Two-time champion Tampa Bay Downs trainer Kathleen O'Connell was among the honorees at Monday's Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association's Awards Banquet and Gala, held at the Circle Square Cultural Center Ballroom in Ocala.
O'Connell was recognized as the Leading Trainer of Florida-breds by wins for the 10th time and as the Leading Trainer of Florida-breds by stakes wins for the second time.
The Michigan native, who won Oldsmar titles during the 1998-1999 season and again in 2009-2010, is atop this year's standings with 31 victories, two more than three-time champ Gerald Bennett, the defending titleholder.
O'Connell credited her owners and her stable team for her ongoing success and her ability to finish on top in two major state categories.
“It's something that is always very special, because I am a Florida transplant and the Florida-bred industry has been very good to me,” she said. “This is the first time I've had that many stakes wins, which is marvelous, and they've been for a variety of owners. But the thing I am most proud of is that we have continuously over the last 10 years cranked out a solid, blue-collar operation that has won races with the hard-knocking horses, so to speak.
“I'm very proud of my help, who do an outstanding job. They are very excited about the chance to win the (training title), but it's hard to accomplish with my operation. I haven't claimed a horse at the meet, so it's real difficult – my operation is much different than (Bennett's). My operation is mostly for breeders and people who have a couple of horses and love to come to Tampa for the season and hopefully get their picture taken and drink a couple of beers.
“Tampa Bay Downs has always been like home,” she added. “It's a great fan base, and I think the track does an outstanding job of accommodating my owners. I can't say enough for that because without the owners, we'd have nothing.”
The conditioner just received a shipment of 2-year-olds set to begin training at her Gulfstream Park West base in south Florida from long-time owner Stonehedge Farm South, owned by prominent owner and breeder Gilbert G. Campbell.
O'Connell's Florida-bred stakes winners in 2017 included the mare Spanish Concert, who won the Minaret Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs; Muggsamatic, winner of the Florida Cup 14 Hands Winery Sophomore Turf in Oldsmar; and south Florida stakes winners Early Entry, who won the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream, along with the fillies Who's the Lady and Wildcat Kate.
Her 4-year-old filly Stormy Embrace might be the next to join the ranks of Florida-bred stakes winners. The Matalona Thoroughbreds-bred and owned runner turned in a powerhouse performance on Saturday's Festival Day 38 card in the Manatee Overnight Handicap, winning by four-and-three-quarter lengths from multiple-stakes winner R Angel Katelyn. The time for the 7 furlongs was a swift 1:22.75.
Earlier this meeting, Stormy Embrace finished second in the FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes and third in the Minaret Stakes.
“She's always been there. Sometimes she's a victim of the trip, but she always tries,” O'Connell said. “She's been very professional and she loves to do what she does.
“To me, that (the Manatee Overnight Handicap) was one of her gutsier performances.”
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