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March 30, 2019


by Mike Henry
Florida Cup Day keeps proving state's breeding and racing industry is flourishing, with room for growth; late Pick-5 to start with $32,850 in pot; Pablo Morales sweeps late daily double.

A celebration of Florida’s rich Thoroughbred breeding and racing heritage takes place Sunday when Tampa Bay Downs plays host to its 17th annual Florida Cup Day for registered Florida-breds.

Six stakes races, each offering a record $115,000 in purse money, take center stage on the 12-race card, which begins at 12:25 p.m. The event is a collaborative endeavor between Tampa Bay Downs; the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association and state breeders; the Tampa Bay Downs Division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association; and Racing Secretary Allison De Luca and her crew.

The Florida Cup is presented by Jim Browne Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram and iHeartRadio.

First run in 2003, the Florida Cup got off to a rousing start when Mychampion, a 3-year-old colt bred and owned by Robert M. Dubois, ralled from out of the clouds to win the Sophomore Colts and Geldings under jockey Jose Delgado, paying $126.40 to win – still a Florida Cup record.

The list of breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys and horses who have competed in the Florida Cup is a reminder that Florida horse people can still breed fast and durable horses, despite recent industry trends that have seen many outstanding Florida-based sires depart for ‘bluer” pastures after achieving a level of success and recognition.

Last year, Imperial Hint (the third-place finisher to fellow Florida-bred X Y Jet in today’s Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Gulf News) romped to a 5-length victory in the Sprint, kicking off a 5-year-old campaign that featured a pair of Grade I victories and a third-place finish in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Imperial Hint had captured the Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore two years earlier.

Last year’s Florida Cup Sprint victory was one of a record four Florida Cup victories on the day for Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.

In 2017, trainer Mark Casse brought Live Oak Plantation’s 5-year-old homebred gelding World Approval to Oldsmar for the Turf Classic. World Approval, who had won the Florida Cup Sophomore Turf two years earlier, gave Tampa Bay Downs fans a hint of what the future held, winning in impressive fashion to kick off a campaign that culminated with a Breeders’ Cup Mile victory and an Eclipse Award as Champion Turf Male.

Talk about your harbingers: In 2016, 4-year-old Catalina Red, bred by industry mainstays France and Irwin J. Weiner, owned by Anthony Lenci and trained by Chad Stewart, won the Florida Cup Sprint in a sizzling 1:09.22 for the 6-furlong distance. A month later, in his first start for trainer Jorge Navarro, Catalina Red won the Grade II, 7-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes in a blazing 1:20.79.

For an event that has not yet reached legal age in most states, the Florida Cup has produced its share of noteworthy winners and memorable moments. Few rivaled the 2013 version for emotion, when 7-year-old mare Hooh Why, bred by the late Gail Gee, got up in the final jump to win her second consecutive Florida Cup Distaff Turf, this one under jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr.

Top ownership entities such as Live Oak Plantation, Bridlewood Farm, Glen Hill Farm, Stoenhedge Farm South, John C. Oxley, Lambholm South, Averill Racing and Peter Vegso have been staunch supporters of the Florida Cup. The list of winning trainers is equally impressive: Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott, Casse, Chad Brown, H. Graham Motion, Tom Proctor, Edward Plesa, Jr., and Christophe Clement, as well as Tampa Bay Downs stalwarts Gerald Bennett and Kathleen O’Connell.

It would be presumptuous to suggest any of Sunday’s competitors might one day be worthy of being mentioned alongside such legendary Florida-breds as Affirmed, Dr. Fager, Silver Charm, Unbridled, Cozzene, Needles, Carry Back, Foolish Pleasure and World Approval. But in a sport in which dreams reign supreme, it is definitely worth giving them a chance to carve out legacies of their own.

Here is the full slate of Florida Cup races:

  • 5th race: $115,000 Touch Vodka Turf Classic, 4-year-olds-and-upward, mile-and-an-eighth, turf
  • 7th race: $115,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs, dirt
  • 8th race: $115,000 DRF Bets Sophomore Turf, 3-year-olds, mile-and-a-sixteenth, turf
  • 9th race: $115,000 Zaxby’s Sprint, 4-year-olds-and-upward, 6 furlongs, dirt
  • 10th race: $115,000 Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, 3-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs, dirt
  • 11th race: $115,000 Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward, mile-and-a-sixteenth, turf

Around the oval. The tote board lit up after the eighth race like a kid’s face upon receiving a new bicycle for their birthday. Cambre, an 88-1 shot, went gate-to-wire in the mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden event on the turf under Raul Mena, paying $179.80 to win. The 3-year-old colt is owned by Imagine Racing and trained by former jockey David Flores.

With 61-1 shot Gentlemen Joe finishing second, the 1-9 exacta paid $3,517.80 for a $2 wager, the largest exacta of the meeting and $130.40 shy of the track record. The 1-9-4 trifecta paid $19,174.20 on a $1 wager and the $1 superfecta (1-9-4-10) paid $43,921.30.

The huge upset helped to create a carryover pool of $32,850.15 into Sunday’s late Pick-5 wager, as no bettor correctly selected the 7-2-1-1-1 combination.

Pablo Morales rode three winners today. He won the fifth race on the turf on Zefiro, a 5-year-old horse owned by Harry Hoglander and Josie Gump and trained by Bill Sienkewicz.

Morales then swept the late daily double. He won the ninth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, on 3-year-old filly Don’t Fight It for breeder-owner White Fox Farm and trainer Stacy Hendry. Morales came through again in the 10th race on the turf on Straight Up Smarty, a 6-year-old mare owned by Pat Endo and trained by Dale Bennett.

Sienkewicz, for his part, also won the seventh race with Metallic, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Hoglander and Gump and ridden by Jose Ferrer.

Jose Angel Garcia rode two winners. He captured the first race aboard Luna Azteca, a 6-year-old mare owned by Carole Star Stables and trained by Jose H. Delgado. Garcia added the fourth on Quack Quack, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Louis Ferolito and trained by Manuel Estevez.