Veteran conditioner recognized for training most Florida-bred winners, most Florida-bred stakes winners in 2017; World Approval, already an Eclipse Award champion, cleaned up at the awards ceremony.
Two-time champion Tampa Bay Downs trainer Kathleen O’Connell was among the honorees at Monday’s Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association’s Awards Banquet and Gala, held at the Circle Square Cultural Center Ballroom in Ocala.
O’Connell was recognized as the Leading Trainer of Florida-breds by wins for the 10th time and as the Leading Trainer of Florida-breds by stakes wins for the second time.
Tampa Bay Downs trainer Kathleen O'Connell delivers her acceptance speech at the FTBOA awards banquet on Monday (courtesy Robert Crawford)
The Michigan native, who won Oldsmar titles during the 1998-1999 season and again in 2009-2010, is atop this year’s standings with 31 victories, two more than three-time champ Gerald Bennett, the defending titleholder.
O’Connell credited her owners and her stable team for her ongoing success and her ability to finish on top in two major state categories. “It’s something that is always very special, because I am a Florida transplant and the Florida-bred industry has been very good to me,” she said.
“This is the first time I’ve had that many stakes wins, which is marvelous, and they’ve been for a variety of owners. But the thing I am most proud of is that we have continuously over the last 10 years cranked out a solid, blue-collar operation that has won races with the hard-knocking horses, so to speak.
“I’m very proud of my help, who do an outstanding job. They are very excited about the chance to win the (training title), but it’s hard to accomplish with my operation. I haven’t claimed a horse at the meet, so it’s real difficult – my operation is much different than (Bennett’s),” O’Connell said.
“My operation is mostly for breeders and people who have a couple of horses and love to come to Tampa for the season and hopefully get their picture taken and drink a couple of beers.
“Tampa Bay Downs has always been like home,” she added. “It’s a great fan base, and I think the track does an outstanding job of accommodating my owners. I can’t say enough for that because without the owners, we’d have nothing.”
The conditioner just received a shipment of 2-year-olds set to begin training at her Gulfstream Park West base in south Florida from long-time owner Stonehedge Farm South, owned by prominent owner and breeder Gilbert G. Campbell.
O’Connell’s Florida-bred stakes winners in 2017 included the mare Spanish Concert, who won the Minaret Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs; Muggsamatic, winner of the Florida Cup 14 Hands Winery Sophomore Turf in Oldsmar; and south Florida stakes winners Early Entry, who won the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream, along with the fillies Who’s the Lady and Wildcat Kate.
Her 4-year-old filly Stormy Embrace might be the next to join the ranks of Florida-bred stakes winners. The Matalona Thoroughbreds-bred and owned runner turned in a powerhouse performance on Saturday’s Festival Day 38 card in the Manatee Overnight Handicap, winning by four-and-three-quarter lengths from multiple-stakes winner R Angel Katelyn. The time for the 7 furlongs was a swift 1:22.75.
Earlier this meeting, Stormy Embrace finished second in the FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes and third in the Minaret Stakes.
“She’s always been there. Sometimes she’s a victim of the trip, but she always tries,” O’Connell said. “She’s been very professional and she loves to do what she does.
“To me, that (the Manatee Overnight Handicap) was one of her gutsier performances.”
Florida Cup approaching. The next-to-last stakes card of the 2017-2018 meeting will take place Sunday, March 25 with the 16th edition of the Florida Cup, a series of six $100,000 races for registered Florida-breds.
The lineup includes three races for males and three for females, with three scheduled for the main track and three on the turf course. Last year’s Florida Cup featured (now)-6-year-old World Approval winning the EG Vodka Turf Classic, the Live Oak Plantation homebred gelding’s first step toward a Breeders’ Cup Mile victory and subsequent Eclipse Award as Champion Turf Male.
In addition to the EG Vodka Turf Classic, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward going a mile-and-an-eighth, this year’s other Florida Cup turf races are the DRF Bets Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds going 1 mile-and-a-sixteenth, and the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, for fillies and mares 3-and-upward at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.
Florida Cup main track races include the Horse Races NOW Sprint, for horses 4-and-upward racing 6 furlongs; the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, for 3-year-olds traveling 7 furlongs; and the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, for 3-year-old fillies racing 7 furlongs.
World Approval was recognized at Monday’s FTBOA Awards Banquet and Gala as Florida-bred Horse of the Year, Champion Older Male, Champion Turf Horse and Champion Male Sprinter.
Around the oval. Bennett narrowed the gap on O’Connell in the trainer standings to 31-29 by winning with both of his starters today. He captured the fifth race with Thornton, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Five Aces Racing. Samy Camacho was the jockey.
Bennett also won the eighth race on the turf with 5-year-old Florida-bred mare Cowgirl Tough, owned by Tropic Lightning Racing and ridden by Antonio Gallardo.
Camacho, Gallardo and Huber Villa-Gomez each rode two winners. Camacho’s other victory came in the second race on His Name Is Sue, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Hoover Thoroughbred Racing and trained by Skip Einhorn.
Gallardo kicked off the card by winning the first race aboard Cowtown Duke, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding bred and owned by Blackacre Farms.
Villa-Gomez won the fourth race on the turf on 24-1 shot Quanahs Revenge, a 5-year-old Florida-bred horse owned by Salim Moonab and trained by Mohamed Jehaludi. Villa-Gomez added the seventh with Smart But Foolish, a 3-year-old gelding owned and trained by Ron G. Potts.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card starting at 12:44 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 1, when the track is closed.
Otherwise, Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.