Tampa Bay Downs celebrates the Sunshine State’s excellence in breeding and raising top-quality Thoroughbreds on April 5 with the 12th annual Florida Cup, consisting of six stakes races worth $75,000 each for registered Florida-breds.
Three races will be contested on the main dirt track and three on the turf, with three races exclusively for 3-year-olds and three for older horses. A total of 117 horses have been nominated to the event, an 8.4 percent increase from 2013.
Meanwhile, in today’s action, jockey Antonio Gallardo rode four winners for the second consecutive Sunday to draw to within 85-81 of leading jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., who rode one winner.
More on Gallardo’s monster day after the Florida Cup news.
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 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.
“While it is hard to believe the Florida Cup is 12 years old, we are not surprised by the ongoing support from our local horsemen and many of racing’s top breeders, owners and trainers,” said Peter Berube, the track’s Vice President and General Manager.
“In the past two years alone, four of the 12 Florida Cup Day races have been won by horses that had either won graded stakes or went on to win a graded race,” Berube added. “This event keeps growing in anticipation and stature, and we have high hopes for one of our biggest days of the meeting.”
Tampa Bay Downs two-time leading trainer Kathleen O’Connell has nominated 10 horses for Florida Cup Day, headed by her outstanding 3-year-old filly Scandalous Act, bred and owned by Gilbert G. Campbell. Scandalous Act swept the three-race Florida Stallion Stakes series for 2-year-old fillies last year at Calder Race Course before finishing sixth last November in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. She is one of five O’Connell nominees to the seven-furlong Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, which has also attracted Sandpiper Stakes winner My Sweet Dove from the barn of trainer Monte Thomas.
The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs has 19 colts and geldings nominated, with the most intriguing – at least, to baseball fans – Yogi Berra, a Majestic Warrior colt bred and owned by Jessica Steinbrenner’ Bach Stables and trained by Greg Griffith.
The equine Yogi showed it’s not over until it’s over in his career debut here, rallying from third place for a four-and-a-half length victory in a maiden special weight contest at six-and-a-half furlongs.
The other main dirt track event is the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at six furlongs. In addition to last year’s OBS Sophomore winner, City of Weston, the Sprint has drawn several other horses with Tampa Bay Downs stakes victories to their credit, including seven-furlong track record-holder Good Lord; Palace Barista; Sneaking Uponyou; and See I A. Also nominated is 6-year-old gelding Ribo Bobo, a former claiming horse who has won 12 of his last 13 starts.
The nomination lists for the three Florida Cup turf races are equally impressive. The Tampa Turf Classic, for horses 4-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth, drew 22 nominations, headed by the Tom Proctor-trained 5-year-old gelding Old Time Hockey, a Grade II winner.
Other top nominees to the Tampa Turf Classic include multiple-graded-stakes-winning 7-year-old gelding Tune Me In, from the barn of Christophe Clement, and three past Florida Cup Day winners: Dennis Manning’s 9-year-old gelding Roman Tiger, who won the 2012 edition of the race; Star Channel, a 5-year-old ridgling trained by Eddie Kenneally who won the 2012 Sophomore Turf; and Hobbs, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Kathy Mongeon who won last year’s Turf Classic.
There are 17 fillies and mares nominated to the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, including a pair of fillies that competed on the March 8 Festival Day program, 3-year-old stakes-placed Babe’s Ruler and 4-year-old stakes winner E B Ryder. Babe’s Ruler, trained by Joan Scott, finished a strong fourth in the Grade III Florida Oaks on the turf, while E B Ryder, conditioned by Martin D. Wolfson, was fourth in the Grade III Hillsborough.
The Skinny’s Place of Anna Maria Island Sophomore Turf has drawn 15 nominations, including Clement’s 3-year-old Street Sense filly Courtesan, who is also nominated to the Distaff Turf but retains the option of challenging the sophomore boys. Top male nominees include trainer Stanley I. Gold’s multiple-stakes winner Best Plan Yet and Gold’s C. Zee, who was second to Wildcat Red in the Grade III Hutcheson at Gulfstream.
SOMETHING ABOUT SUNDAY. On today’s card, jockey Antonio Gallardo rode four winners for the second Sunday in a row, boosting his meeting total to 81, four behind leading rider Ronnie Allen, Jr., who won one.
Gallardo scored in the fourth race on 3-year-old gelding Think Tank for owners Sinatra Thoroughbreds Racing, LLC, Josie Gump and Harry Hoglander and trainer William Sienkewicz. Gallardo added the fifth on the turf on 5-year-old mare M’Lady Mortimer for owners Sir Thomas and Lady Laura Equels and trainer Carl Larsen and the eighth on 5-year-old mare Shepherd’s Furey for owner Big Lick Farm and trainer Reid Nagle.
The Spaniard capped his huge day in the 10th race on the turf on 4-year-old filly Souparion for breeder-owner Ann Lorenson Lynch and trainer Kathleen O’Connell.
Fernando De La Cruz rode two winners, connecting on the early daily double. He won the first race aboard 4-year-old filly Sparenone for owner John Patrick Drake and trainer Jason DaCosta and the second on 5-year-old mare Sister Genevra for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness.
The latter pushed his training victory total at the meeting to 38 in the sixth race, saddling Jagger, Inc.’s (himself and wife Mandy) 4-year-old gelding Tiger Distinction for a triumph under Allen. Ness is already closing in on an eighth consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training title.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track 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.