On a trip to Delaware Park in the summer of 2002, Tampa Bay Downs President Stella F. Thayer and Vice President of Marketing & Publicity Margo Flynn were impressed by the enthusiasm and camaraderie surrounding a horsemen’s day event that featured enhanced purses and a lavish luncheon for owners and trainers.
Thayer gave Flynn the go-ahead to investigate the feasibility of a similar event for the Oldsmar oval. In previous years, outside interest in Tampa Bay Downs racing had waned between the Tampa Bay Derby in March and the Kentucky Derby, so April seemed the ideal time for such an event.
Within a matter of weeks, Flynn solicited support from the track’s horsemen group, Florida breeders and title sponsors for a multi-stakes race program celebrating the excellence of the state’s breeding and racing industry. A partial list of Florida-bred legends includes the most recent Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, along with Dr. Fager, Silver Charm, Unbridled, Precisionist, Cozzene, Prized, Needles, Carry Back, Foolish Pleasure, One Dreamer and Beautiful Pleasure.
Track management knew the scope of the event and purse money needed to be sufficient to entice horsemen to send top-quality horses and generate public interest.
Under the leadership of Flynn and General Manager Peter Berube, a deal was reached with horsemen and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association to stage six races (three each on dirt and turf, and three exclusively for 3-year-olds) worth $75,000 each, with one-third of the prize money coming from track management, one-third from the purse account and one-third from the breeders’ organization.
Thus was born Florida Cup Day, a staple of April at Tampa Bay Downs since 2003. The 12th annual Florida Cup is Saturday, the centerpiece of a 12-race card that begins at 12:45 p.m. The first of the six Florida Cup events is the fourth race.
Breeders, owners and trainers are invited to a luncheon under the tent in the Backyard Picnic Area before the start of racing. Held under a temporary tent the first year, the event proved such a draw that the track erected a permanent canvas covering the following season.
A total of 54 horses are entered in this year’s renewal. Five of the six races have title sponsors. The eligibility for Florida Cup Day was changed three years ago from Florida-breds preferred to Florida-breds only.
Thoroughbred racing leader Leonard Lavin, the breeder-owner of 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner One Dreamer, and his Glen Hill Farm in Ocala have been staunch supporters of the Florida Cup since its inception.
Glen Hill is the leading owner by number of Florida Cup race winners with five, and the leading breeder by number of winners, with four (the other Glen Hill-owned winner, 2011 Sophomore Turf champ Extensive, was bred by the 94-year-old Lavin’s grandson and President of the farm, Craig Bernick).
Tom Proctor – the trainer of One Dreamer – trained all five of the Glen Hill-owned winners and is tied with Hall of Fame trainer William Mott at the top of the leading Florida Cup trainers list.
“The Florida Cup is a great opportunity for people who own and race horses bred in the state to run for added-money purses,” Bernick said today by telephone. “Many of our state programs support the breeders, but the Florida Cup and Sunshine Millions (at Gulfstream) put more of the focus on the people who buy horses to race and can compete against Florida-breds for good money.”
Lavin established Glen Hill Farm in 1967, and the first homebreds were born in 1971. The outfit has built a tremendous legacy of success, with at least one stakes winner every year since 1967 with the exception of 1999.
Glen Hill-owned and Proctor-trained Florida Cup winners in addition to Extensive include Closeout, the stakes-record holder, in the 2010 Distaff Turf; Trainee in the 2007 Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies; Joyful Ballad in the 2005 Distaff Turf; and Restage in the Tampa Turf Classic.
“We have won our share of Florida Cup races, and we’ve run some very good horses that have gotten beat,” said Bernick, mentioning multiple-Grade III winner Rich in Spirit, who was second to 37-1 shot Nicandro in the 2005 Sophomore Turf. “For a lot of horses, a Florida Cup race is the biggest race they’ll win, and for others, it’s a good opportunity to build on their year.
“It is a very good program and comes at a great time of year,” he added. “I think Florida needs to have more of these type of days.”
Glen Hill and Proctor have entered a pair of homebreds for Saturday: Grade II winner Old Time Hockey, a 5-year-old gelding, in the Tampa Turf Classic, which is the ninth race, and 4-year-old filly Lori’s Store in the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, which is the seventh.
“Being stabled there is always an advantage,” Bernick noted of Proctor’s Tampa Bay Downs base (the conditioner has 17 victories and is winning at a 26-percent clip). “It looks like a perfect race for Old Time Hockey, and if Lori’s Store wins, it will be a career-maker for her as a broodmare because she has a good pedigree” (by El Prado out of the Rahy mare Big Promise).
Another Glen Hill-bred Florida Cup entrant, Ex Pirate, will compete in the fifth race, the Skinny’s Place of Anna Maria Island Sophomore Turf. The 3-year-old gelding was claimed by current owner Averill Racing LLC from Glen Hill for $32,000 after his maiden victory here in January. Clark C. Freeman is a co-owner.
Haras Santa Maria de Araras, Live Oak and Jacks or Better Farm, Inc., have each won three Florida Cup races as breeders and owners. The late John Franks bred three Florida Cup winners, two under his Franks Farm banner.
Directly behind Proctor and Mott in the trainer win standings are Lynne Scace and Edward Plesa, Jr., with four each. Daniel Centeno leads all jockeys with seven Florida Cup victories, followed by Eddie Castro and Elvis Trujillo with five apiece.
Today’s action. Where’s That Cat, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Cindy Patrick and trained by R.G. Patrick, ran the fastest six-furlong time of the meeting, winning the second race in 1:09.63, .03 seconds faster than 8-year-old gelding See I A’s winning time in a Feb. 14 victory. Oriana Rossi rode Where’s That Cat.
Gerald Bennett trains See I A, and the veteran conditioner claimed Where’s That Cat today for $16,000 for new owner Averill Racing LLC.
Fernando De La Cruz notched two riding victories. He won the fifth on the turf on 3-year-old filly Buttercup Bay for owner LW XXI, LLC and trainer Arnaud Delacour and the eighth on 4-year-old filly Tsunami Wave for owner Sunshine Racing Stable and trainer Jason DaCosta. Tsunami Wave was claimed for $25,000 by owner-trainer Thomas McCooey, Jr.
There is a 10-race program on Sunday beginning at 12:42 p.m. Sunday is also Family Fiesta Day, with kids of all ages invited to the Backyard Picnic area for games, pony rides and music sponsored by Univision Tampa Bay.