Saturday’s 11th annual Florida Cup Day was Tampa Bay Downs’ annual celebration of Florida-bred horses, but the event took on an international flair when Wild About Chrome – owned by Edmonton, Alberta residents Nannette and James McCullough – kept his perfect record intact at 5-for-5 by winning the $75,000 Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint.
The McCulloughs, who live in Dunedin when competing at Tampa Bay Downs, are natives of Scotland who grew up 19 miles apart. They have been married 52 years and have three children, nine grandchildren and a new stable star in Wild About Chrome, claimed by them for $16,000 from his third start.
The victory was one of two Florida Cup Day triumphs for jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., Daniel Centeno also rode two Cup winners. Owner Luis Ortiz, a south Florida resident originally from Venezuela, sent out a pair of winners.
Across the board, Saturday’s results in front of a festive crowd of 6,188 proved that while Florida breeds as good a horse as any state or country, the international appeal of Thoroughbred racing knows no bounds.
Here is a recap of the day’s Cup races.
$75,000 JOURNEYMAN STUD SOPHOMORE TURF
Credit the Venezuela connection, and a gutsy effort through the stretch, for Boy of Summer’s thrilling neck victory from China Holiday in the mile-and-a-sixteenth contest for 3-year-olds on a good turf course.
Boy of Summer, a son of Exclusive Quality-Melancholy Baby, out of Maudlin, is owned by Venezuelan Luis Ortiz’s Lone Stable LLC and trained by Venezuelan Rodolfo Garcia. The winner was ridden by Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno, who is from Caracas.
“Great emotion. Great emotion,” Ortiz said when asked his reaction of Boy of Summer’s come-from-behind performance. He purchased the winner as a 2-year-old last April at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales auction for $32,000. Ortiz’s 16-year-old daughter Crisol was also present for the winner’s-circle ceremony.
Assistant trainer Jesus Prada said there were no special instructions for Centeno. “I just told him to win the race,” he said.
Boy of Summer gave Centeno a record sixth Florida Cup day victory.
Brent and Crystal Fernung, the owners of Journeyman Stud, were almost as excited as the winning connections afterward. The Fernungs stand winning sire Exclusive Quality for $2,500. “If you can guarantee we sponsor the race and get a win for one of our sires, we’ll sponsor two or three of them,” Brent Fernung said.
Boy of Summer improved his record to three victories from nine starts, while the $45,000 winner’s share of the purse more than doubled his career earnings to $89,010. He paid $8.60 to win as the third betting choice in the seven-horse field.
China Holiday just missed getting up for the victory, but was ¾-length ahead of pace setter Balino.
Boy of Summer’s time was 1:43.67.
“I watched replays of the horse’s last races, so I was confident he would close,” Centeno said. “There was speed up ahead of us and I had a good spot inside and I was able to wait with him. Entering the stretch, he fired when I asked. They weren’t stopping ahead of us, but we got a lane and he was best.”
$75,000 STONEHEDGE FARM SOUTH SOPHOMORE FILLIES
When owner-trainer William Kaplan is in need of a superior performance in the saddle, he often turns to Juan Leyva. The two clicked in the 2011 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs with Florida-bred filly Musical Romance, owned by Kaplan in partnership with Adam Lazarus’ Pinnacle Racing Stable.
For the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Filles, Kaplan summoned Leyva to ride Putitinmypocket, who had won only one of 11 career starts. Looking for an extra edge, he outfitted the 3-year-old filly in a pair of blinkers that belonged to Musical Romance.
The extra attention to detail paid off in a driving two-length victory from Cindys Casino in the seven-furlong stakes. The longest shot in the seven-horse field, Putitinmypocket paid a whopping $55.60 to win while completing the distance in 1:25.39 on a fast main surface.
“(Breaking poorly) has been her problem all along, so I got my rider up here for this race and he did a sterling job,” Kaplan said. “She broke well, he kept her up close and found a spot between horses and she gave a terrific effort. She has a heck of a finishing kick. She has been real competitive in all of her races, and today she was placed forwardly. I thought she would win (on the backstretch). She’s got a lot of talent; she can go long, too.”
Leyva said his familiarity with the daughter of Put It Back-Irish Drop, by Way West, paid off down the stretch, when she overtook Cindys Casino and third-place finisher Cotton Pickin. “I had ridden her before and been up on her in the mornings, so I knew what I had,” Leyva said. “She broke really well, but I wanted to wait with her so I let the leaders get away.
