The 17th annual Florida Cup, a celebration of the Sunshine State's rich heritage of Thoroughbred breeding and racing excellence, was held under sunny skies, with temperatures in the low 80's at Tampa Bay Downs. All the action took place on a fast main track and a firm turf course in front of a spirited crowd of 5,227.
Total all-sources wagering was $6,853,237, a 6.7-percent increase from last year's Florida Cup Day.
$115,000 TOUCH VODKA TURF CLASSIC
As he watched the Touch Vodka Turf Classic through his binoculars from beneath the awning in the winner's circle, trainer Mark Casse offered advice to jockey Tyler Gaffalione, even though the rider was too far away to hear.
“I was telling him at the half-mile pole, 'No worries, Tyler, just relax,' and he listened,” Casse said. “He is an exceptional rider and he rode him with a lot of confidence.”
Their 4-year-old gelding March to the Arch did the rest, moving smartly to the lead on the turn for home and drawing off to a three-and-a-quarter length victory from defending race champion Swagger Jagger. Big Changes finished third.
March to the Arch completed the mile-and-an-eighth distance in an excellent time of 1:47.66. It was the fourth victory in 11 starts for the son of Arch-Daveron, by Black Sam Bellamy, who is owned by his breeder, Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation.
The victory was also the seventh for Live Oak in Florida Cup competition. The winner's share of $60,000 raised March to the Arch's career earnings to $259,314.
“He broke alertly and put himself in good position, right behind the speed,” said the 24-year-old Gaffalione, a 2013 graduate of Sunlake High School in nearby Land O' Lakes. “I was following the favorite (Big Changes), and when it looked like he wasn't really going anywhere, I just tipped him out and he finished the job.
“He came home very powerfully, and all the credit goes to Mark and his team.”
For Casse, who was winning his fifth Florida Cup race, it brought back memories of Live Oak homebred World Approval's victory in the same race two years ago. World Approval used it as a springboard to a season in which he won the Breeders' Cup Mile and earned an Eclipse Award as Champion Turf Male.
“This is where World Approval got it all going, so those are our hopes and dreams,” Casse said. “The Live Oak team does a tremendous job, and we've had this horse at Palm Meadows Training Center (in Boynton Beach) getting ready, and my team there led by Nick Tomlinson has done a great job with him.”
March to the Arch paid $6.40 as the second wagering choice.
$115,000 DRF BETS SOPHOMORE TURF
The heart-stopping victory by Global Access in the DRF Bets Sophomore Turf was all in the family for Global Access and his breeder-owner, Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation juggernaut.
Global Access, who rallied on the outside to defeat Swamp Rat by a head in near-stakes-record time of 1:41.35 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth, is a half-brother to March to the Arch, who won the Touch Vodka Turf Classic earlier on the card.
Global Access, who finished third in the Columbia Stakes here on March 9, is by Giant's Causeway out of Daveron, by Black Sam Bellamy.
“Mrs. Weber has done that a few times with other families in stakes races, but it's a very nice deal to do that with these half-siblings,” said Live Oak General Manager Bruce Hill. “We had a lot of confidence as the race was unfolding.”
Still, jockey Antonio Gallardo had to work hard to get past Swamp Rat and third-place finisher Jais's Solitude before the wire.
“I had a lot of horse, but he's still kind of like a little baby,” Gallardo said of the 3-year-old colt, who is trained by Michael Trombetta. “He tried to lay on the horse inside him, which is kind of what happened last time. He wants to be in the clear, and once I got him there at the half-mile pole, I started to feel comfortable.”
But it took an all-out drive to pass Swamp Rat late and take the top prize, rewarding his dam with her second stakes victory on the card.
Global Access improved to 2-for-6, with two thirds, both in stakes races. The $60,000 winner's share of the purse elevated his career earnings to $103,668. It was the eighth Florida Cup victory for Live Oak Plantation.
Swamp Rat nearly held on under jockey Daniel Centeno, and the Philip Gleaves-trained youngster should be one to watch next time.
Global Access paid $9 to win as the fourth betting choice in an eight-horse field.
$115,000 PLEASANT ACRES STALLIONS DISTAFF TURF
Jockey Antonio Gallardo was faced with a decision as the field turned for home in the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf: wait a little longer to unleash Crown and Sugar, or yield to the 4-year-old filly's competitive juices.
Gallardo let her go, and she responded with a two-and-three-quarter length victory from Bitacora, rewarding owner-trainer Darien Rodriguez, who claimed Crown and Sugar for $20,000 here last March.
The victory was the fifth in a row and 11th from 23 starts for the daughter of Crown of Thorns-Sugarlick, by Congrats, who was bred by Woodford Thoroughbreds. Her time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was 1:41.32.
Supercommittee finished third.
“I was behind two horses, and I saw Joe Bravo (on pace-setter Picara) start asking his horse a little and not really going anywhere,” Gallardo said. “I thought, I can't be waiting for anybody. She wanted to go and she was dragging me to the lead, so I thought, if they catch me, my bad, but she kept running and running and I knew nobody could beat me.”
The winner's share of $60,000 raised Crown and Sugar's earnings to $217,367. She paid $4.80 to win as the betting favorite.
Rodriguez, who ran her against males in her previous start on March 2 because he couldn't find a suitable race against members of her own sex, was cautiously optimistic entering the race.
