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March 29, 2019

FIRENZE FIRE SET FOR 4-YEAR-OLD DEBUT IN FLORIDA CUP ZAXBY’S SPRINT

by Mike Henry
A total of 51 entries for Sunday's six $115,000 Florida Cup races for registered Florida-breds; Dubai World Cup action, Xpressbet Florida Derby to be simulcast Saturday; Antonio Gallardo rides three winners.

Grade I-winning millionaire Firenze Fire, a participant in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and Breeders’ Cup, heads a list of 51 entrants in Sunday’s 17th annual Florida Cup Day at Tampa Bay Downs.

Each of the six Florida Cup stakes races for registered Florida-breds offers a purse of $115,000. Post time for the first of Sunday’s 12 races is 12:25 p.m.

Firenze Fire, a 4-year-old colt bred and owned by Ron Lombardi’s Mr. Amore Stables and trained by Jason Servis, is entered in the 6-furlong Zaxby’s Sprint, in which he’ll face seven rivals while breaking from the No. 8 post position. He will be ridden by four-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo. The Zaxby’s Sprint is the ninth race on the card.

The son of Poseidon’s Warrior-My Every Wish, by Langfuhr, will be making his first start since a fourth-place finish on Nov. 3 in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs. Prior to that, he had won the Grade III Gallant Bob Stakes on Sept. 22 at Parx Racing and the Grade III Dwyer Stakes on July 7 at Belmont, which was his first effort after finishing 11th in the Kentucky Derby.

As a 2-year-old, Firenze Fire won the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont.

After the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Firenze Fire was sent to the Sequel Bloodstock farm of Becky Thomas in Ocala for a few months of rest and relaxation. “He had some well-deserved time off,” said Servis. “Trying to make the (Kentucky) Derby was hard. We got it done, but it was press, press, press.

“He ran against the best 3-year-olds in the country last year, and it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of 4-year-old season he has. He looked great when I got him back, and my gut feeling is he’s going to be a real nice 4 and 5-year-old,” Servis said.

Servis, who also trains Florida-bred World of Trouble, winner here of the 2018 Pasco Stakes and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Marion County Florida Sire Stakes, chose the Zaxby’s Sprint to start cranking up Firenze Fire for more lucrative assignments.

“I was trying to find an easier spot to start him back, but this race Sunday came up way tougher than I anticipated,” Servis said. “We needed a starting point, and if he wins, great, but if he doesn’t we’re fine. We’re planning to put him on a plane for Belmont Park on Wednesday and we have a lot of options with him” (including the Grade I, $1.2-million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap on June 8 at Belmont).

Servis has also entered 7-year-old gelding Ray’s Warrior in the Florida Cup Zaxby’s Sprint. He will be ridden by leading Oldsmar jockey Samy Camacho.

Firenze Fire and Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.’s 6-year-old gelding Quijote, a multiple-stakes winner, will carry top weight of 124 pounds. Quijote, a son of Pomeroy-Soi Disant, by Holy Bull, has been in excellent form of late, winning the Sunshine Millions Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 19 and finishing second in the Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes on March 2.

Quijote, who breaks from the No. 4 post, is trained by Georgina Baxter and will be ridden by six-time Tampa Bay Downs leading rider Daniel Centeno.

The Florida Cup action begins with Sunday’s fifth race, the Touch Vodka Turf Classic for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the grass.

Seven are entered, headed by 7-year-old gelding Big Changes. Owned by Steve Landers Racing and trained by Brad Cox, Big Changes is a multiple-stakes winner who had a streak of eight consecutive first or second-place finishes snapped with an unplaced performance on Feb. 16 in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap. He will be ridden by Chris Landeros.

Defending champion Swagger Jagger, a 6-year-old owned by Freddy Lewis, III and trained by Michael Maker, is entered, along with 5-year-old gelding Muggsamatic, who won the Florida Cup Sophomore Turf in 2017.

Muggsamatic is owned by Stonehedge LLC and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.

Next up Sunday is the seventh race, the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore at a distance of 7 furlongs on the main track. Eight 3-year-old colts and geldings are entered, with Servis again represented by Mary and Gary West’s colt Winning Drive, winner of his last two starts.

Likely contenders include Jackson, Tracy Pinchin’s stakes-winning colt who has also finished second in three stakes races, and Savage Music, the Gerald Bennett-trained gelding who has won his last two starts.

Sunday’s eighth race, the DRF Bets Sophomore Turf at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass, has attracted eight 3-year-old colts and geldings. One to watch is Live Oak Plantation’s Global Access, bred by owner Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Stud and trained by Michael Trombetta. Global Access finished third here on March 9 in the Columbia Stakes.