“I asked her for run in the turn and when we hit the stretch, she was really rolling. I was sure we would win it before we got to the sixteenth pole.”
Kaplan and Pinnacle Racing (managed by Lazarus) are the co-owners of Putitinmypocket, purchased for $35,000 at last year’s April Ocala Breeders’ Sales auction. Her sire, Put It Back, stands at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala for $6,000.
$75,000 BESILU STABLES TURF CLASSIC
Trainer Kathy Mongeon knows her job would be a lot easier if all her horses were as honest as Hobbs, the 4-year-old gelding who powered to victory from the Todd Pletcher-trained Star Channel by a half-length in the mile-and-an-eighth Besilu Stables Turf Classic.
“He is just an awesome horse, and the farther he goes the better he is,” Mongeon said after Hobbs won his second stakes for her and owner and New Jersey resident Peter D. Kelly since he was claimed last summer at Saratoga for $50,000. “He is such an honest horse, he is really something special.”
Daniel Centeno rode Hobbs, his second Florida Cup victory on the day and a record seventh all-time. Hobbs paid $9.40 to win after completing the distance in 1:49.22 on a good turf course.
Mongeon noted Hobbs was sweating and worked up before the race, but when the gates opened he was all business. “He got fired up like that when he won (the Montserrat Stakes) at Aqueduct last year, too,” she said. “We just wanted him to relax wherever he was, and Daniel took a nice long hold and was patient with him before he made his move.”
It was the fifth victory in 13 starts for Hobbs, a son of Put It Back-Minster Abbey, by Dehere, bred by Minerva Stable. The $45,000 first-place check raised his career earnings to $254,725.
“I was a little worried warming him up,” Centeno said. “He was edgy and sweating, but he settled down as soon as the gate opened. I was able to find a spot for him in behind the leaders, and I got the lane I wanted entering the stretch. I had to ride him hard for a few strides, but he picked it up in deep stretch and was going really well at the finish.”
Star Channel held on for second by a nose from Bad Debt.
$75,000 OCALA BREEDERS’ SALES SOPHOMORE
A driving three-horse finish in the seven-furlong contest left all those involved – horsemen, jockeys and fans – limp and yet thirsting for more.
After the photo-finish camera determined City of Weston had defeated Ruler of Love by a nose, with Risk Factor another head back in third, the winning connections had to sweat out a stewards’ inquiry and objections from both the second and third-place jockeys.
Cloud Nine Lumoni owner Luis Ortiz, who purchased City of Weston privately from breeder Haras Gran Derby, said the wait was worth it. The Venezuela native (also the owner of Journeyman Stud Sophomore Turf winner Boy of Summer, under another stable name) echoed his comments after City of Weston’s victory was upheld. The winner’s time was 1:23.48; he paid $5 as the betting favorite.
“Much emotion, again,” said Ortiz, who named the gorgeous gray/roan son of Holy Bull-How About Dattt, by Souvenir Copy, after his current hometown in south Florida. “Our plans now are to win a lot of stakes with him.”
City of Weston finished second in the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 1 to Merit Man and won his most recent start, a six-furlong allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event, on Feb. 24 at Gulfstream. The winner is trained by Antonio Sano and was ridden by Paco Lopez. Sano’s 15-year-old son Alessandro and Ortiz’s 16-year-old daughter Crisol joined the celebration.
After Ruler of Love and Risk Factor duked it out on the front end, Lopez moved City of Weston figuring to pick up the pieces, but the other two were resolute. In deep stretch, Risk Factor drifted out into Ruler of Love, who then bumped the winner. The stewards ruled Risk Factor initiated the contact and did not change the order of finish.
“The race set up nicely for us,” Lopez said. “I was able to get between horses behind the leaders going into the turn, but the lane I was looking for closed and I waited to make our run entering the stretch. There was some bumping getting to the wire, but he kept trying and we were good enough.”
Sire Holy Bull, the 1994 Horse of the Year who sired 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, was retired from stud duty last year.
$75,000 DISTAFF TURF
More than 11 months had gone by since Hooh Why’s previous victory, but the now-7-year-old mare still earned 2-1 favoritism entering her defense of her 2012 Distaff Turf victory. She had finished second in a pair of Grade III stakes since and had placed in four more stakes, including a close second to Regalo Mia in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream in January.
