The 13th annual Florida Cup on Saturday recognizes the Sunshine State's enduring importance to the Thoroughbred racing industry.
A total of 113 horses have been nominated to the six races comprising Florida Cup Day XIII, the annual Tampa Bay Downs celebration of the Sunshine State’s excellence in breeding and raising champion Thoroughbreds.
Each of the six events for registered Florida-breds is worth $75,000 in purse money. Three races will be contested on the main dirt track and three on the turf course, with three races exclusively for 3-year-olds and three for older horses on the Saturday, April 4 program.
“We are delighted by the ongoing support for Florida Cup Day from both our local horsemen and many of the state’s top breeders, owners and trainers,” said Peter Berube, the track’s Vice President and General Manager.
“In the past three years, six of the 18 Florida Cup Day races have been won by horses that were graded-stakes winners coming in or went on to win a graded stakes,” Berube said. “Florida Cup Day keeps growing in popularity, and we are optimistic this year’s renewal will be one of our biggest days of the meeting.”
Two of the graded-stakes winners referred to have been nominated to this year’s Florida Cup. Glen Hill Farm’s 6-year-old gelding Old Time Hockey, trained by Tom Proctor, could seek a repeat triumph in The Tampa Turf Classic at a mile-and-an-eighth on the Oldsmar grass course.
Old Time Hockey – a Glen Hill Farm-bred son of Smarty Jones, out of the A.P. Indy mare Grat – won the Grade II La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar as a 3-year-old and narrowly missed achieving another graded triumph in the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes in January, finishing second by a neck to Lochte.
Glen Hill Farm – established by 95-year-old Leonard Lavin in 1967, with his grandson, Craig Bernick, now serving as President – is atop the all-time Florida Cup Day standings with six victories as a breeder and six as an owner. Proctor has trained all six of the Glen Hill-owned winners, one more Florida Cup Day winner than Hall of Fame trainer William Mott and Edward Plesa, Jr.
Prudhoe Bay, a 4-year-old colt bred and owned by George and Karen Russell’s Rustlewood Farm, Inc., and trained by Plesa, has been nominated to The Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint at six furlongs on the main track. The son of Songandaprayer-Cameron Crazies, by Lion Heart, followed a victory in last year’s Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore four races later with a score in the Grade III Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth.
In addition to the The Tampa Turf Classic, the other Florida Cup turf races include The Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, for for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth; and The Sophomore Turf for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth.
Cuppy Cake is eligible to defend her 2014 victory in The Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf. The 5-year-old mare was bred by Thomas L. Croley, is owned by Roman Hill Farm LLC and is trained by Anthony Pecoraro. She is by Olmodavor, out of the Thunder Gulch mare Cindy Woo Who.
The other dirt races, in addition to the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint, are The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs and The Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, also at seven panels.
Leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Gerald Bennett has nominated a total of 18 horses to the Florida Cup (including four that are cross-entered), while third-leading trainer Kathleen O’Connell has nominated 10. Both have at least one nominee to each of the six races.
While each of the Florida Cup Day races is certain to produce a quality champion and lasting memories, the list of 20 nominees to the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint deserves advance billing.
The list includes 4-year-old colt C. Zee, winner of the recent Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes; multiple-stakes winning 8-year-old gelding Good Lord, the former Tampa Bay Downs track-record holder at seven furlongs; Grade III-winning 5-year-old gelding Happy My Way; the aforementioned Prudhoe Bay; and 7-year-old horse Star Harbour, who won the $100,000 Pelican Stakes here on Jan. 24.
Another interesting Florida Cup candidate is 7-year-old Decisive Moment, nominated to the Tampa Turf Classic. A career earner of $928,583, he is a multiple-stakes winner who competed in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (won by Animal Kingdom), stalking the pace for six furlongs before fading to 14th.
On today’s card, jockey Brian Pedroza rode both halves of the early daily double. Pedroza won the first race on 6-year-old gelding Jarrod’s Commando for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness.
Pedroza also won the second race via disqualification on 3-year-old filly Pinkalily, a first-time starter, for owner Frances Gogas and trainer Dennis Ward.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. Trainer Gerald Bennett is expected to have as many as eight opportunities to record career victory No. 3,500.
The track is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 5 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and Three Card Poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.