Another entrant, Max K. O., has been knocking on the door in stakes competition recently, with a second and a third at Gulfstream. Joe Bravo is scheduled to ride for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

The Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies is the 10th race, with 10 expected for the 7-furlong event. Owner Damon Ming’s Midtown Rose won the Queen Mother Stakes on Feb. 18 at Gulfstream in her most recent start and has four victories from eight attempts. Centeno will ride her for trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr.

Eyeinthesky should also receive plenty of attention. Owned by Gary Barber and trained by Mark Casse, she finished a respectable fourth last time in the Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes on Feb. 3 on the turf at Gulfstream after setting the pace to the stretch. Tyler Gaffalione has been named to ride.

Rounding out the Florida Cup action is the 11th race, the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass. Trainer Todd Pletcher has two entries: P and G Stable’s stakes-winning 4-year-old, Picara, and Robyn Thompson’s 4-year-old, Treasure for Gold.

Joe Bravo will ride Picara, while Feargal Lynch is named on Treasure for Gold. The Lisa Lewis-trained Midnight Soiree looms as a threat, having won the Martha Washington Stakes and finished second in the Miss Gracie Stakes last summer at Gulfstream.

Two Florida-breds a long way from home. The distance from Oldsmar to Dubai is roughly 7,807 miles, and that’s how far Florida-breds Imperial Hint and X Y Jet have traveled to meet for the first time in Saturday’s $2.5-million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Gulf News on the Dubai World Cup card at Meydan Racecourse.

Post time for the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Gulf News is 10:40 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Imperial Hint and X Y Jet drew the Nos. 2 and 3 post positions, respectively, with both moving inside a slot due to the scratch of the two-time Eclipse Award Champion Male Sprinter, Roy H, with a foot abscess.

Nine are scheduled to compete in the 1,200-meters (about 6 furlongs) sprint.

Imperial Hint, who has been training at Tampa Bay Downs throughout the season, is a 6-year-old multiple-Grade I winner owned by Raymond Mamone and trained by Luis Carvajal, Jr. He is 12-for-20 lifetime, with career earnings of almost $1.6-million, and has been an Eclipse Award finalist each of the last two years.

He is 3-for-4 at Tampa Bay Downs, including victories in the 2016 Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes and the 2018 Florida Cup Horse Races NOW Sprint Stakes and a third-place finish in this year’s Pelican Stakes. Jose Ortiz will be the jockey.

The 7-year-old gelding X Y Jet will be making his third start in the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Gulf News. He finished second in the 2016 edition and again last year. Owned by Rockingham Ranch and Gelfenstein Farm and trained by Jorge Navarro, the multiple-Grade III winner is 11-for-24 lifetime, with earnings nearly identical to Imperial Hint ($3,858 more than his younger rival).

X Y Jet, who trained at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach leading to the race, finished second here in the 2014 Pasco Stakes as a 2-year-old and won last year’s Pelican Stakes.

The Dubai Golden Shaheen is the sixth race on the Dubai World Cup card and will be shown on the Tampa Bay Downs closed-circuit feed. Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast races 7-9 for wagering purposes, culminating with the $12-million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airlines, in which Thunder Snow will defend last year’s title.

Around the oval. Antonio Gallardo rode three winners today. He triumphed in the first race on Super Twenty Five, a 3-year-old filly owned by Lucio Tucci and trained by Joan Scott. Gallardo then went back-to-back in the sixth and seventh races. He won the sixth on Cloud Charmer, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Patricia Pavlish and trained by Tim Hamm.

Gallardo rode 3-year-old filly Bourbon Endowment to victory in the seventh race on the turf for owners Bourbon Lane Stable and Six Column Stables and trainer Ian Wilkes, all of whom raised a farewell toast to the Sky Mesa offspring upon her being claimed for $20,000 by owner-trainer Mike Dini.

Ademar Santos won both halves of the late daily double. He won the eighth race on Returnthestar, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Nicholas Mouttet and Colin Roberts and trained by Mark Passley. Santos returned to the winner’s circle after the ninth race on the turf on Faction Cat, a 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Randall R. Russell and trained by Gerald Bennett. Faction Cat has won three in a row.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:20 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast the entire 14-race card from Gulfstream, culminating with the Grade I, $1-million Xpressbet Florida Derby.

Tampa Bay Downs conducts Thoroughbred racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 5, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 21, when the track is closed. Otherwise, the track 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.