Sunny skies, temperatures in the low 80s and gentle breezes created a spectacular setting for Florida Cup Day XIII at Tampa Bay Downs, and the actors performed to a level commensurate with the stage.
The annual event consisted of six $75,000 stakes races for registered Florida-breds, as well as six undercard races. Without further ado, here is a recap of the Florida Cup Day stakes:
THE HILTON GARDEN INN/HAMPTON INN & SUITES SPRINT
Trainer Kathleen O’Connell has been an ardent supporter of the Florida Cup since its inception in 2003. Yet entering today’s 13th annual event, she had yet to enter the winner’s circle on Tampa Bay Downs’ biggest afternoon for Florida-breds.
That changed in today’s second race, as O’Connell notched her first Florida Cup score to go with almost 1,700 career victories and such major stakes victories as the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby with Watch Me Go in 2011 and a trio of graded-stakes triumphs by Blazing Sword from 1997-2000.
Ridden to perfection by jockey Luis Garcia, the 4-year-old colt Lake Drive South rallied to defeat Pelican Stakes winner Star Harbour and Luis’ brother Geovany Garcia by three-quarters of a length in the six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint. The time was 1:10.44.
Lake Drive South paid $15 to win. It was the fifth victory in 17 starts for the son of Pomeroy-Aleyna’s Love, by Kris S., who is a homebred racing for Ocala-area resident Dierdre Marsh and her family. He is 3-for-6 at Tampa Bay Downs, with a second and two thirds.
An ebullient O’Connell wasn’t about to dwell on previous Florida Cup disappointments. “We try hard for every race, no matter what it’s named,” she said. “I liked him a lot today. He loves this track and has really bloomed. He has just been a pleasure to work with.”
Marsh owns Lake Drive South with her husband, equine veterinarian John Langlois; his father Jack, who is 92; and John’s brothers, Bob and Peter. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to be in this race,” John Langlois said. “This is our first horse, and he has been problem-free.”
Luis Garcia kept Lake Drive South at the rear of the five-horse field early and was delighted when Star Harbour and Prudhoe Bay, last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore winner, dueled through swift fractions of 22.31 seconds for the quarter-mile and 45.11 for the half.
“I’ve gotten to know this horse, and he does much better coming off the pace,” Luis Garcia said. “When I asked for run, he really turned it on. I am sure my brother thought he had it won, but we just blew by him.”
O’Connell, too, was cool as a cucumber watching the race unfold. “He’s been a little closer (early) in his seven-furlong races, but I wasn’t surprised he was farther back today. We were hoping for a hot, furious pace so he could make his run, and I’m glad it worked out.”
THE SOPHOMORE TURF
World Approval’s maiden victory at Gulfstream Park on March 14 in his first start on turf gave his connections confidence he belonged in state-bred stakes company. “He got in some trouble and had to weave through traffic and steady, and when he got in the clear he put in a really big run,” said Mitch Downs, assistant to trainer Mark Casse.
The handsome gray gelding justified Casse and Live Oak Plantation owner Charlotte Weber’s faith today, powering through the stretch to post a 1 ¾-length victory from gritty pace-setter Jakob’s Way in the mile-and-sixteenth Sophomore Turf. Prince Vincenzo was another neck back in third.
The winner, ridden for the first time by Rafael M. Hernandez, paid $5 as the betting favorite. His time was 1:42.21.
“He had been training real well for this,” said Downs, who brought the son of Northern Afleet-Win Approval, by With Approval, down from Casse’s Ocala division for the race. “We’ll enjoy this win, and when we get back to the barn, I’m sure Mark and Mrs. Weber will sit down and talk and see where he goes from here.”
World Approval’s famous grandsire, With Approval, finished second in the 1989 Tampa Bay Derby to Storm Predictions. With Approval won the Canadian Triple Crown that year, earning a Sovereign Award as Canada’s Horse of the Year, and also captured a pair of Grade II turf stakes at Belmont as a 4-year-old.
World Approval was bred by Weber’s Live Oak Stud in Ocala. His dam, Win Approval, is the mother of a trio of Live Oak homebreds to win more than $1-million in their careers, including Miesque’s Approval, Live Oak’s 2006 NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and Eclipse Award Champion Grass Horse; multiple graded-stakes winner Za Approval; and Revved Up, a two-time winner of the Chris Thomas Turf Classic Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Live Oak has now won four Florida Cup races as both a breeder and an owner.
