Rainy weather that forced three races off the turf Friday has left the area, and blue skies with temperatures in the mid-to-high-70s will greet Thoroughbreds, horsemen and racing fans during Saturday’s 11th annual Florida Cup Day at Tampa Bay Downs, which includes the popular Food Truck Festival from noon-3 p.m. at the north end of the grandstand.
Consisting of six races – three on the main track and three on the turf – worth a total of $450,000, the Florida Cup features 53 of the leading registered Florida-bred horses in training. The Cup events are scheduled as races 5-through-10 on the 12-race card which begins at 12:40 p.m.
Following its 12-race program Saturday, Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast two of the most significant annual Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands prep races on the 3-year-old calendar: the $1-million Wood Memorial from Aqueduct in New York and the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby from Santa Anita in California.
Heading the Wood Memorial field is 4-5 morning-line favorite Verrazano, an impressive winner four weeks ago of the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby. Now 3-for-3 in his short but spectacular career, Verrazano – trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez – is slated to face nine rivals, including 4-for-4 second-choice Vyjack, the Grade III Gotham Stakes winner who will be ridden by Joel Rosario.
The Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby provide scrumptious dessert offerings after the six Florida Cup main courses, certain to deliver their share of memorable performances. Five past Florida Cup Day winners are set to compete, including two entered in the $75,000, six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint: 2012 winner It’s Me Mom, who set the track record of 1:08.67 in last year’s renewal, and 2011 winner Sneaking Uponyou, a 7-year-old gelding.
Among their nine rivals is 6-year-old gelding Good Lord, who set the Tampa Bay Downs seven-furlong track record of 1:22.03 while capturing the $75,000 Super Stakes on Feb. 23.
The other defending and/or returning Florida Cup winners include 7-year-old mare Hooh Why in the $75,000 Distaff Turf, at a mile-and-a-sixteenth; 8-year-old gelding Roman Tiger in the $75,000 Besilu Stables Turf Classic, at a mile-and-an-eighth; and 4-year-old colt Star Channel – winner of last year’s Sophomore Turf – who this year contests the Turf Classic.
Hooh Why, a Grade I winner with career earnings of $1,165,103, is in foal to Leroidesanimaux, the sire of Kentucky Derby and recent Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom. Leroidesanimaux stands for $25,000 at HallMarc Stallions at Stonewall Farm Ocala.
Here is the order of the Florida Cup Day races, each worth $75,000:
The Journeyman Stud Sophomore Turf, 3-year-olds, mile-and-a-sixteenth; the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, seven furlongs, main; the Besilu Stables Turf Classic, mile-and-an-eighth; the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, seven furlongs, main; the Distaff Turf, mile-and-a-sixteenth; and the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint, six furlongs, main.
Trainer Kathleen O’Connell, who recorded career victory No. 1,500 last week at Tampa Bay Downs, has four entries in the Florida Cup races; she is also represented in the $250,000 Calder Derby on opening day at Calder Race Course by Gilbert G. Campbell's Reporting Star.
Conditioners Chad Brown and Stanley Gold have three apiece entered in the Florida Cup races. Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno has a mount in each of the Florida Cup races, while Ronnie Allen, Jr., and Paco Lopez are each named on five. Among breeders, Fred Brei’s Jacks or Better Farm, Inc., has four entries and Gilbert G. Campbell has three, while Jacks or Better and Campbell are each represented as owners by three runners.
Hall of Fame trainer William Mott and Thomas Proctor share the record for most Florida Cup victories, each with five. Lynne Scace and Eddie Plesa, Jr., are next with four. The winningest Florida Cup jockeys are Centeno, Elvis Trujillo and Eddie Castro with five apiece, followed by Leandro Goncalves with four and Rosemary Homeister, Jr., with three.
Despite the absence of turf racing, Friday’s card produced numerous exciting and noteworthy results. Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode two winners, moving within one (56-55) of third-place Angel Serpa in the standings. Allen was victorious in the third race, a seven-furlong starter allowance, aboard 5-year-old gelding Pick Four for owner EMO Stables and trainer Robert Jeffries. The veteran reinsman also won the fifth, a six-furlong maiden claiming contest, on 3-year-old gelding Hail Concorde for owner Patricia A. Generazio and trainer Brenda McCarthy.
Trainer William Downing accounted for both halves of the exacta in the fourth race, a six-furlong maiden claiming event for 3-year-old fillies. Laramie Racing Stable, LLC’s G C River, under jockey David Amiss, defeated Terry E. Davie’s Advantage Please. The 3-4 Downing exacta returned $76.60.
In the sixth race, a mile-and-40-yard maiden claiming event taken off the turf, 3-year-old colt Seeya When I Seeya and apprentice jockey Ricardo Mejias staged a whirlwind rally to nip 31-1 shot Gentle as a Breeze by a nose. Seeya When I Seeya, who paid $17.40, is owned by Kathleen Bauer and trained by Robert Raymond.
Friday marked the first appearance at Tampa Bay Downs by Mejias since March 2, when he returned home to Puerto Rico for dental-implant surgery, a follow-up to surgery in late 2010 to remove a non-cancerous tumor in his jaw. He has 19 victories and is virtually assured of taking home top apprentice honors.
On Sunday, in addition to a 10-race card, Tampa Bay Downs will hold its popular Family Fiesta Day hosted by Univision from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Backyard Picnic Area. The event features Latin-themed entertainment, pony rides and games.
From now through May 4, players at The Silks Poker Room have the opportunity to qualify for a drawing to win a Toyota 4Runner from Wesley Chapel Toyota Honda. In any of the cash games, a hand of aces-full or better with one card earns one drawing ticket; four-of-a-kind or better with both cards earns two tickets; a straight flush earns three tickets; and a royal flush earns five tickets.
Sundays and Thursdays are double-ticket days. The drawing for the 4Runner will be held May 5; the winner must be present to attend. In addition, nine tickets will be drawn that day for $599 cash prizes. The Silks Poker Room is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 a.m.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.