Many of the top Florida-breds in training, including Grade II winner Old Time Hockey; Tampa Bay Downs track-record holder Good Lord; and five past Florida Cup Day winners, are set to compete Saturday in the 12th annual showcase consisting of six stakes races worth $75,000 apiece.
The Florida Cup is part of a stellar 12-race program that begins with a first-race post time of 12:45 p.m. With $450,000 in stakes purses alone, Florida Cup Day is the third-most lucrative afternoon on the Tampa Bay Downs racing calendar. There are 54 entrants in the Florida Cup, with three races on the main dirt track and three on the turf.
Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast Thoroughbred racing from across the country Saturday, including the Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes from Keeneland, featuring the 1-2 finishers in the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, Testa Rossi and Istanford; and a pair of major Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands preps, the Grade I Wood Memorial from Aqueduct and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby from Santa Anita.
Also on the simulcast schedule is the Calder Derby in Miami, in which Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend takes the next hoped-for step toward Churchill Downs and the Run for the Roses on May 3 for owners St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds and trainer H. Graham Motion.
While Kentucky Derby fever heightens every April, victory in a Florida Cup race represents the pinnacle of achievement for Sunshine State horsemen who can only dream of having a 3-year-old good enough to compete on the Triple Crown trail.
Few who attended the 2012 Florida Cup forget then-4-year-old filly It’s Me Mom’s stirring victory against males in the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes, when she set the still-standing track record for six furlongs of 1:08.67 for her elderly breeders and owners, Tampa Bay area residents Thomas and Jean Bosch.
The 2013 Florida Cup featured several memorable races, perhaps none as emotional as 7-year-old mare Hooh Why’s dramatic rally under jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., to successfully defend her title in the Distaff Turf Stakes while she was two months in foal to Leroidesanimaux.
Debatably the strongest field among this year’s Florida Cup races is the $75,000 Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint, with 10 older males slated to sprint six furlongs. The Sprint is the 10th race on Saturday’s card.
The deep 10-horse group features six stakes winners, including 7-year-old gelding Good Lord, who set the Tampa Bay Downs seven-furlong track record in the 2013 Super Stakes; 4-year-old colt City of Weston, last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore winner who won the Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx last September; Grade III winner Bear Tough Tiger, a 6-year-old gelding who is 11-for-21 lifetime; this year’s Pelican Stakes winner, lightly-raced 4-year-old Palace Barista; 2011 Hilton Garden Inn Sprint winner Sneaking Uponyou, still dangerous at 8; and 5-year-old speedster Evolution Rocks.
The mile-and-an-eighth Tampa Turf Classic, which is the ninth race on the card, also drew 10 entrants, headed by Old Time Hockey. Trained by Breeders’ Cup Distaff-winning trainer Tom Proctor, the 5-year-old gelding won the Grade II La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar in 2012 and competed in last year’s Grade II Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Santa Anita.
Among the likely challengers to Old Time Hockey are three past Florida Cup winners: 5-year-old gelding Hobbs, winner of the 2013 Turf Classic; 5-year-old ridgling Star Channel, who took the 2012 Sophomore Turf; and the popular 9-year-old gelding Roman Tiger, who followed his 2012 victory in the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes with a triumph in that year’s Turf Classic.
Also certain to attract support is 8-year-old gelding Allie’s Event, bred, owned and trained by Lori Smock. He has never won a stakes, but appears to be at the top of his form and many area fans who have admired his courage and tenacity since he first won here as a 2-year-old in 2008 will be cheering him on.
The Florida Cup has two new title-race sponsors for this year’s renewal: Pleasant Acres Stallions, which is sponsoring the mile-and-a-sixteenth Distaff Turf (the seventh race) for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward, and Skinny’s Place of Anna Maria Island, sponsor for the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sophomore Turf for 3-year-olds (the fifth race). Both have drawn nine horses.
The Florida Cup program will kick off with the fourth race, which is the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore at seven furlongs on the dirt. Eight 3-year-olds will face the starter, including trainer Kathleen O’Connell’s My Brown Eyed Guy, who won the Dr. Fager and Affirmed divisions of the Florida Stallion Stakes series last summer at Calder.
Eight 3-year-old fillies are entered in the seven-furlong Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies (the eighth race), including this meeting’s Sandpiper Stakes winner as a 2-year-old, My Sweet Dove.
There are 46 trainers represented by Florida Cup entrants, with O’Connell and south Florida-based Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies-winning conditioner Stanley I. Gold each set to send out three competitors. Among jockeys, five-time Tampa Bay Downs leading rider Daniel Centeno and four-time titleholder Ronnie Allen, Jr., are each named in all six races. Centeno has won seven Florida Cup Day races, tops among all jockeys.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. The track is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 20 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.