“They told me this guy would want to go after them early, but to take hold and get him to relax and make one run,” Hernandez said. “It couldn’t have worked out better for us. He could be special. They bunched up in the turn and when I asked him for run, he went after them big time.”
THE OCALA BREEDERS’ SALES SOPHOMORE
Dr. Tiffany A. Atteberry, who bred Charlie’s Brother with her husband, Scott Brown, thinks the 3-year-old colt has turned a corner.
“Not only is he conformationally beautiful,” Atteberry said after his three-and-three-quarter length victory in The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, “but he has learned to be a good racehorse.”
After a trio of consecutive stakes placings – including a second here in the Inaugural Stakes as a 2-year-old and a third in the Pasco Stakes – Charlie’s Brother has won his last two starts, including a Feb. 21 allowance/optional claiming event at the seven-furlong OBS Sophomore distance. Harry Vega has been his pilot in all his local starts.
Charlie’s Brother, now 3-for-10 lifetime, is owned by Stanley S. Moles of Clearwater and Starr Porter’s Starr Stables, LLC and trained by Lynne M. Scace, who recorded her fifth Florida Cup victory as a conditioner.
Fast Flying Rumor and jockey Daniel Centeno threatened Charlie’s Brother from the outside on the turn, but the crafty Vega – who has ridden more than 4,100 winners in his career – knew he had plenty of gas in the tank.
“I’ve ridden this horse every day since he was a baby, and it was our day today,” Vega said. “He showed something more today. He relaxed on the lead getting away and we weren’t pressured until nearing the stretch. I had to ride him hard to hold the lead, but then he showed his quality.”
“He keeps improving every race,” Moles said. “We’re looking to take him to Presque Isle Downs next.”
Charlie’s Brother’s time for the seven furlongs was 1:23.49. He paid $6.80 to win.
The son of With Distinction is out of Atteberry and Brown’s broodmare Rockandrollqueen, who is being bred to 2010 Preakness winner and two-time Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky. The breeders are selling her Gone Astray offspring at the June Ocala Breeders’ Sale of 2-year-olds in training.
If he is anything like his older half-brother, he might be earning his own Florida Cup laurels in the near future.
THE TAMPA TURF CLASSIC
Old Time Hockey is pretty aptly named, when you think about it. If the 6-year-old gelding were to don a sweater and skates, he’d be the type of player to scrap in the corners for loose pucks and drop the gloves when his team needed a spark.
“He’s got a personality for sure, but when it comes down to it, he knows his job,” said Erin Wilkinson, the assistant to Old Time Hockey’s trainer, Tom Proctor. “He’s easy to walk over and easy in the paddock, but he’s hard on the competition.”
Old Time Hockey displayed his fighting spirit in the mile-and-an-eighth Tampa Turf Classic, unleashing his patented late under jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., to defeat a game I’m the Lucky One by a neck.
It was the second consecutive victory in The Tampa Turf Classic for the Grade II winner, with first-place money of $45,000 raising his career earnings to $431,675. He is now 6-for-30 lifetime.
Old Time Hockey’s breeder and owner, Leonard Lavin’s Glen Hill Farm, has seven Florida Cup victories as a breeder and owner, both records. Proctor leads all trainers with seven Florida Cup Day victories. He had another major triumph today, as his 3-year-old filly Include Betty won the Grade III, $400,000 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park under jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr.
A heavy favorite, Old Time Hockey paid $3 to win. His time was 1:47.72.
“I was confident he would run a big race today, but when we got clear of traffic and I saw that Erick (Rodriguez, aboard I’m the Lucky One) had gone clear, let’s say I was concerned,” Allen said. “He had a lot to do down the stretch, and thankfully he was up to the task.”
Old Time Hockey had finished second in both the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes and the Challenger Stakes on the main Oldsmar oval before the Florida Cup. “He is a class act, and he is at the top of his game,” Wilkinson said. “I wasn’t worried because that’s the way he likes to run. He’s a tough horse who knows what he’s doing, and he had a great rider.”
THE STONEHEDGE FARM SOUTH SOPHOMORE FILLIES
You couldn’t blame co-owner Rich Averill for being in a rush after R Sassy Lass powered away from her competition in the seven-furlong Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies.
Averill was getting ready to watch the simulcast of the Orange Blossom Handicap from Gulfstream, featuring his Grade II-winning 5-year-old homebred mare, R Free Roll.
