regally named Lord Eddard Stark, trained by Joseph Orseno with Castellano in the saddle.

Some racing experts say there is no more unpredictable creature than a 3-year-old Thoroughbred in springtime, and that could be proven in the 10th race, the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore at 7 furlongs on the main track. Consider: Saybrook, a homebred gelding owned by Robert C. Roffey, Jr., and trained by John Vinson, is the 9-5 morning-line favorite, even though he has made only two starts.

Of course, the last one on March 6 was a corker. He ran away and his from eight rivals in a 7-furlong time of 1:22.09, and had the race been any farther, few would have been surprised had he sprouted wings.

Jose Batista will again ride Saybrook against eight foes who also are out to prove their stakes-worthiness, including Pure Class from the barn of David Fawkes and D’Angelo’s Sugar Boy, whose 4-for-4 record last year in Puerto Rico included a pair of stakes at Camarero. What that means will come into clearer focus Sunday afternoon.

Lopez is on Pure Class and Camacho will ride Sugar Boy.

The final Florida Cup race Sunday is the Pleasant Acres Stallion Distaff Turf, for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass. With Dream Concert a “main track only” entrant, a field of 8 is likely.

Sweet Dani Girl, a 5-year-old trained by Christophe Clement, is the likely favorite. She won this race last year in gate-to-wire fashion and will again have the services of Castellano. But 5-year-old Baby Steps finished a good second to Sweet Dani Girl on Jan. 14 in the Sunshine Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream, and 4-year-old Mohawk Trail, a Grade III winner, is perhaps the most likely to benefit from a speed duel up front.

Daniel Centeno will ride Baby Steps for trainer Jorge Delgado. Danner has enlisted Beschizza to ride Mohawk Trail.

Following the Florida Cup, racing will continue Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:48 p.m. Racing will be conducted Friday and next Saturday, as well, before Tampa Bay Downs closes for Easter on Sunday, March 31.

Little Vic turned on the jets in the featured eighth race, the $54,500, 6-furlong Lambholm South Race of the Week, overpowering Doctor Oscar and Spikezone through the stretch to win by 2 lengths in a time of 1:10.62. The 5-year-old Little Vic, a Grade III winner, is owned by Victoria’s Ranch and trained by Juan Carlos Avila. Carlos Olivero was the jockey.

Leading Oldsmar trainer Kathleen O’Connell and apprentice jockey Melissa Iorio combined for two victories today. They won the second race with Musthavebeenlove, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Darsan, Inc. O’Connell and Iorio added the seventh with Prince Ghost, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Campbell Stables, with the O’Connell-trained Braggadocious finishing second.

Owner-trainer Juan Arriagada and jockey Jose Batista also combined for two victories today. They won the third race with Take Charge Chloe, a 6-year-old mare. Arriagada and Batista added the sixth with 3-year-old colt Motskari, owned by the trainer in partnership with Russ Holmes and Craig Latimer.

Motskari was claimed for $25,000 by trainer Gregg Sacco for new owner Winner Circle Stables.  




Story lines abound leading to Sunday’s 21st edition of the Florida Cup, an idea conceived by Tampa Bay Downs President & Treasurer Stella F. Thayer and Vice President of Marketing […]

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