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March 13, 2019


by Mike Henry
Locally based horse wins state Horse of the Year, Champion Older Male and Champion Sprinter honors, conditioner eyes Friday workout as litmus test for Dubai try; Stormy Embrace is Champion Older Female, Champion Female Sprinter; Mike Dini sends out two winners.

Tampa Bay Downs trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr., experienced an evening of thrills Monday during the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association awards banquet and gala at the Circle Square Cultural Center Ballroom in Ocala.

Now, the 46-year-old conditioner is preparing for even more excitement, but in a more highly charged environment.

Carvajal’s 6-year-old horse Imperial Hint was honored Monday as the FTBOA Florida-bred Horse of the Year, Champion Older Male and Champion Sprinter for 2018 after a year in which he won four of six starts, including the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga and the Grade I Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont.


Trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr., and his wife Giannina with Imperial Hint

The son of Imperialism-Royal Hint, by Lahint, who is owned by Raymond Mamone, finished third in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs. Imperial Hint was bred by Shade Tree Thoroughbreds.

More good news for Imperial Hint fans: He is on track to compete in the $2.5-million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News on March 30, part of the $35-million Dubai World Cup card at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s a great achievement in my career,” Carvajal said of collecting three FTBOA awards for Imperial Hint’s racing excellence as a 5-year-old. “Not many people get a chance to have a horse like Imperial Hint, and it’s an amazing feeling of joy for him to be recognized as the best Florida-bred of the year.

“It’s also a credit to my team – the grooms, the hotwalkers and the exercise riders who do such a great job – and my wife and family, who understand the demands of my job and are always behind me,” Carvajal said.

Imperial Hint’s status for the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News was questionable after a lackluster third-place finish here on Feb. 16 in the Pelican Stakes, his first start of 2019. Imperial Hint had some heat in his right front foot the following day, so Carvajal had his shoes removed and kept him out of training for more than a week.

He has appeared to be his normal self in three recent workouts, and Carvajal has scheduled one more 4-furlong workout Friday. “We’ll evaluate him (Saturday) and make sure everything is good to go,” Carvajal said. “It looks fine right now, but everything will have to be 100 percent to make the trip.”

If the connections decide to send Imperial Hint to Dubai, he will be shipped to Gulfstream Park on Monday and fly from Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday with other Dubai World Cup participants.

While it seemed as if Imperial Hint took home everything except the red carpet, other horses and humans were also recognized at the FTBOA ceremony. Tampa Bay Downs trainer Kathleen O’Connell’s (now)-5-year-old mare Stormy Embrace was named Champion Older Female and Champion Female Sprinter.

A homebred racing for owner Matalona Thoroughbreds, Stormy Embrace ran at Tampa Bay Downs three times in 2018, winning an allowance/optional claiming race and an overnight handicap and, in between, finishing third in the Minaret Stakes.

Stormy Embrace went on to win the Grade II Princess Rooney Stakes and the Musical Romance Stakes at Gulfstream and competed in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

O’Connell was also recognized as the leading Florida trainer of Florida-breds by number of victories (62) for the 11th time and 10th year in a row.

The now-4-year-old colt World of Trouble, who won the 2018 Pasco Stakes here and finished third in the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, was named FTBOA Florida-bred Champion 3-Year-Old Colt or Gelding and Champion Male Turf Horse.

After finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, World of Trouble capped his 3-year-old campaign with a victory here on Dec. 15 in the FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes.

Bred by Darsan Inc., owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stables and trained by Jason Servis, World of Trouble also received the Daily Racing Form Mint Julep Cup for the best Beyer Speed Figure by a Florida-bred, his 118 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. He earned a 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes on the main track, a Tampa Bay Downs record.

Miz Mayhem was named FTBOA Florida-bred Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. Her four stakes victories in 2018 included the Lightning City Stakes here on the turf on Dec. 1. Bred and owned by Laurie Plesa, she is trained by husband Edward Plesa, Jr.

Around the oval. Mike Dini sent out two winners today. The conditioner captured the first race with For My Mom, a 6-year-old mare he also owns. Willie Martinez was the jockey. Dini also won the sixth race with Quarky, a 3-year-old colt owned by Ballybrit Stable and ridden by Samy Camacho.

Fans should begin making plans for the 17th annual Florida Cup Day, to be held Sunday, March 31. The program includes six $115,000 stakes races for registered Florida-breds.

The menu includes the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, both for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs on the main track; the DRF Bets Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass; the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass; the Touch Vodka Turf Classic, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the grass; and the Zaxby’s Sprint, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward on the main track.

Recent Florida Cup runners include 2017 Turf Classic winner World Approval, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile that year and was honored with an Eclipse Award as Champion Turf Male; two-time Florida Cup winner Imperial Hint, a multiple-Grade I winner and two-time Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter finalist; It’s Me Mom, who set the standing Tampa Bay Downs track record of 1:08.67 for 6 furlongs in the 2012 Sprint; and 2016 Sprint winner Catalina Red, a subsequent Grade II winner.

Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 1 p.m. Four turf races are scheduled. Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 5, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 21, when the track is closed.

Otherwise, Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

“Kids and Family Days” event is Sunday. The final “Kids and Family Days” celebration of the 2018-2019 meeting takes place Sunday in the Backyard Picnic Area, just north of the paddock. Admission is free.

Pony rides, bounce houses, slides and games are among the numerous activities for the younger set. The gathering spot under the big tent is within easy walking distance of the outside rail, giving everyone a chance to watch the stretch-run action.

Party goers can expect a visit from the track mascot, Mouse the Miniature Horse (FYI, she loves pats on the neck and peppermint candy). For many, “Kids and Family Day” is an ideal way to enjoy a laid-back afternoon of Thoroughbred competition and introduce newcomers to the Sport of Kings.