But the Bradenton, Fla., construction executive stayed long enough to say he thinks the 3-year-old R Sassy Lass can be as good as R Free Roll down the road. “She has more tactical speed,” Averill noted.
R Free Roll finished a marvelous 10 minutes of action for Averill and partner Silver Oak Stable, winning the Orange Blossom for her sixth career stakes triumph. But the focus in the Tampa Bay Downs winner’s circle was on R Sassy Lass, a daughter of Exclusive Quality-Sassy Bear, by Cherokee Run, owned by Averill, the Silver Oak Stable of Jim Tipps and Gregory Kaufman.
R Sassy Lass was bred by Brent and Crystal Fernung and is trained by Kirk Ziadie. Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo was the rider, his first Florida Cup victory.
R Sassy Lass, who finished a length-and-three-quarters ahead of Coco’s Wildcat – bred and owned by race sponsor Gilbert G. Campbell and trained by Kathleen O’Connell – paid $5.40 as the second wagering choice. Her time was 1:23.31.
R Sassy Lass, who won the Sandpiper Stakes here as a 2-year-old in December, had finished second in her most recent outing, the Grade III Old Hat at Gulfstream on Jan. 3.
“We were actually pointing for this spot two months ago,” Averill said. “We had thought about running her at Gulfstream in the Any Limit Stakes (against Dogwood Trail, who finished fourth today), but we didn’t want to run against her. But we ended up facing her anyway today.”
Dogwood Trail was fractious behind the gate and unable to sustain a brief rally approaching the turn.
“Kirk did a great job of getting her ready. We’ll probably send her to Gulfstream for an overnight stakes, then shoot for a $150,000 Grade III stakes on their Summit of Speed card (July 5),” Averill said.
Gallardo, who had two additional victories on the card, had also ridden R Sassy Lass in the Sandpiper. “I knew coming in today she was a good one, and that she is more than a six-furlong filly,” he said. “We went after the leaders nearing the stretch and she got away from them. I had to sting her a couple of times to keep her focused; this was a tough group of fillies and she had to be at her best.”
THE PLEASANT ACRES STALLIONS DISTAFF TURF
Lambholm Stable owner Roy S. Lerman remembers paying $50,000 to breed his mare Supposedly to champion sire Smart Strike in 2010. “I got a deal,” Lerman said.
The offspring of that mating, Evidently, nearly paid off the entire stud fee today, staging a whirlwind rally through the stretch and holding off a belated charge from E B Ryder to win The Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf by a half-length.
The 4-year-old filly’s time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was 1:40.93, eclipsing the former turf stakes record of 1:41.46 set by Hooh Why in 2012.
Evidently, who broke her maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in her second career start in February of 2014 (and paid $57.20 to win that day), returned $39.40 today. The 10-5 exacta with the 16-1 E B Ryder finishing second paid $537.80, and the $1 10-5-4 trifecta, with 14-1 Cuppy Cake third, paid $2,078.80.
It was the second career victory in nine starts for Evidently, who is also trained by her breeder-owner. She was ridden by Rafael M. Hernandez, who also won The Sophomore Turf on World Approval.
In addition to first-place money of $45,000, Lerman received a free stallion season from Pleasant Acres Stallions, owned by Joseph and Helen Barbazon.
“It’s a mild surprise, but I thought this filly was better than she’s shown on paper,” Lerman said. “All she needed was a proper ride with enough pace up front, and the leaders went in 22.99 seconds (for the quarter-mile) and 46.56 for the half. I told the jockey not to get too clever, that she would close and to just put her in position.
“The last time she ran (on Gulfstream on Feb. 22), she was only beaten four lengths and she came flying at the end and closed in 22 and change the last quarter. And she did it again today,” Lerman said.
While the great Smart Strike passed away last week, Lerman reported that the 16-year-old Supposedly delivered a foal by Point of Entry this morning. Thoroughbred racing’s longevity is built in large measure on its constant cycles of rebirth, and Lerman can look forward to another potential stakes winner from Supposedly, herself a stakes winner.
“We were well back early and I didn’t want to get caught behind tiring horses,” Hernandez said. “I found a lane three or four wide going into the turn and decided to wait some more. We got room between horses entering the stretch and she fired through and finished strong.
“Sometimes everything works out just right,” Hernandez added.