by Mike Henry

Rustlewood Farm owners George and Karen Russell will be forgiven Saturday if their attention is temporarily diverted from Florida Cup Day XIII action at Tampa Bay Downs to the simulcast of the 10th race at Aqueduct in New York.

Rustlewood Farm, located in Reddick, Fla., north of Ocala, is the breeder of Wood Memorial entrant El Kabeir, who can stamp his ticket for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 2 at Churchill Downs with a strong performance. The Zayat Stables-owned and John P. Terranova, II-trained colt has already won three graded stakes.

Rustlewood is also the breeder of 3-year-old stakes winner Ackeret, who is entered in the ninth race at Aqueduct, the Grade III, $300,000 Bay Shore Stakes.

While they have strong rooting interests in the Big Apple, the Russells will be at the Oldsmar oval to watch their homebred 4-year-old colt Prudhoe Bay compete in the $75,000, six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint, which kicks off a Florida Cup Day XIII card featuring six $75,000 stakes races for registered Florida-breds.

Post time for the first of 12 races is at 12:25 p.m. The gates open at 11 a.m. The Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint is the second race on the program.

Prudhoe Bay, who is trained by Edward Plesa, Jr., and will be ridden by Antonio Gallardo, won last year’s Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs – the Russells’ first Florida Cup victory as owners and Rustlewood Farm’s third as breeders.

“We would love it if we had three winners (Saturday),” said George Russell, the President of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association. “And we’re keeping our fingers crossed El Kabeir has a good, safe trip and comes out of the Wood Memorial well and gets us to the Kentucky Derby.”

For most of Saturday, though, the Russells plan to fully enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Florida Cup Day while dreaming of being part of a 150,000-strong throng in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

“I think everyone I encounter, including a lot of Florida owners and breeders, looks forward to (Florida Cup Day). It is an important event for a lot of people in the state, and we want to see it continue and grow,” Russell said. “It is a special day for all of us.”

Prudhoe Bay is one of six horses to win a Florida Cup race in the last three years that had either won a graded stakes beforehand, or went on to win a graded stakes. He captured the Grade III Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth at six furlongs in August.

“Year after year, results prove that Florida is a great place to breed stakes-winning horses,” Russell said. “I don’t see any place that is better to breed and raise Thoroughbreds. My personal opinion is that Florida racing needs more support from Tallahassee (legislators) than we’re getting, because we are living on a business model that is 35-to-40-years-old and there are so many things impacting our industry now, in terms of competition, that didn’t exist then.

“I think we have been doing an exceptional job to maintain the status we have under that model, and what Tampa Bay Downs has accomplished is remarkable,” Russell said. “We’re hoping to get more of a level playing field for them in the future. The Thoroughbred breeding industry creates an awful lot of jobs, preserves green space and has a major economic impact within the state.”

While Prudhoe Bay is attempting to win Florida Cup races in consecutive years, two other horses are back to defend their 2014 victories.

Old Time Hockey, a 6-year-old gelding bred and owned by Glen Hill Farm, and jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., will be reunited in their quest to win their second consecutive Tampa Turf Classic in Saturday’s seventh race. The Tom Proctor-trained son of Smarty Jones, out of an A.P. Indy mare, has finished second in his last two races: the Grade III Challenger Stakes on Jan. 24 and the Challenger Stakes, also at Tampa Bay Downs, on March 7.

Old Time Hockey is one of two horse representing Leonard Lavin’s Glen Hill Farm on Florida Cup Day XIII. The other is 5-year-old mare Lori’s Store, a daughter of El Prado-Big Promise, by Rahy bred by Glen Hill and campaigned by Miller Racing LLC.

Lori’s Store is part of a 13-horse field in The Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, carded as the 10th race. She is trained by Martin D. Wolfson and will be ridden by five-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno in the mile-and-a-sixteenth event.

