by Mike Henry

Bright sunshine and cool breezes lent an air of high potential to Florida Cup Day XIV, and the quality of racing delivered.

Highlights included the successful comeback of 2014 Inaugural and Pasco Stakes winner Catalina Red in the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint; a jaw-dropping performance by speed demon Imperial Hint in the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore; and a stakes-record performance by 5-year-old mare Speed Seeker in the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf in what one of her owners said was her final race.

Here are the recaps of the six Florida Cup races, all for registered Florida-breds and offering $75,000 apiece in purse money.



Speed Seeker has a knack for delivering quality performances when doubters abound. Such was the case when she finished third in the (then)-Grade III Hillsborough Stakes in 2015 at odds of 60-1, and again today when bettors let her wander away at 24-1.

Outfitted with blinkers following her dull effort in this year’s Hillsborough on March 12, the 5-year-old Speed Seeker broke on top under jockey Erick Rodriguez, and the duo dared the field to catch them.

Daring Kathy put in a mild bid inside the half-mile pole, but Rodriguez had plenty of horse left. Speed Seeker easily held off late-charging favorite Josdesanimaux to post a two-length victory, with Daring Kathy holding on to dead-heat for third with Promotional in the 11-horse field.

A Grade III winner at Woodbine in 2014, Speed Seeker paid $51 to win while completing the mile-and-a-sixteenth in 1:40.42, .51 seconds faster than the previous stakes mark set last year by Evidently.

Bred by Katherine Devall and Heatseeker Syndicate, Speed Seeker is owned by Bob Johnson, Frank Coniglio, Frank Ferrogine, Richard Rendina and Sid Ritman. Joan Scott trains Speed Seeker, which is 5-for-19 lifetime with career earnings of $260,438.

“We just wanted her to get the lead, so we tried something different (with the blinkers) and it worked out,” said Rodriguez, who rode her in last year’s Hillsborough and in an allowance/optional claiming victory here in December of 2014 that was run similarly to today’s race.

“I wanted to get her to relax, and that was the key. When (Daring Kathy) came to her on the backside, I had to let her open up, but I was able to save enough.”

Ferrogine said this was Speed Seeker’s final race and she will be bred to a stallion to be determined. “This is the best way to go out,” he said. “I didn’t expect her to run quite like this, but I didn’t expect her to be 24-1, either. She is very quick and the fractions weren’t too shabby” (23.34 seconds for the quarter-mile, 46.37 for the half, 1:09.77 for six furlongs and 1:34.25 for the mile).

Speed Seeker’s victory was the first Florida Cup triumph for both Scott and Rodriguez.




The ability of his 4-year-old colt Catalina Red to turn in a superior effort against quality competition after a layoff of almost seven months was a lingering question for trainer Chad Stewart.

“I was a little worried because I thought he might need another breeze, but he got the job done,” Stewart said after Catalina Red and jockey Fernando De La Cruz posted a one-length victory from wagering favorite Fast Flying Rumor. “This was a big task for him, but he is a nice colt and it’s hard to screw him up.”

Catalina Red set the Tampa Bay Downs 7-furlong record of 1:21.40 (since equaled) in winning the Pasco Stakes as a 2-year-old in December of 2014. After a fifth-place finish in last year’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes, the son of Munnings-Lovely Dream, by Freud, was given six months off before winning the Jackson Bend Stakes at Gulfstream.

His next foray against graded-stakes company resulted in a seventh-place finish in the Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx Racing and another vacation.

“He’s had some minor injuries, and Mr. (Anthony) Lenci, the owner, has been great about giving him plenty of time,” Stewart said. “He’s never had anything major, but an injury that would give him two months off, we gave him four months.”

De La Cruz, who was riding Catalina Red for the first time, knew he was on quality unleashed from the opening bell. “He broke on his own and got right in position, and I took him to the outside like (Stewart) said. When I asked him at the 3/8-mile pole he responded, and then turning for home he switched leads and took off, which was good because (Fast Flying Rumor) is a good horse,” De La Cruz said.

Catalina Red paid $8.80 to win. His time was 1:09.22, .55 seconds off It’s Me Mom’s stakes and track record.

Fast Flying Rumor finished three-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of Alfredo Romana.

The trainer of Alfredo Romana, David Nunn, claimed foul against the top two finishers for alleged interefernce in deep stretch, but it was disallowed by the stewards.

Stewart and De La Cruz scored their first Florida Cup victories. Bred by France Weiner and Irwin J. Weiner, Catalina Red improved to 4-for-9 lifetime.




It was reasonable to be impressed by the career debut of Imperial Hint, and just as logical to question his ability to take on stakes company in his second career start.

Apparently, such issues are not on the mind of the 3-year-old speedster, which ran away from a field of six fellow 3-year-olds to post a six-and-three-quarter length victory from Epic Journey in 1:22.15 for the seven furlongs, .02 seconds off the stakes record set in 2011 by Manicero. Extravagant Kid rallied for third.

“I love this horse,” said winning jockey Antonio Gallardo, who rode two Florida Cup winners and has three in his career. “He made the lead very easy, almost too easy, but he’s a runner. He keeps going and when you ask him for more, he gives you more. I’m very confident about him. He is a very nice horse.”

Imperial Hint, a son of Imperialism out of Royal Hint, by Lahint, debuted Feb. 19 by winning a seven-furlong maiden race here in 1:22.39.

Bred by Shade Tree Thoroughbreds and owned by Raymond Mamone, Imperial Hint is one of six horses in the barn of trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr.

