Last year's Eclipse Award finalist coasts to victory in the Horse Races NOW Sprint, kick-starting a record Florida Cup Day performance by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.
Before today’s $100,000 Florida Cup Horse Races NOW Sprint at Tampa Bay Downs, Luis Carvajal, Jr., experienced the uneasy feeling most trainers get after sending a 1-5 shot postward.
“Everybody said they were afraid of this horse because he finished second in the (TwinSpires) Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but it’s a horse race and we’ve seen favorites like mine get beat,” Carvajal said after Imperial Hint erased all fears with an easy-as-pie, 5-length victory under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.
“You’re always a little nervous before a race like this, when you know you have the best horse and you don’t want to disappoint the public and the bettors. You love to see a (1-5) horse win that way,” Carvajal said.
Imperial Hint’s victory launched an outstanding day for Castellano, who became the first jockey to ride four Florida Cup Day stakes winners in a single afternoon. Castellano won five races on the card; only two jockeys have won more on a single Oldsmar program.
The Horse Races NOW Sprint, contested as the second race, was the feature attraction of Florida Cup Day XVI due to the presence of Imperial Hint. The Eclipse Award finalist won for the ninth time in 14 starts, with first-place money of $60,000 raising his career bankroll to $875,155.
Imperial Hint, who won the Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore two years ago in his second career start, was bred by Shade Tree Thoroughbreds and is owned by Raymond Mamone of New Jersey.
He is by Imperialism out of the Lahint daughter Royal Hint, a mare Mamone gave to Shade Tree owner Bert Pilcher after having difficulty getting her in foal. Mamone subsequently purchased Imperial Hint privately from Pilcher.
“So I bought my own horse back,” he said, laughing.
Five other $100,000 races were contested for registered Florida-breds; recaps of each race follow. A crowd of 5,425 attended on a comfortably warm, sunny afternoon.
Also worth mentioning: The Live It Up Challenge handicapping contest concluded, with Thxjoy winning top prize.
$100,000 Horse Races NOW Sprint
Although beads of sweat dotted Castellano’s forehead afterward on a warm day, he half-jokingly suggested giving his share of the purse to Carvajal. Victory was that simple.
“It was really easy,” said Castellano, who sat like a statue throughout, waiting for a time to ask Imperial Hint for an extra burst of energy that was never needed. “I’m very fortunate to ride this horse, and I thank Mr. Carvajal for giving me the opportunity.”
Javier Castellano has Imperial Hint geared down at the finish of the Horse Races NOW Sprint (courtesy SV Photography)
Castellano had ridden Imperial Hint to a pair of stakes victories last summer before piloting him in his game second-place Breeders’ Cup effort to the sport’s 2017 Champion Sprinter, Roy H .
“He (Imperial Hint) is a special horse and I’m looking for more from him in the future,” Castellano said
Deland rallied for second, while never threatening the winner. Early pace-setter Delta Bluesman held on for third in the six-horse field, a neck ahead of Mo Cash.
Imperial Hint posted a final time for the 6-furlong distance of 1:10.78. Carvajal said if he comes out of the race well, he will be pointed toward the Grade II, $500,000 Churchill Downs Stakes on May 5, which is Kentucky Derby Day.
“He’s a very easy horse to train,” Carvajal said. “We might have taken him to Dubai (for the $2-million Golden Shaheen on March 31), but we had a couple of hiccups in his training. But we’re glad to be here. He loves this track, and my team did a great job with him. (Jockey) Raul Mena rode him in all his workouts here, and he told me he was doing super.”
And when it came to the eye test in front of bettors who knocked his odds down to next-to-nothing, Imperial Hint wasted no time putting Carvajal’s worries to rest.
$100,000 Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies
In contrast to his victory on Imperial Hint, Castellano had to labor to get Florida Fuego to the wire first in the 7-furlong event for 3-year-old fillies.
“I thought Javier did a great job,” winning trainer David Fawkes said after Florida Fuego’s come-from-behind, length-and-a-quarter victory from Mermaid of Honor. “Sometimes when you stretch these horses out that are bred to be sprinters, they turn more into grinders, and she just had to grind this one out.”
Florida Fuego and Javier Castellano grind out a victory in the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies (courtesy SV Photography)
It was the second victory in four starts for Florida Fuego, a daughter of Kantharos-Almost a Valentine, by High Cotton. Her time was 1:25.10. Favorite Starship Bonita finished third in the seven-horse field.
Florida Fuego paid $7.60 to win.
“I told Javier to just be patient and she would run for him,” Fawkes said. “She was impressive when she broke her maiden (in her first start), and then it just took her a little time to come back to herself. I thought she ran an excellent race.”
Bred by Ocala Stud, Florida Fuego is owned by the e Five Racing Thoroughbreds outfit of Bob and Kristine Edwards and their three children: Cassidy, Riley and Delaney. Relative newcomers to the sport, they won the past two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, with Rushing Fall last year and New Money Honey in 2016.
$100,000 EG Vodka Turf Classic
Castellano and 5-year-old Swagger Jagger hit it off in their first outing together, and the recent addition to the barn of trainer Michael Maker held on for a nose victory from favorite Galleon Mast.
The winners had to survive a claim of foul by Jose Ortiz, the jockey on Galleon Mast, for alleged interference in deep stretch. The claim was quickly dismissed.
Swagger Jagger (inside) gives jockey Javier Castellano his third consecutive victory on the card, but not before a claim of foul is disallowed (courtesy SV Photography)
“When they came together to decide what horse was best, my horse won the race,” Castellano said. “The mile-and-an-eighth is not easy, and he responded so well. I’m very satisfied with the way he did it.”
