by Mike Henry

The 19th annual Florida Cup, featuring six stakes races for registered Florida-breds worth $110,000 each in purse money, will be held on Sunday, March 27 at Tampa Bay Downs.

Three races are scheduled for both the main dirt track and the turf course. Nominations closed Sunday in the Racing Office with 101 candidates, including 25 for the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf; 18 for the NYRABETS Sprint; 16 for the Grey Goose Turf Classic; 14 for the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore; 14 for the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies; and 14 for the Equistaff Sophomore Turf.

The official fields for all six races will be drawn Thursday, March 24.

The Florida Cup celebrates the Sunshine State’s excellence in breeding, raising and racing Thoroughbreds that have competed successfully in both the United States and internationally. Since the mid-1950s, Florida has produced such legendary champions as Needles, My Dear Girl, Carry Back, Roman Brother, Dr. Fager, Desert Vixen, Susan’s Girl, Foolish Pleasure, Honest Pleasure, Affirmed, Conquistador Cielo, Silver Charm, Unbridled, Holy Bull, Skip Away, Afleet Alex, With Approval and Imperial Hint, and numerous others.

The Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf brings together fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward to compete at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass. Top nominees include trainer Christophe Clement’s 6-year-old mare Beautiful Lover, who won the Grade III La Prevoyante Stakes on Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park; two-time Grade III stakes winner Our Flash Drive, a 4-year-old trained by Mark Casse; and trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr.’s Shifty She, who won the Grade III Noble Damsel Stakes on Oct. 23 at Belmont Park.

The NYRABETS Sprint will be run at a distance of 6 furlongs on the main track. Among the nominees are Casse’s 5-year-old ridgling Tap It to Win, who won the race last year and burnished his credentials with a victory on Sept. 11 in the Grade III Seagram Cup Stakes at Woodbine in Toronto. Other nominees include owner-trainer Kerri Raven’s 6-year-old gelding Chess Master, who won the Turf Dash Stakes here on Feb. 19, and two-time Grade III winner Officiating, trained by Joseph, as well as multiple stakes-winning 5-year-old Shivaree, trained by Ralph Nicks.

The Grey Goose Turf Classic is for horses 4-and-upward at a distance of a mile-and-an-eighth on the grass. The nominees include last year’s winner, 5-year-old gelding Me and Mr. C, trained by Michael Maker; 4-year-old colt Chess’s Dream, another Maker trainee who won last year’s Grade III Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Gulfstream; and Shamrocket, a 5-year-old multiple-stakes winner who finished second in last year’s Grey Goose Turf Classic, trained by Todd Pletcher.

Three-year-olds take the stage in the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, contested at a distance of 7 furlongs on the main track. Among the top candidates is the Nicks-trained colt Cattin, who won the Inaugural Stakes here as a 2-year-old on Dec. 4 and finished third in the Pasco Stakes on Jan. 15. Also nominated are trainer Jorge Delgado’s Lightening Larry, who followed his Inaugural runner-up effort with a victory in the Limehouse Stakes at Gulfstream, and owner-trainer Gerald Bennett’s promising allowance/optional claiming winner Magical Warrior.

The Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies is for 3-year-old females sprinting 7 furlongs on the main track. Trainer Bill Mott has nominated multiple-stakes winner Outfoxed, who won the Gasparilla Stakes here on Jan. 15, while nominee Hot Peppers, from the Gulfstream barn of Ronald Spatz, is on a three-race winning streak. Sea Art, a stakes-placed filly trained by Victor Barboza, Jr., also has solid credentials.

The Equistaff Sophomore Turf gives 3-year-olds a chance to stretch out to a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass. Top nominees include stakes-winning filly Lemieux, trained by Casse; Patrick Biancone’s colt Mr Rum Runner, who turned in a good effort on Feb. 12 in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes before tiring; and gelding Steel City Dude, a three-race winner conditioned by David Fawkes.

Around the oval. Jose Batista rode three winners today, raising his career victory total to 301. Batista won the second race on Expensive Style, a 5-year-old gelding owned and trained by Juan Arriagada. That one paid $16 to win. No. 300 for Batista came in the third aboard Macho Real, a 4-year-old gelding owned by GU Racing Stable and trained by Juan C. Avila. Macho Real paid $30.40.

Batista and Arriagada combined for another victory in the eighth race with Odds On, a 7-year-old gelding also owned by Arriagada. Odds On paid $7.20 as the wagering favorite.


Jose Batista

Batista is seventh in the Oldsmar standings with 29 winners.

Trainer Rafael Schistl sent out two winners. He won the first race with Rattlesnake Ridge, a 7-year-old Florida-bred gelding ridden by Jose Ferrer for Schistl and owner Endsley Oaks Farm. Schistl added the fourth with Endsley Oaks Farm’s Dontlosethatnumber, a 6-year-old mare ridden by Angel Rodriguez.

Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:15 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed.

Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval 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.