In last year’s Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, Lori’s Store crossed the wire a half-length ahead of Cuppy Cake, only to be disqualified for interference and placed third. The 5-year-old Cuppy Cake – a daughter of Olmodavor-Cindy Woo Who, by Thunder Gulch, bred by Thomas L. Croley – will defend her 2014 victory for owner Roman Hill Farm LLC and trainer Anthony Pecoraro, with Ricardo Feliciano again in the irons.

Despite having Lori’s Store disqualified, Glen Hill Farm leads all Florida Cup breeders with six victories. Rustlewood Farm, Haras Santa Maria de Araras, Jacks or Better Farm, Inc., and Live Oak Stud have bred three Florida Cup winners apiece.

Glen Hill also leads the Florida Cup Day owner standings with six victories – three more than Haras Santa Maria de Araras, Jacks or Better and Live Oak Plantation.

Tom Proctor, Glen Hill Farm’s trainer, leads all conditioners with six Florida Cup victories, one more than Plesa and Hall of Fame trainer William Mott. Lynne Scace is next with four.

Centeno leads all jockeys with eight Florida Cup triumphs, three more than Elvis Trujillo and Eddie Castro. Ronnie Allen, Jr., and Leandro Goncalves have each ridden four.

Top Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands prep races on tap. In addition to Florida Cup Day XIII action, Tampa Bay Downs will offer a full schedule of simulcast action Saturday, including the Grade I, $1-million Toyota Blue Grass from Keeneland.

The mile-and-an-eighth Toyota Blue Grass is the 10th race on Keeneland’s card, with a scheduled post time of 6 p.m. The even-money, morning-line favorite is WinStar Farm, LLC and Stonestreet Stables, LLC’s Carpe Diem, who won the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby here on March 7.

Carpe Diem is trained by Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Also in the eight-horse field is fourth-place Tampa Bay Derby finisher Danzig Moon, owned by John C. Oxley and trained by Mark Casse. Julien Leparoux is his jockey.

Tampa Bay Downs will also simulcast the Grade I, $1-million Wood Memorial from Aqueduct at 5:30 p.m. and the Grade I, $1-million Santa Anita Derby from Santa Anita. Another Pletcher runner, Daredevil, is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the Aqueduct main event and will be ridden by Javier Castellano.

A six-horse field is set for the Santa Anita Derby, with a 6:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight post time. Kaleem Shah, Inc.’s Dortmund – trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Martin Garcia – is the 3-5 handicapper’s choice.

Homeister to compete at Oaklawn. Rosemary Homeister, Jr., currently fourth in the Oldsmar jockey standings with 36 victories, will be at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., on Saturday to ride Include Betty in the Grade III, $400,000 Fantasy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth.

Include Betty, who is owned by Brereton C. Jones and Timothy C. Thornton and trained by Tom Proctor, won the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs under Homeister on Jan. 31 with a dramatic last-to-first rally. She paid $39.80 to win. In her most recent start, Include Betty finished fifth in the Grade III Florida Oaks on the turf on March 7.

Include Betty is set to face 10 rivals, including 3-1 morning-line favorite Feathered from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher.

Today’s action. On today’s card, My Sweet Dove, a 4-year-old filly who won the Sandpiper Stakes here as a 2-year-old, won the 10th race – an allowance/optional claiming race at five furlongs on the turf – for owner Ups and Downs Racing and trainer Monte R. Thomas. Fernando De La Cruz, who had ridden My Sweet Dove to her Sandpiper score, was the jockey.

Thomas and his Ups and Downs Racing also won the ninth race with first-time starter Chief Envoy, a 3-year-old gelding ridden by Ademar Santos.

De La Cruz won today’s second race on 4-year-old filly Dream Hunter for owner Cindy Patrick and trainer R.G. Patrick.

No bettor hit the Pick-5 or Super High-5 wagers. As a result, there will be a Saturday Pick-5 carryover pool of $19,395.56 and a Super High-5 carryover of $4,770.79.

Tampa Bay Downs will be closed Sunday to observe Easter. The Downs Golf Practice Facility will be open from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Easter.

Otherwise, Tampa Bay Downs is open every day 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.