More recently, she competed in the Grade III Endeavour and the Grade III Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, to the Todd Pletcher-trained superstar Old Tune.
So majority owner Mark Hoffman felt confident in Hooh Why’s chances against nine others who couldn’t match her credentials. Still, Hoffman was almost a basket case inside the eighth pole, as Hooh Why appeared to have little chance to catch a surging Inaugurate, trained by Chad Brown.
“I told (jockey) Ronnie (Allen, Jr.) ‘Do not push the button until you turn for home,’ ”
Hoffman said, “and then she’ll give you everything she has. Ronnie rode her great and did not cut her loose until she turned for home, but she was getting in trouble and I didn’t know if she could get there in time.”
Once unleashed, Hooh Why showed her class to defeat second-choice Inaugurate and jockey Paco Lopez by a head. Sweet Little Lion was another ¾-length back in third, followed by Awesome Belle.
Hooh Why’s time was 1:42.56 on a good turf course. She paid $6 to win. The victory was her 12th in 51 starts, and the first-place prize of $45,000 raised her earnings to $1,210,103.
Allen was on Hooh Why May 4 at Tampa Bay Downs when she broke the $1-million barrier in career earnings and has ridden her several times since. “This mare has been in against some tough runners this year, always trying hard and making a bid,” Allen said. “Today we got in a good spot in the middle of a field we thought she could handle and I was able to wait to make her run.
“The leaders fanned out pretty wide in the turn, and I waited some more. Our lane opened up entering the stretch and we were suddenly running past horses. This was her day and she deserved to win.”
The Grade I winner, a daughter of Cloud Hopping-Magic Merger, by Corporate Report, was bred by the late Gail Gee. Hoffman owns Hooh Why in partnership with Earl Trostrud, Jr.; Rick Slomkowski was the winning trainer.
Hooh Why is two months in foal to Leroidesanimaux, the sire of Animal Kingdom. “She is as sound as she was when she was 2, which is why I keep running her,” said Hoffman, who will point Hooh Why to next month’s Grade III Arlington Matron – a race in which she finished second last year. “She’ll be turned out for two weeks; she was just out 14 days and breezed once coming into today.”
$75,000 HILTON GARDEN INN/HAMPTON INN & SUITES SPRINT
After watching Wild About Chrome win his second career start in a $16,000 claiming race for non-winners of two races here Jan. 16, trainer James McCullough told his wife of 52 years, Nannette, what a nice horse the 4-year-old gelding was.
“I never thought they would run him for $16,000 again, but they did (in a non-winners of three event on March 8),” McCullough said. “I told my wife, ‘We have to take this guy.’ ”
Wild About Chrome won that day going six-and-a-half furlongs by more than five lengths, and in his first start for the McCulloughs on March 24, he won a seven-furlong conditional allowance in 1:22.45, only .42 seconds off the track record.
James McCullough at first was hesitant about entering Wild About Chrome in the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint against the likes of seven-furlong track-record holder Good Lord and the past two winners of the race, 2011 champ Sneaking Uponyou and the mare It’s Me Mom, who set the six-furlong track record of 1:08.67 in last year’s renewal.
“Then we decided he was good enough to take a chance with,” McCullough said.
Is he ever.
After racing in fourth early, Wild About Chrome and jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., began to roll on the outside and didn’t stop until posting a 1-length victory from Sneaking Uponyou in 1:10.91. Soaring Stocks was a half-length back in third, followed by Grande Shores.
“This guy (Wild About Chrome) has settled in for Mr. McCullough; he can wait to make his run now,” said Allen, who was aboard for the first time. “With all that speed up front today, I thought we would have a serious chance. I know how this track plays and being outside entering the stretch was where I wanted to be.
“There is no quit in this guy. He just kept running.”
Now 5-for-5 in his career, Wild About Chrome paid $16.80 to win. The son of Indian Ocean-Keri’s Snowman, by Frosty the Snowman, was bred by Bridlewood Farm. Indian Ocean now stands at Briar Hill Farm in Massachusetts for $2,000.
“This is our biggest victory,” said a delighted James McCullough, who has been a trainer for 36 years, the past six at Tampa Bay Downs. “We spent a lot of years running at bush tracks in Canada, but we’ll bring him to Northlands Park (in their hometown of Edmonton, Alberta) and find some nice stakes races for him.”
The winner’s share of $45,000 raised Wild About Chrome’s earnings to $83,790.