“She's been running mostly in claiming and starter allowance races, and I didn't know if she could handle this kind of company,” said Rodriguez, who might have been thinking how he just beat two Todd Pletcher-trained runners as well as horses trained by Chad Brown and Mark Casse.
“It was a big step up for her, but she seems to keep getting better. It means a lot because I also own her (under his Sabal Racing Stable banner), and she's been fun from Day 1.”
Crown and Sugar is 6-for-9 under Rodriguez's care, all with Gallardo aboard. She finished first in another race, but was disqualified.
“Antonio knows her so well, the only thing I told him was 'Good luck,' ” said Rodriguez, and she didn't need much of that today.
$115,000 OCALA BREEDERS' SALES SOPHOMORE
Trainer Jose Pinchin's instructions to Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Samy Camacho were direct and to the point before Jackson's impressive victory in the Ocala Breeders' Sales Sophomore.
“He told me to try to break on top and go to the lead, but if we didn't to be close and ride my race,” Camacho said. “I warmed up really good in the post parade, he broke on top and I said to myself, 'Let me try to go wire to wire.' ”
Jackson held up his end of the bargain, winning in a good time of 1:23.05 for the 7-furlong distance. Great Success held on well to be second, followed by Gran Paraiso.
Jackson, a 3-year-old son of Kantharos-Deposit Only, by Put It Back, was bred by Pinchin's wife Tracy Pinchin, who also owns the colt. He improved to 3-for-8 with his second career stakes victory to go with three seconds, all in stakes races.
The winner's share of $75,000 raised his career bankroll to $218,475.
“I told (Camacho) if he broke good, to take (the lead),” Jose Pinchin said. “I know he'll get 7 furlongs. He won a stakes at Gulfstream Park (West) going six-and-a-half against better horses than these.
“He's a nice horse who can run on turf or dirt, so we have a lot of options with him,” Pinchin added.
Camacho agreed that his horse wasn't tiring despite rigorous fractions of 22.42 seconds for the quarter-mile and 45.16 for the half. “He stayed even and switched leads late, but he's a nice horse and I felt confident. I'm grateful to the owner and the trainer to get this opportunity.”
Jackson paid $6.40 to win. The Pinchins own an unraced 2-year-old full sister to Jackson, so perhaps they'll be back with her for the 2020 Florida Cup.
$115,000 ZAXBY'S SPRINT
James Bredin, the Racing Manager for the DARRS, Inc., enterprise of owner David Ross, probably summed things up best after Extravagant Kid outdueled pace-setter Ray'swarrior to win the Zaxby's Sprint by a head in 1:09.77 for the 6-furlong distance.
“He is a cool old horse. He was a really smart claim by Mr. Ross around this time last year at Gulfstream, and he's won a stakes (the Lucky Coin) for us at Saratoga and here today,” Bredin said. “He really knows when and how to win. He's a battler, and every time they get to him, he seems to find a little bit more.”
Extravagant Kid needed all that fortitude to turn back Ray'swarrior, whose Jason Servis-trained stablemate, Grade I winner Firenze Fire, finished third in his comeback race after finishing fourth last fall in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
The winner, who improved to 9-for-32 lifetime, four of his victories in stakes, is a 6-year-old gelded son of Kiss the Kid-Pretty Extravagant, by With Distinction. He was bred by Vicino Racing Stable.
Extravagant Kid is trained by Brendan Walsh, who was in transit from the United Arab Emirates after winning Saturday's UAE Derby with Plus Que Parfait.
Ross claimed Extravagant Kid last January for $75,000. Tyler Gaffalione rode Extravagant Kid for his second stakes victory on the card.
“He's just a real hard-knocking horse,” Gaffalione said. “He tries hard every time, and today he came out strong and put himself in a good position. All the credit to Brendan and his team – it's been a great weekend for them.”
Extravagant Kid appeared a winner inside the 1/8-mile pole, then Ray'swarrior battled back to take a brief lead under Samy Camacho. But Extravagant Kid had a bit more left and pulled away.
“They wanted to duel it out to the wire. My horse has a lot of heart, and he showed it today,” said Gaffalione, who also had three seconds in the series of Florida Cup races.
$115,000 STONEHEDGE FARM SOUTH SOPHOMORE FILLIES
As the field reached the turn in the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, Wildwood's Beauty appeared to be dropping back. But that was all part of the plan, according to jockey Chris Landeros.
“I gave her a little breather from about the 3/8-mile pole to the quarter pole, just to get her to relax,” Landeros said after his 3-year-old filly pulled away for an impressive three-and-a-half length victory from Eyeinthesky. “She was all professional for me today and kept on when I asked her. I just tried to stay patient.”
The daughter of Kantharos-Miss Propitious, by J P's Gusto, won for the second time in five starts, with three seconds. Bred by Philip Matthews and Karen Matthews, she is owned by William Stiritz and trained by veteran Scott Becker, who won the 2009 Hawthorne Derby with Proceed Bee.
Wildwood's Beauty's time for the 7 furlongs was 1:24. “Before, she has been kind of a speedball, but she is learning how to drop the bit a little,” Landeros said. “I think she can do either, though. She is pretty versatile.”
Eyeinthesky was always prominent, but no match for the winner through the stretch. Here Comes Jackie, owned and trained by Mike Dini, finished third.
The winner's share of $75,000 raised Wildwood's Beauty's earnings to $134,340.
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