Many of the Sunshine State’s finest are set to compete in Florida Cup Day XIII, a collection of six $75,000 stakes races for registered Florida-breds Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.
The gates open at 11 a.m. and post time for the first of 12 races is 12:25 p.m. The stakes will also be high for handicappers, who will have the opportunity to compete for cash prizes via the inaugural “Florida Cup Day Challenge” free online contest (more on that below).
The Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, to be run as the 10th race at a mile-and-a-sixteenth, has drawn an overflow field of 13 fillies and mares. Top entries include Grade III stakes winner Speed Seeker, who finished third in the Grade III Hillsborough Stakes here on March 7 behind the Chad Brown-trained pair of Stephanie’s Kitten and Ball Dancing; and the 1-2 finishers from last year’s Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, Cuppy Cake and Lori’s Store (Cuppy Cake won when the original order of finish was reversed via disqualification).
The Grade II-winning 6-year-old gelding Old Time Hockey will defend his 2014 victory in the Tampa Turf Classic at a mile-and-an-eighth, to be contested as the seventh race. The versatile son of Smarty Jones has finished second in his two most recent races – the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes on turf Jan. 24 and the Challenger Stakes on dirt on March 7.
In the six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint, scheduled as the second race on the main track Saturday, 4-year-old colt Prudhoe Bay will attempt to add a second Florida Cup victory to his 2014 triumph in the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore. Prudhoe Bay won the Grade III Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth Park last summer.
The six-horse Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint field includes 5-year-old gelding Happy My Way, whose 4-year-old campaign included victories in the Grade III Maryland Sprint Handicap and the Sir Shackleton Stakes; and seconds in the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga and the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.
Also entered is 7-year-old Star Harbour, who won the Pelican Stakes here on Jan. 24.
Also slated are three races for 3-year-olds. The Sophomore Turf, at a mile-and-a-sixteenth, is the fifth race; the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore at seven furlongs on the main track is the sixth; and the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies at seven furlongs on the main track is the eighth race.
Heading the field for the latter is R Sassy Lass, who won the Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies here on Dec. 6 and was second in the Grade III Old Hat on Jan. 3 at Gulfstream in her 3-year-old debut.
Leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Gerald Bennett has nine horses entered in the Florida Cup Day races – at least one in each race – while Kathleen O’Connell is represented by six entrants (she does not have a horse entered in the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf).
Back to the “Florida Cup Day Challenge,” which offers substantial cash prizes to the top-three finishers. Here is how it works: Players can register to participate at the track’s website, www.tampabaydowns.com
Each player is required to place a mythical, $2 across-the-board (win, place and show) wager on a single horse in each of the day’s 12 races.
At the end of the day, the player with the most accumulated earnings wins a first-place prize of $1,500; second place is $500, and third place is $250. Aye, but here’s the rub – if any of your selections finishes out of the money, you are eliminated from the contest.
Thankfully, that Regis Philbin fellow, years ago, invented the concept of lifelines, and each contest entrant will have the option before the first race of purchasing as many as three lifelines for $10 a toss. So if you go in for three lifelines at a total outlay of $30, you’ll be cushioned against three out-of-the-money finishes.
Further contest details are available on the track website.
As a Florida Cup Day XIII bonus, the simulcast offerings at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday will include the $1-million, Grade I Toyota Blue Grass from Keeneland, featuring Grade II Tampa Bay Derby winner Carpe Diem from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher.
Also part of the eight-horse Toyota Blue Grass Field is Danzig Moon, who finished fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby. He is trained by Mark Casse.
Carpe Diem, owned by WinStar Farm, LLC and Stonestreet Stables, LLC, won the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October. A strong performance Saturday would put him in line to take aim at becoming the third Tampa Bay Derby participant to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 2, joining Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver (2010).
Carpe Diem will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, while Julien Leparoux will be aboard Danzig Moon. Approximate post time for the Toyota Blue Grass is 6 p.m.
Today’s action. On today’s card, eight-time leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jamie Ness cut into Gerald Bennett’s lead in the standings when his 7-year-old gelding Laughter won the fourth race. Owned by Jamie and wife Mandy’s Jagger, Inc., operation, Laughter was ridden by Dean Frates. Bennett now leads the title chase, 36-34.
Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo and Pablo Morales each rode two winners today. Gallardo won the first race on Put Summ Back, a 4-year-old gelding bred and owned by Just For Fun Stables and trained by Antonio Machado. He added the seventh race on the turf on 3-year-old filly Majesticmasquerade for owners Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti and trainer Efren Loza, Jr.
Morales captured the fifth race aboard 6-year-old gelding Maan for owner-trainer Burley Clouston, III. He added the eighth on the turf on Huntstown, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Romar, LLC and trained by Wayne D. Mogge.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. The track is open every day except Easter Sunday for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and Three Card Poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
On Easter Sunday, The Downs Golf Practice will be available from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (the last bucket of balls will be sold at 3:30 p.m.).