The 10th annual Florida Cup at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday produced enough thrills to satisfy any fan of Thoroughbred racing. The action built to a crescendo that reached its apex when popular 4-year-old filly It’s Me Mom, bred and owned by Jean and Thomas Bosch of Holiday, Fla., won the $75,000 Hilton Garden Inn Sprint against males and set a track record of 1:08.67 for the six-furlong distance.
Here is a race-by-race recap of the six stakes for registered Florida-breds, each worth $75,000:
$75,000 FIRST DUDE DISTAFF TURF
For Hooh Why’s part-owners, E.B. Gee Jr. and his wife Rosemary and Mark Hoffman, nothing can top the thrill of their horse winning the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland as a 3-year-old in 2009. “When we beat Stardom Bound, who was coming off five straight Grade I victories. … I can never have another race like that the rest of my life,” Hoffman said.
But Hooh Why, now 6, stoked intense emotions for her owners Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs by holding off favored Unbridled Humor by a head in the $75,000 First Dude Distaff Turf, the first of six Florida Cup Day stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Hooh Why – a daughter of Cloud Hopping-Magic Merger, by Corporate Report – was bred by the Gees’ late daughter Gail Gee, who died suddenly a year and a half ago. Gail Gee owned Derby Daze Farm in Ocala.
The Gees and Hoffman each own 41.7 percent of Hooh Why and Earl Trostrud, Jr. owns 16.7 percent. Rosemary Homeister, Jr. rode the winner, who paid $9.60 as the third betting choice despite being the only Grade I winner in the field. Shirley Girten-Drake trains Hooh Why, who is now 10-for-38 lifetime with earnings of $988,172 thanks to the $45,000 winner’s share from Saturday.
Hooh Why, who won the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream in January, completed the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance on the turf in 1:41.46.
“It’s very emotional every time this mare runs,” Hoffman said. “She was on her game today. Our strategy was to sit third early, but she was cranked up and just dragged (Homeister) right up there. She couldn’t take her back.”
Homeister referred to the ride as a “dream trip” and said she didn’t ask Hooh Why for much until entering the stretch.
“I figured we’d sit third and follow the speed, but the pace was so slow and she wanted to get up there,” Homeister said. “She relaxed well just off the leader (Speak Easy Gal) and I didn’t ask her until entering the stretch. She was getting a little tired at the end and we were in tight, but she had just enough.”
Hoffman, a winter resident of Tampa, campaigned Hooh Why with Gail Gee from her 2-year-old season until the latter’s death. It was difficult for him and the Gees to put the victory in perspective.
“Our daughter raised her and trained her, so we take a lot of pride in her accomplishments,” E.B. Gee said. “She just hung right in there today. That was pretty impressive coming down the stretch – I thought both horses ran a great race.”
$75,000 OCALA BREEDERS’ SALES SOPHOMORE
Tarpy’s Goal had not raced for eight weeks entering the seven-furlong Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore. But he hadn’t been inactive; trainer Dale Romans had worked him out steadily since his fifth-place finish Feb. 11 in the Grade II Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream.
Obviously, his last workout March 31 – a five-furlong breeze in 1:02.70 – set him up perfectly. Tarpy’s Goal rallied through the stretch under Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Leandro Goncalves to post a one-length victory from Midnight Serenade in a time of 1:23.52. Indirectly A.P. finished third.
Bred by Chad R. Schumer and Nancy Sexton, Tarpy’s Goal won for the third time in nine lifetime starts. Last July, he finished third in the Grade II Futurity at Belmont. By High Cotton out of Terre des Hommes, he was his sire’s first winner last May at Churchill Downs. High Cotton stands at Ocala Stud Farm for $5,000.
Tarpy’s Goal paid $8.60 as the third betting choice in the field of eight. He is owned by Mike Tarp, a winter resident of Spring Hill, Fla. from Calgary, Alberta.
Goncalves said he rode Tarpy’s Goal per instructions and was rewarded with a big move when he called on the colt.
“They told me he would put in a late run and he sure did,” Goncalves said. “There were a bunch of them going quick up front so I was glad to be behind the lead group. I asked for run going into the turn, but a horse came up outside and I had to wait and then we got pushed wide entering the stretch. But as soon as we had a clear run he just fired up and was really moving at the end.
“He had to be dead fit to run that kind of race.”
Tarp, who owns a Chrysler dealership in Calgary, has several horses with Romans, all with the prefix “Tarpy’s” in their name. Romans picked out the colt at the Fasig-Tipton Florida March Sale of 2-year-olds in training last year. He was a $70,000 purchase.
“He has done very well for us,” Tarp said. “He had plenty of run, and it is doubly exciting when you are the owner. He had a couple of bum races as 2-year-old, but he is a pretty fine colt.
“He has some big races ahead of him. I’m just looking forward to the rest of the year with him; it will be Dale’s decision where he goes next, but he is looking really good right now. I think we will be pointing at stakes races, most likely at Churchill Downs.”
