by Mike Henry

At mid-morning today, Joe Barbazon dragged the fields from atop a tractor at his Pleasant Acres Stallions in Morriston, Fla., while his wife Helen cleaned rain gutters from a lift.

Attention to detail is a way of life for the Barbazons, who have grown the Marion County showcase from its original 10 acres in 1983 to the current 400-acre spread. “Helen is just like me – we like to work every day like regular farmhands, and we aren’t going to ask our crew to do anything we wouldn’t do,” the 65-year-old Barbazon said.

“We love the sport, we love the farm and we love the people who work for us,” added Barbazon, who planned to take his dozen or so employees to lunch when the morning chores were completed. “We both came up poor, and we appreciate what we’ve got.”

Florida’s racetracks and their fellow breeders and owners have a deep appreciation for the efforts of the Barbazons in helping to ensure Florida remains a leader in the production of top-quality Thoroughbreds during the foreseeable future.

The Barbazons are in the fourth year of an agreement with Tampa Bay Downs to sponsor the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, a mile-and-a-sixteenth contest for fillies and mares that is one of six $100,000 stakes races for registered Florida-breds on Sunday’s 15th annual Florida Cup Day card.

And for the first time, the Barbazons will be represented in the Florida Cup by one of their own runners: the 3-year-old filly Star Gala, who is entered in the $100,000 Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies.

By since-deceased sire Wildcat Heir, out of Joni Gala, by Distant View, Star Gala is trained by Ian Hemingway. The Barbazons own her in partnership with John Nichols.

“We enjoy giving,” Barbazon quipped of the traditional Florida Cup post-race trophy presentations, “but we like to receive some, too.”

The Barbazons’ contributions to Florida and breeding are well-documented. They registered about 60 weanlings as Florida-breds last year, and depending on the season, between 250-300 horses reside at Pleasant Acres Stallions.

In addition to 80 or so yearlings and perhaps twice as many mares, Pleasant Acres stands 10 stallions, recently adding multiple graded-stakes winner Prayer for Relief to its roster. Ride On Curlin, who finished second in the 2014 Preakness to California Chrome, was acquired last year, becoming the first son of the two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin, to stand in Florida.

Other Pleasant Acres Stallions sires include Brethren, who won the 2011 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs; Handsome Mike; Amira’s Prince; Anthony’s Cross; Beau Choix; Csaba; Poseidon’s Warrior; and Treasure Beach.

“I’m very proud of our stallion roster. There are a lot of different pedigrees there, and they were all racehorses,” Barbazon said. “Florida is a tough place to have studs because of the lack of mares, but we are in this for love more than money.”

The thrill of producing an outstanding horse was realized several times with their 2003 foal Presious Passion, a son of Royal Anthem-Princesa’s Pasion, by Marquetry, who they sold privately to their long-time clients, Patricia and Frank Generazio.

Known for his seemingly reckless but extremely effective “catch me if you can” style, Presious Passion won such major races as the United Nations Stakes (twice), the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship, the W.L. McKnight Handicap (twice) and the Mac Diarmida (twice) and finished second in the 2009 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Presious Pasion earned more than $2.6-million and the gelding, now 14, is a pensioner at Pleasant Acres, where he attracts as many as 100 visitors a week.

“When he sees the tour bus coming, he knows to get to the fence,” Barbazon said. “The Generazios have almost been like a godsend to us, and they are more like family than clients.” Presious Passion’s exploits helped the Barbazons gain recognition as the 2009 Florida Breeder of the Year from the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FTBOA).

The Barbazons also foaled and raised 6-year-old multiple graded-stakes winner Pure Sensation and 7-year-old Grade I stakes winner Discreet Marq for the Generazios. They also bred multiple graded-stakes winner Tune Me In and Grade I-placed Fleet Valid.

“It’s easy to sell a good horse, and we usually sell them before they make it to the races,” Barbazon said. “Ian (Hemingway) breaks all of our horses and trains for us at the track, and his wife Michelle helps break some and works for me as a bloodstock agent.

“Star Gala is from a good family, but she didn’t bring the money we wanted, so she’ll be trying to get Ian his first stakes winner” (Sunday).

The Barbazons plan to keep giving back to the sport. Helen Barbazon has begun fund-raising efforts to construct and maintain the “Florida Parade of Retired Equine Champions,” a museum and showcase that will recognize Florida-bred stars and their accomplishments.

The Barbazons intend to keep striving to make the Florida breeding and racing industries as strong as possible. “We might be able to make more money somewhere else, but this is home. If you can’t take care of home, you can’t take care of anything,” Joe said.

“If we can get the racetracks working together with the FTBOA and the HBPA (Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association) instead of fighting each other, I think it would go a long way toward helping the industry,” added Barbazon, himself a former FTBOA board member.

Around the oval. Sunday’s Florida Cup series begins with the second race, the $100,000 Hilton Garden Inn Sprint. Following that event are the $100,000 EG Vodka Turf Classic (Race 4); the $100,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore (Race 5); the $100,000 14 Hands Winery Sophomore Turf (Race 8); the $100,000 Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies (Race 9); and the $100,000 Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf (Race 10).

The 12-race card begins at 12:15 p.m.

Jockeys Jesus Castanon, Leandro Goncalves and Tyler Pizarro are moving their tack to Keeneland after Sunday’s card. The Lexington, Ky., track begins its spring meeting Friday. Castanon is sixth in the Oldsmar standings with 38 victories.

Gary Boulanger is leaving Oldsmar for Toronto and the start of the Woodbine meeting on April 15.

Goncalves and Pizarro each rode a winner on today’s card.

Tampa Bay Downs conducts Thoroughbred racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the May 6-7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands weekend, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 16, when the track is closed, and May 3. Otherwise, the track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.