Second Mate rallied to finish third.
Swagger Jagger, a son of Crown of Thorns-Magical Mist, by Congaree, was claimed three starts back for $35,000 and is now owned by Freddy Lewis, III. His time was 1:48.08. He was bred by Woodford Thoroughbreds.
Swagger Jagger tracked pace-setter Expected Ruler through the early going, moving to the lead nearing midstretch. Although Galleon Mast was in good position throughout, his late effort couldn’t dent the winner’s margin.
“I had a perfect trip. I put him in a forward position early and let him find a good stride and a good rhythm,” Castellano said. “Near the end, it looked like my horse came out a little, but we didn’t have any contact and I think the stewards made the right decision.”
Swagger Jagger improved to 4-for-19 in his career. Galleon Mast has finished first or second in his eight most recent starts.
$100,000 DRF Bets Sophomore Turf
Just about everyone at Tampa Bay Downs, including the two jockeys, thought March to the Arch nipped He’s Bankable at the wire. But the photo-finish camera told a different story.
The bottom line was that the two Live Oak Stud homebreds in the field – both trained by Mark Casse – finished 1-2, with He’s Bankable getting the nod by the slimmest of noses under Julien Leparoux.
He's Bankable (inside), Julien Leparoux aboard, wins the DRF Bets Sophomore Turf from fellow Live Oak Plantation homebred March to the Arch by the slimmest of noses (courtesy SV Photography)
“Julien thought he lost and Samy (Camacho, on March to the Arch) thought he won,” said Casse assistant Mitch Downs. “I’m sure Mrs. (Charlotte) Weber (owner of Live Oak) will be tickled. They both ran really big races and you couldn’t ask for any better.”
The X finished third.
He’s Bankable, a gelded son of Arch-Slewfoundmoney, by Seeking the Gold, improved to 2-for-6 after completing the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance in 1:41.29.
The winner paid $21.60 and the Live Oak/Casse exacta paid $158.
He’s Bankable broke his maiden two starts back at Gulfstream in his first try on the turf, and showed a decided affinity today for the Oldsmar grass course.
“He relaxed very nice for me early, and I felt like he was fighting back when the other horse came to us,” Leparoux said. “I thought we got beat, but he came back and dug in and put his nose in front at the end.”
March to the Arch is also a son of Arch, keeping things all in the family.
$100,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore
Mitch Downs, the long-time friend and assistant to trainer Mark Casse, texted his boss before the race, touting 3-year-old colt Noble Commander as a youngster who looked the part in the paddock.
“I told him this horse looked like a million dollars, and he ran like it, too,” Downs revealed after Noble Commander’s 3-length victory from Silent Tiger. “Hopefully, it’s on now to bigger and better things.”
Trainer Mark Casse's Noble Commander, Julien Leparoux up, wins the Ocala Breeders' Sales Sophomore in his stakes debut (courtesy SV Photography)
Despite racing wide early and into the turn, Noble Commander had a reserve of strength when jockey Julien Leparoux asked him for his best at the eighth pole. “He has a lot of talent,” Leparoux said. “He still has to learn some things, but I think he is going to keep getting better.”
Noble Commander won his debut on Feb. 16 at Gulfstream before racing today. The 3-year-old colt, a son of Forestry-Indian Carlie, by Indian Charlie, is owned by John C. Oxley, who teamed with Casse earlier this meeting to win the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes with Flameaway.
GoldMark Farm bred Noble Commander. The winner’s time for the 7 furlongs was 1:25.26. Lord Barna staged a nice rally to finish third.
The even-money favorite, Noble Commander paid $4 to win.
“It’s taken him a little while to develop,” Downs said of the lightly raced youngster. “He had some minor issues – nothing serious – but he is a really nice horse. I am sure Mr. Oxley and Mark will get together and figure out what’s next for him.”
$100,000 Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf
Castellano became the first jockey to win four Florida Cup Day races in a single afternoon when he piloted the David Fawkes-trained 4-year-old Madame Uno to her third consecutive victory. Jockeys who have won three Florida Cup races on the same day are Elvis Trujillo (2010), Daniel Centeno (2008) and Eddie Castro (2006).
“I’m very fortunate. From the beginning, I’ve had a lot of support from a lot of trainers and owners who have given me a lot of cool horses to ride,” Castellano said.
Javier Castellano would be the first to say Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf winner Madame Uno did the heavy lifting, but four Florida Cup stakes victories is a tremendous feat (courtesy SV Photography)
“I’m very blessed, and I’m hoping it will continue and praying that I stay healthy,” Castellano said.
Horses such as Madame Uno do their part. After taking the lead soon after the start, she turned back a challenge on the turn by Our Closure, then had plenty left in the tank when another David Fawkes-trainee, Surprise Wedding, put in her stretch challenge.
Madame Uno held Surprise Wedding off by a length in 1:41.57 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth. Bonita came on late to finish third.
A daughter of First Dude-Hi Avie, by Lord Avie, Madame Uno was bred by Melissa Lynn Anthony, David Nowicki, Madeline Nowicki and The Boys. She is owned by Jeff Siskin, Arnold A. Levy and William Fuchs.
“I did not expect to see Javier on the lead,” Fawkes said. “I was talking to Joe (Bravo, the rider on Surprise Wedding) in the paddock, and he said (Madame Uno) was probably the speed in the race. I didn’t think so, but she really impressed me on the lead. This was a much-improved race,” said Fawkes after Madame Uno’s first stakes victory in her first stakes try.
Fawkes is 4-for-4 with the filly, who was trained by Phil Serpe last year while competing in New York.
“She’s really been developing the last couple of races,” Castellano said.