$75,000 DAYTON ANDREWS DODGE SOPHOMORE TURF
The partners in GDS Racing Stable, the ownership group that campaigns the 3-year-old colt Star Channel, turned down $220,000 for the son of English Channel-Reach the Top at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Sale at Palm Meadows.
After Star Channel’s smashing 2 ¾-length victory in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Dayton Andrews Dodge Sophomore Turf, it is looking like a wise decision.
“We didn’t get as much as we thought we could, so we decided to keep him and run him,” said 23-year-old co-owner Gustavo Delgado Jr., the son of Venezuelan champion trainer Gustavo Delgado Sr. “So far, we are very proud of our decision.”
Delgado said he and co-owners Antoan Douhy and Alejandro Cervallos were nervous early after Star Channel dropped far back. They had reason to be, for jockey Pedro Cotto, Jr. had lost his irons.
But he recovered in time to bring Star Channel from far back for a convincing triumph.
Eighth of the nine runners early, the Todd Pletcher-trained Star Channel made a powerful move on the far turn and sped past runner-up Didn’t Take It in the stretch, completing the distance in 1:41.20. Didn’t Take It finished 3 ¼ lengths ahead of Crafty Unicorn. The winner paid $3.80.
It was the third victory in four lifetime starts for Star Channel, who won two earlier turf races at Gulfstream this year. Star Channel was bred by Mr. & Mrs. Samuel H. Rogers Jr.
“No, it wasn’t the plan to come from way out of it,” Cotto said, laughing. “Coming out of the gate, I lost my irons. By the time I got that fixed, we were in the back. But it didn’t bother him and he relaxed.
“When I asked for run, he moved up inside the lead group and I was able to swing out in the stretch and get clear. I stayed after him late because he was beginning to drift, but everything considered it was a dream trip after a nightmare start."
“We hope he keeps healthy enough and keeps going,” Delgado said.
English Channel, the 2007 Eclipse Award winner as Champion Turf Male, stands at Lane’s End in Kentucky.
$75,000 STONEHEDGE FARM SOUTH SOPHOMORE FILLIES
Trainer Dale Romans made it 2-for-2 on the Florida Cup Day card when 3-year-old filly Xunlei wore down favored pace-setter Citizen Advocate and rolled to a four-length victory under Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Leandro Goncalves, who had ridden the Romans-trained Tarpy’s Goal to victory in the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore.
Xunlei, a daughter of D’wildcat-Promenade Road, out of Dance Brightly, was bred by Rustlewood Farm, Inc. and is owned by Paul Bulmahn’s Gold Mark Farm LLC. Romans’ assistant, Terry Oliver, saddled both horses with his boss in New York to attend to Shackleford in the Grade I Carter.
Xunlei sped the seven furlongs in 1:23.17 – .35 seconds faster than Tarpy’s Goal’s winning time. It was her third lifetime victory in seven starts.
Xunlei had also been entered at Gulfstream, but Oliver said the connections were looking for a stakes score and felt she was ready to handle the assignment.
“Any time we ship them out of town, we think they’re doing good,” Oliver said. “She didn’t really get along with the polytrack (surface) at Ocala (a fourth-place finish in the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sprint on March 12), but we thought she was doing well enough to bring her here.”
Oliver left Gulfstream at 4:30 a.m. Saturday with both horses, arrived at Tampa Bay Downs at 9 a.m. and six-and-a-half hours later had two Florida Cup Day winners and a combined $90,000 in earnings.
Goncalves kept her in fifth place early before asking Xunlei for her best at the ¼-mile pole, and she responded quickly and professionally, leaving the others to vie for second.
“They told me she could come from off the pace and we actually out-broke the field,” Goncalves said. “I let her settle off the lead group, but when I asked for run we got up in behind four horses and I decided to wait again rather than go too wide.
“When one of the leaders tired, we got the lane I wanted entering the stetch and she put in a big run getting to the lead,” he added.
D’wildcat stands at Vinery Florida for $6,500. Like her stablemate Tarpy’s Goal, Xunlei had been working at Gulfstream in preparation for the Florida Cup.
$75,000 TURF CLASSIC
Observers who thought Roman Tiger’s victory in the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 25 at Tampa Bay Downs was a fluke were convinced otherwise by the 7-year-old gelding’s stirring victory in the mile-and-an-eighth Turf Classic.
When Roman Tiger won the Tampa Bay Stakes as a 28-1 long shot, he saved all the ground from the No. 1 post before winning by a nose from Kinsman’s Stable’s El Commodore.
On Saturday, Roman Tiger and jockey Angel Serpa broke from the far outside No. 8 post, but the son of Tiger Ridge-Sunny’s Freckles, by Sam’s Sunny Hour, staged a monster rally for a ¾-length victory from 27-1 shot Vanquisher. The 9-10 favorite and last year’s winner, Slews Answer, finished third.
Roman Tiger paid $10.60 as the third wagering choice. His time was 1:48.10. Bred by Tony Bowling and Bobby Dodd, he is owned and trained by Dennis Manning.
