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March 23, 2018


by Mike Henry
Eclipse Award finalist Imperial Hint looks to get 2018 off to a roaring start, but could face stern challenges from two-time Oldsmar stakes winner Mo Cash, Delta Bluesman and Deland.

The Florida breeding and racing industries will be spotlighted Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs during the track’s 16th annual Florida Cup Day celebration.

Many of the best registered Florida-bred horses in training, along with such top jockeys as Javier Castellano, Julien Leparoux, Jose Ortiz and Joe Bravo, will compete in six $100,000 races – three on the main dirt track and three on the turf course.

Post time for the first of Sunday’s 12 races is 12:12 p.m. Past Florida Cup Day champions include last year’s Eclipse Award-winning Turf Male, World Approval; Catalina Red; Old Time Hockey; Hooh Why; Soldier’s Dancer and Imperial Hint, who returns to Oldsmar to head up the field for the $100,000 Horse Races NOW Sprint.

In addition to its regular wagering options, Tampa Bay Downs is offering an all-stakes Pick-5, beginning with the seventh race and running through the 11th. The 50-cent wager requires bettors to correctly select the winners of all five races.

Florida Cup competition begins with the Horse Races NOW Sprint, slated as the second race. Five opponents will attempt to derail 5-year-old Imperial Hint and his Hall of Fame jockey, Castellano, as the Luis Carvajal, Jr.-trained runner makes his first start of 2018.

Imperial Hint and Castellano teamed up for two impressive stakes triumphs last year at the Horse Races NOW Sprint distance of 6 furlongs before being forced to settle for second place in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint to Roy H on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

Two years ago, Imperial Hint dazzled onlookers by winning the Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes in only his second career start, traveling the 7-furlong distance in 1:22.15, the second-fastest time in race history.

Carvajal said he is tentatively planning to use the Horse Races NOW Sprint as a prelude to running his speedster in the Grade II, $500,000 Churchill Downs Stakes on May 5, following the path blazed two years ago by Florida Cup Sprint winner Catalina Red.

Imperial Hint’s challengers include two-time Tampa Bay Downs stakes winner Mo Cash, a 4-year-old gelding who won last year’s Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes and also won the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association Marion County Florida Sire Stakes here in December; 8-year-old gelding Delta Bluesman, a Grade II winner from the barn of trainer Jorge Navarro; and 6-year-old Deland, a Group I winner in Puerto Rico.

Raymond Mamone owns Imperial Hint, who was bred by Shade Tree Thoroughbreds.

Florida Cup action resumes Sunday with the seventh race, the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies at 7 furlongs. The standout on paper is Starship Bonita, trainer Steven Dwoskin’s 3-year-old, whose career earnings of almost $400,000 are more than double the combined bankroll of her six opponents.

A winner last September of both the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Florida Sire Susan’s Girl Stakes and Florida Sire My Dear Girl Stakes, Starship Bonita will be ridden by Carlos Montalvo in her first 2018 start. She is owned by Starship Stables and was bred by Mr. & Mrs. William A. T. Rainbow.

Florida Cup action switches to the turf course in the eighth race, the EG Vodka Turf Classic on the grass for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a distance of a mile-and-an-eighth.

World Approval won last year’s EG Vodka Turf Classic in his seasonal debut, his second Florida Cup Day victory. The 6-year-old Live Oak Stud-homebred went on last year to win three consecutive Grade I races, including the Breeders’ Cup Mile triumph that sewed up his Eclipse Award.

This year’s renewal has attracted a field of eight, headed by 5-year-old gelding Galleon Mast from the barn of trainer David Fawkes. Off the board only four times in 23 starts, he has been razor-sharp since last summer, finishing first or second in seven consecutive races while winning four stakes.

Ortiz will ride Galleon Mast, who finished second in his most recent start, the Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes on March 3 at Gulfstream. Galleon Mast is owned by Anne D. Scott and was bred by H & A Stables.

A field of nine 3-year-old colts and geldings tackles the turf course in Sunday’s ninth race, the DRF Bets Sophomore Turf at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. A pair of two-time winners, Elk Camp from the barn of Todd Pletcher and Seattle Treasure, trained by Fawkes, will be well-regarded by bettors, with Castellano set to ride Elk Camp and leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo on Seattle Treasure.

Another intriguing contender is The X, a gelding bred by Woodford Thoroughbreds and owned by Robert V. LaPenta. Trained by Ben Colebrook, The X finished second by a nose in the Juvenile Turf Stakes last November at Gulfstream Park West, defeating Seattle Treasure in the process. Joe Bravo has the riding assignment on The X.

In the 10th race, the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, 10 3-year-old colts and geldings take to the main track at the challenging 7-furlong distance. This race appears as wide-open as any on the card, with the experienced Driven by History a likely contender if he can adapt to the main track.

Now 4-for-9, with three seconds, the Teresa Connelly-trained gelding has made all but one start on synthetic surfaces (that a fourth-place finish here on Jan. 20 in the Pasco Stakes). Gallardo is the jockey.

Driven by History won the Fitz Dixon, Jr. Memorial Juvenile Stakes on Oct. 5 at Presque Isle Downs.

The 11th race and the final Florida Cup event, the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth, displays a deep field of 11.

The betting favorite could be the lightly-raced 4-year-old Compelled, trained by Tom Proctor and to be ridden by Ortiz. The Glen Hill Farm-homebred has never been out of the money in eight starts. The third-place finisher in last year’s Grade III Florida Oaks at the Oldsmar oval, Compelled rallied from far back on Feb. 13 to take the Mardi Gras Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Also worthy of examination are Surprise Wedding and Katinka. Surprise Wedding, a Fawkes trainee racing for her breeders, the Rainbows, won the FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes here on the main track on Dec. 16. Bravo will be aboard.

Katinka finished fourth in the FTBOA City of Ocala, but previously defeated Surprise Wedding on the turf on Sept. 16 in the Miss Gracie Stakes at Gulfstream. Michael Yates trains Katinka, who will be ridden by Leparoux.

Bonita is pretty sure to attract considerable action, as well. While she seemed ambitiously placed in her most recent effort, the Grade II Hillsborough Stakes here on March 10, the 5-year-old was strong last summer, winning the Panama City Handicap and the Wasted Tears Stakes back-to-back at Gulfstream.

Chad Stewart trains Bonita, who will be ridden by Daniel Centeno. Bonita was bred by Arindel Farm and is owned by Mario Silva.

Around the oval. Defending champion Gerald Bennett sent out two winners today to regain the lead from Kathleen O’Connell in the trainers standings, 34-33, before O’Connell won the ninth race on the turf with 6-year-old Florida-bred Sweet Soul Music to tie it up again.

Bennett won the third race with I’m Cardinal, an 8-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Averill Racing. Antonio Gallardo was the jockey.

Bennett also won the fourth race with Lady Gregoria, a 5-year-old mare owned by Tod Berken. Ademar Santos was in the irons.

Gallardo and Daniel Centeno each rode two winners. In addition to I’m Cardinal, Gallardo, the track’s leading jockey, won the sixth race on the turf on Vitsal, a 3-year-old colt owned by KRA Stud Farm and trained by Ben Colebrook.

Centeno won the ninth on Sweet Soul Music, who is owned by Mark F. Taylor and Robert A. Meier, IV. Earlier, Centeno won the fifth on the turf on The Great Scatsby, a 4-year-old colt owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and trained by Chad Brown.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs currently conducts racing 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.