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March 24, 2019

FIRENZE FIRE HEADS IMPRESSIVE GROUP OF LIKELY FLORIDA CUP STARTERS

by Mike Henry
Six races worth $115,000 apiece, three on main track and three on turf, slated for Sunday, March 31; trainer Eoin Harty, jockey Daniel Centeno each win two.

Four-year-old colt Firenze Fire, a Grade I winner who competed in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, is expected to compete in the $115,000 Florida Cup Zaxby’s Sprint on Sunday, March 31 at Tampa Bay Downs.

The 17th annual Florida Cup Day features six $115,000 stakes races, three on dirt and three on turf, for registered Florida-breds. The Florida Cup is presented by Jim Browne Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram and iHeartRadio.

Official entries will be taken Thursday.

Firenze Fire, who has been working out at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., for his first start of 2019, is owned by his breeder Ron Lombardi’s Mr. Amore Stable and trained by Jason Servis. A son of Poseidon’s Warrior, out of My Every Wish by Langfuhr, he won the Grade III Sanford Stakes at Saratoga and the Grade I Champagne at Belmont in 2017 as a 2-year-old, stamping himself as a Triple Crown candidate.

After a seventh-place finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar, Firenze Fire won his 3-year-old debut, the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. He went on to finish 11th in the Kentucky Derby, returning in the summer to win the Grade III Dwyer Stakes at Belmont and adding the Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx Racing in September.

Firenze Fire has career earnings in excess of $1.1-million.

The Florida Cup Zaxby’s Sprint will be contested at a distance of 6 furlongs.

Two main-track Florida Cup races are scheduled for 3-year-olds, both at a distance of 7 furlongs: the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore and the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies.

Florida Cup turf offerings include the DRF Bets Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds going a mile-and-a-sixteenth; the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth; and the Touch Vodka Turf Classic, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward going a mile-and-an-eighth.

Back to the Zaxby’s Sprint, where expected challengers to Firenze Fire include 6-year-old gelding Extravagant Kid, a multiple-stakes winner who finished third in the 2016 Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, and 5-year-old horse Sweetontheladies, a multiple graded-stakes placed runner who finished second here in the Pelican Stakes on Feb. 16.

The Touch Vodka Turf Classic is expected to draw trainer Brad Cox’s 7-year-old gelding Big Changes, who had a streak of eight consecutive first or second-place finishes stopped in last month’s Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap. Big Changes has won stakes at four different racetracks.

Another probable Touch Vodka Turf Classic participant is 5-year-old gelding Muggsamatic, a Kathleen O’Connell-trainee who won the 2017 DRF Bets Sophomore Turf. Stakes winner Curlin’s Honor, a 4-year-old colt from the barn of Mark Casse, and Our Way, trainer H. James Bond’s multiple stakes-winning 6-year-old gelding who finished second in the 2016 Florida Cup Sophomore Turf, are also likely starters.

The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore is expected to draw breeder-owner Tracy Pinchin’s talented colt, Jackson. The speedy son of Kantharos won the Juvenile Sprint Stakes in November at Gulfstream Park west and has finished second in three other stakes.

Owner John C. Oxley’s filly Catherinethegreat is a possibility for the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies. Trained by Mark Casse, she won the Grade III Schuylerville Stakes last summer at Saratoga.

A likely Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies starter is recent stakes winner Midtown Rose, from the barn of trainer Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.

The DRF Bets Sophomore Turf field is likely to include Global Access, the Live Oak Plantation-owned homebred who finished third here in the Columbia Stakes on March 9. Also expected to compete are stakes winner Mr Wrench It and the multiple stakes-placed Max K. O.

Midnight Soiree, a 4-year-old filly trained by Lisa Lewis, is expected to return to action after a six-month layoff to contest the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf. She won the Martha Washington Stakes last summer at Gulfstream and finished second there in the Miss Gracie Stakes. Another probable is the Todd Pletcher-trained 4-year-old Picara, who won the Millions Filly and Mare Turf Preview Stakes last fall at Gulfstream Park West.

Around the oval. Today’s maiden claiming victory by Taylor’s Belle in the second race stirred fond memories for her owner and trainer, Charles Harvatt, who had trained her mother, Taylors Irish.

Harvatt, who took possession of Taylor’s Belle from her previous connections after her last race on March 10, decided to switch her from the turf to dirt, add blinkers and turn back in distance to 7 furlongs. Taylor’s Belle responded with a 1 ¾-length victory from Mancora. Wilmer Garcia was the winning jockey.

The changes made perfect sense to Harvatt, who had trained Taylors Irish to a 2012 victory in the Manatee Stakes here, also at 7 furlongs on the main track.

“Taylors Irish always ran short on the dirt, and I thought this filly would do well going short on the dirt too,” Harvatt said of Taylor’s Belle, a Kentucky-bred who was sired by Grade I winner Bellamy Road.

Trainer Eoin Harty sent out two winners today. He won the first race with 5-year-old mare Venus Serena, owned by Casner Racing and ridden by Victor Lebron. Harty also won the sixth, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, with 4-year-old Great Britain-bred Longden, bred and owned by Godolphin and ridden by Jesus Castanon.

Daniel Centeno rode two winners. He was on 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Rattlesnake Ridge in the seventh race for owner Endsley Oaks Farm and trainer Don Roberson. Centeno added the 10th and final race on the turf with Architect, a 4-year-old filly bred and owned by Stella F. Thayer and trained by Arnaud Delacour.

Architect was claimed from the race for $25,000 by trainer John Rigattieri for new owner Aron Yagoda.

Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:30 p.m. 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.