“This guy is all race horse,” a delighted Serpa said. “The last time, we stayed inside every step and he ran them all down late. Today he broke wide and I had to straighten him out and we were well back. But I have so much confidence in him. I just let him settle, and he began to pick up the field getting to the far turn and I hadn't even asked him.
“I asked him about the 3/8-mile pole and he really responded. At that point, I knew I had a ton of horse and all I had to do was keep him out of traffic to win. We hit the lead in midstretch and he still had run and I just gave him his head and that was that."
Manning purchased Roman Tiger for $20,000 from bloodstock agent Glenn Brok after the horse was a buyback at a 2-year-old sale at Timonium in Maryland. He bought him for a client, but when the client declined because of the pedigree, Manning decided to keep Roman Tiger for himself.
Although he has won only four of 25 starts, the veteran stakes campaigner’s earnings are now $456,470.
“He is getting better with age, like I am,” Manning said, laughing. “He had a rough summer last year, but we got a few things corrected and he just responded.
“The post concerned me somewhat but I felt we could overcome it. I told Angel to get over, tuck in if he could and we’d be right there. One thing I did find out in his last few starts is he doesn’t want too much stick. Today, Angel dropped the stick, so that might have been a blessing in disguise.”
As in the Tampa Bay Stakes, the runner-up was trained by Greg Griffith. After the Turf Classic, according to Manning, Griffith’s son Dennis jokingly remarked “Do us a favor and go home.”
“This is home!” added Manning. “At this stage of my life, it’s not about money any more. I’m having fun. My main client, Mr. (Mac) Fehsenfeld, is retired, so basically I’m training all my own horses and having fun.”
Tiger Ridge, the sire, currently stands in South Africa.
$75,000 HILTON GARDEN INN SPRINT
So many questions surrounded Jean and Thomas Bosch’s regal homebred 4-year-old filly It’s Me Mom entering the six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn Sprint.
First and foremost was how she would fare against males. Her ability to bounce back from a half-length defeat in her previous start – in which she carried eight pounds more than the winner, White Merlot, who had to set a track record to win the six-and-a-half furlong event – was also cause for speculation.
And It’s Me Mom was without her regular jockey, Willie Martinez, who accepted the assignment to ride 3-year-old Trinninberg in the Grade III Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct (Martinez was up to the task, piloting Trinniberg to victory in the $250,000 event).
Certainly, her legions of supporters had few doubts. It’s Me Mom – who is trained by Lynne Scace – is one of the most popular horses to compete at Tampa Bay Downs in years, and the crowd bet her down to 3-5 favoritism.
The daughter of Put It Back-She Too, by Stormy Atlantic, didn’t let her fans down.
Breaking like a bolt of lightning under veteran jockey Jorge Vargas, It’s Me Mom sped to the front and never felt a breath from her six male foes. My Charming Clyde rallied for second, but he could never threaten, finishing two-and-three-quarter lengths back.
Moments later, the timer confirmed what everyone was hoping for: It’s Me Mom had set a track record of 1:08.67, .02 seconds faster than the mark of 1:08.69 set in the same race last year by Sneaking Uponyou.
The victory was the 10th in 16 career starts for It’s Me Mom, who raised her career earnings to $475,600. It was her fifth stakes triumph since last May.
“I feel very good,” said 87-year-old Thomas Bosch. “In a way, I was worried Willie wasn’t here to ride her, but I knew she would win when (Vargas) got her out in front. I had faith in her. She was running easy the whole way.”
The Bosches, who own the broodmare She Too, live in Holiday, Fla. Jean Bosch stayed at home Saturday.
Vargas was ecstatic at the assignment and handled it beautifully. “I talked about her with my buddy Willie Martinez and with the connections,” he said. “They said she would break on top but not to let her get away in the backstretch. You give her the bit, she just goes on; so my job was to get her to relax on the lead.
“I thought there might be an early challenge but we out-broke the field and we were out on our own going easily,” Vargas added. “I let her know it was time to run in the turn and she picked it up and she came away nicely. She was getting a little late in the deep stretch but all I had to do was give her a couple of taps to keep her attentive and that was enough.”
Assistant Ray Stifano said It’s Me Mom may be pointed toward the Grade II, $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters this summer. Her best distance is six furlongs and she has proven as fast as most horses in the country at that distance in the first portion of 2012.
“I told him (Vargas) to try to slow the pace down a little bit and that’s what he did,” Stifano said. “I said after that just slow it down and stay off the rail in the middle of the racetrack, because I watched the races today and that was the fastest spot.” Even when It’s Me Mom slows it down, it’s next-to-impossible for her foes to keep up.
Put It Back, It’s Me Mom’s sire, stands for $5,000 at Bridlewood in Ocala.
Angel Serpa rode four winners on the 12-race card. Goncalves, who is moving his tack to Keeneland, rode three winners. Goncalves has 88 for the meeting, 26 more than current runner-up Ronnie Allen, Jr. Serpa has 59 winners. There are 15 days left in the meeting.
Tampa Bay Downs is closed Sunday. The track reopens Monday for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.
The next live racing day is Wednesday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m.