“He has been training very well to this race, so I was confident coming in,” Carvajal said of the 7-10 wagering favorite. “Staying healthy is the main thing. He was working well as a 2-year-old, but then he turned a little sour so we gave him some time off and decided to start him as a 3-year-old, and I think it has worked pretty well.”

Mamone, from Somerville, N.J., had given dam Royal Hint to Shade Tree Thoroughbreds in foal, but when he saw Imperial Hint last spring, he offered to buy him, getting him for $17,500. His value increased exponentially today, and there is no telling what the future holds. 



Entering the Mile-and-an-eighth Tampa Turf Classic, Go Around’s three career victories had come at Belmont, Saratoga and Gulfstream. The 4-year-old Vegso Racing Stable product added another lawn to his collection, outlasting a hard-charging Fundamental by a neck in a pulsating finish.

The victory by Go Around was the sixth Florida Cup triumph by Hall of Fame trainer William Mott, second only to Tom Proctor, and the fourth for owner Peter Vegso, who also has three as a breeder. Now 4-for-8 lifetime, the son of Medaglia d’Oro-Mediation, by Caerleon, provided a sumptuous feat for his breeder-owner, best known as the publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo rode Go Around, which toured the nine furlongs in 1:47.11, .11 seconds off the stakes record. Pace-setter Cement Clement held on for third, while two-time defending Tampa Turf Classic champion Old Time Hockey was sixth.

A claim of foul against Go Around for interference in the stretch was disallowed by the stewards.

“(Mott assistant Mark Schreiber) told me this horse gets a little lazy sometimes, which helped me a lot because I had to move him a little early to keep him going,” said Gallardo, who surged to the lead at the quarter-mile pole and held off the Chad Brown-trained Fundamental in determined fashion. “I knew (Fundamental) had a good finishing kick, but my horse kept fighting to the wire.”

Go Around had finished third in last summer’s Grade III Saranac at Saratoga. His most recent start resulted in a gate-to-wire triumph on the Gulfstream turf on Feb. 27.

“Mr. Vegso has raised another nice horse,” Schreiber said. “Antonio rode a smart race. This horse is not going to give you a big turn of speed; he kind of keeps chugging along, and when it came time to dig in, he did.”





Jockey Manoel Cruz was grateful for the versatility possessed by Life Imitates Art after the 3-year-old colt broke a step slowly in today’s first Florida Cup XIV race, the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sophomore Turf.

“We got the No. 1 hole, which was a good position to take him to the lead, but when we got away slow I knew he’d be comfortable coming from behind, too,” Cruz said after Life Imitates Art’s length-and-a-half victory. “You have a lot of choices when you ride that kind of horse.”

Approaching the quarter-mile pole, Our Way, I’m a Factum and the lone filly in the race, Family Meeting, appeared to have a shot. But when Cruz pushed the button, Lime Imitates Art responded as if he’d been preparing for this race his entire career.

Our Way held on for second, a half-length ahead of Second Mate, which fell back, then re-rallied. Family Meeting finished fourth. The winner’s time on the immaculate grass course was 1:42.41. The 17-10 wagering favorite, Life Imitates Art paid $5.40 to win.

Life Imitates Art improved to 3-for-7 lifetime, with three seconds. After starting his career with four consecutive second-place finishes (he was moved to first via disqualification at Belmont last October), he won the Grade III Dania Beach Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 2.

A son of More Than Ready out of the Unbridled’s Song mare, Habiboo, Life Imitates Art was bred by the Hardacre Farm operation of Amy Tarrant. The winner is owned by Klaravich Stables, Inc., and William H. Lawrence and trained by Chad Brown, who earned his third Florida Cup victory.

It was the first Florida Cup victory for Cruz, who was leading jockey at Tampa Bay Downs during the 2001-2002 meeting, a year before the multi-stakes event made its debut.

“When I put him in the clear at the quarter pole, it was just like ‘Go, baby!’ ” Cruz said. “He just kind of exploded.”



Carthage, Mo., resident Karl Glassman was the first to admit he was worried.

Valueable Charmer was sailing along on the lead at the top of the stretch in the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, and Glassman was unsure if his 3-year-old filly, April Gaze, had enough real estate left to reel in the leader.

But jockey Elvis Trujillo didn’t share Glassman’s trepidation.

“I knew that other horse was going to stop sooner or later,” a smiling Trujillo told Glassman and his wife, Cathi. “I had the perfect trip behind the leaders, this is a long stretch and I knew I had a lot of horse.”

The 3-5 favorite made it look easy late, scoring a length victory from Valueable Charmer, with Chief Attraction third.

April Gaze is 4-for-5 lifetime with one second. The daughter of High Cotton-Sky Gazer, by Sky Mesa, was claimed by Laurie Plesa on behalf of her husband, trainer Edward Plesa, Jr., and the Glassmans from her first start at Gulfstream Park West in November for $50,000.

That is a lot of money for an untested 2-year-old, but she has already paid back that investment with earnings of $121,460.

“All the credit goes to Eddie and Elvis,” Karl Glassman said. “It was a great ride, and Eddie and his team do an outstanding job. Wherever she goes from here is up to Eddie. It’s very exciting.”

Trujillo has won six Florida Cup races, second in series history to Daniel Centeno with eight. Plesa’s sixth Florida Cup victory ties him for second with William Mott, one behind Proctor.

April Gaze toured the 7-furlong distance in 1:24.29.