The 15th annual Florida Cup at Tampa Bay Downs lived up to expectations, and then some. Highlighted by a powerful performance by 5-year-old gelding World Approval in the $100,000 EG Vodka Turf Classic and a tour de force by 3-year-old filly R Angel Katelyn in the $100,000 Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, the event produced a series of scintillating, high-quality performances by some of the top registered Florida-breds in training.
A crowd of 5,364 enjoyed the action on a warm, breezy afternoon at the Oldsmar oval. A recap of each of the six races follows:
$100,000 EG VODKA TURF CLASSIC
After six consecutive efforts against Grade I competition, including a victory last July in the United Nations Stakes at Monmouth, World Approval received a well-earned vacation from his trainer, Mark Casse.
The handsome gray 5-year-old gelding showed he’s ready for more top-notch racing in 2017, rolling past defending champion Go Around in the stretch for a two-and-a-quarter length victory.
The winner’s time for the mile-and-an-eighth was 1:48.02. Julien Leparoux rode World Approval, who was bred by Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Stud and is owned by her Live Oak Plantation.
The victory was the third in the EG Vodka Turf Classic for Live Oak Plantation. World Approval, a son of Northern Afleet-Win Approval, by With Approval, won the Florida Cup Sophomore Turf in 2015.
“That was kind of where he got started,” said Casse, who might point World Approval to the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 6. “He probably looks better than he ever has, and we just wanted to get him back winning because he’s been running Grade I, Grade I, Grade I.
“I have to say this is a great job by our Palm Meadows crew. The older they get, the tougher it is to bring them back, and they’ve done a great job with him.”
Leparoux said he was confident throughout the race and pleased with how World Approval performed after a layoff of almost six months. “We were able to lay nice and relaxed, and he kicked at the end. I think it’s a great way for him to come back,” the rider said.
Weber has now won five Florida Cup races as an owner under her Live Oak Plantation banner.
“This is a tough business, and it’s very hard to win,” she said. “I’m thrilled he’s started back this way. We’ll talk to Mark (about his next start) and take it one step at a time, but I think he showed that he is the horse we think he is.
“It’s especially nice to win in Florida for all the people who support racing, and for the people on our farm,” she added.
World Approval, who improved to 7-for-19 lifetime, paid $2.80 to win as the overwhelming betting favorite. First-place money of $60,000 raised his career earnings to $953,763.
$100,000 STONEHEDGE FARM SOUTH SOPHOMORE FILLIES
R Angel Katelyn put an exclamation point on her stellar 2016-2017 Oldsmar meeting, winning the seven-furlong Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies as easy as you please under jockey Edwin Gonzalez.
The 3-year-old daughter of High Cotton-Send for an Angel, by Southern Halo, won by three-and-three-quarter lengths from Sadie Be Good, with Yes I’ll Go finishing third. R Angel Katelyn’s time was 1:23.22, .47 seconds off the stakes record.
Owned by Rich Averill’s Averill Racing, Clark Freeman’s CCF Racing Stable and Roger Smith’s K Lauren Racing and trained by Gerald Bennett, R Angel Katelyn captured her third stakes victory of the meeting, to go with earlier scores in the Sandpiper and Gasparilla. She also finished third in the mile-and-40-yard Suncoast Stakes and is 5-for-7 lifetime.
R Angel Katelyn, who was bred by Craig Lawrence Wheeler, raised her career earnings to $277,120 with the $60,000 winner’s share.
“She is a very nice filly,” said Gonzalez, who kept her in third early behind the moderate pace set by Joel’s Senorita. “I didn’t want to go too fast, and when I saw the speed slowing down, I made my move. She did the rest.”
Leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Bennett, who won the 2008 Sophomore Fillies with Moonshine Alice, found it hard to express what R Angel Katelyn means to his operation.
“She’s just a lady. She does everything right, she doesn’t worry about anything and she doesn’t give you a lot of hassle,” he said.
“We freshened her up (after the Suncoast on Feb. 11) because she’d had three really hard races, just gave her a couple of weeks doing nothing, and it paid off,” he said. “It’s up to Rich what’s next. She’ll go long, but I think six-and-a-half or seven furlongs is her best distance.”
Gonzalez, who is in his first season at Tampa Bay Downs, has ridden R Angel Katelyn to each of her stakes victories at the Oldsmar oval.
$100,000 HILTON GARDEN INN SPRINT
On Thursday, trainer Darien Rodriguez’s wife Dainelys gave birth to the couple’s first child, a healthy son named Tihago.
The conditioner’s 4-year-old colt Tiger Blood provided another huge thrill in the six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn Sprint, sweeping past the leaders on the turn and speeding home under jockey Pablo Morales in the exceptional time of 1:08.92, the third-fastest Hilton Garden Inn Sprint in Florida Cup history.
Tiger Blood, who won the $100,000 Pelican Stakes here on Feb. 18 in his previous start, improved to 5-for-10 lifetime, all of those victories coming at Tampa Bay Downs. The son of Cowtown Cat-Sarah Cataldo, by Smarty Jones, was bred by Brent and Crystal Fernung and is owned by Miguel Barraza’s MK Stables.
“It’s been a very special week,” Rodriguez said after Tiger Blood defeated 50-1 shot Palace Barista (himself the winner of the 2014 Pelican) by four-and-a-half lengths, with Grade II winner Delta Bluesman finishing third. “He (Tiger Blood) had been training lights-out since his last race, and I didn’t know for sure if he would win, but I was expecting a big performance.
“I talked to Pablo this morning and told him if we can get somebody to go early it would be great, and it worked out that way. He’s improved a lot from his last race to today,” Rodriguez said.
Tiger Blood benefited from the swift fractions set by One Lucky Step and Delta Bluesman, but it was doubtful anyone was going to beat Tiger Blood regardless of the pace scenario.
“I knew (Delta Bluesman) was tough, but my horse has been doing great and we had the ‘home-court’ advantage,” Morales said. “He doesn’t want to be too crowded on the inside, so I needed to work my way out at some point in the race and I found myself in a great spot as soon as the two leaders cleared.
“I really didn’t have to do anything. Even though it looked like I was sitting pretty, as soon as I gave him the minimal encouragement, either smooching to him or moving my hands a little bit, he just responded.
Turning for home I went to the whip, and he just lowered his head and drew off. It’s really impressive how hard he runs and how kind he is to do everything.”
Morales was especially impressed by how well Tiger Blood had been working out leading to the race. “The last few times, he just wanted to breeze super fast, and he almost pulls your arms out,” Morales said. “He doesn’t even take a deep breath, so I was going into the race very confident.”
Tiger Blood paid $5.80 as the second wagering choice.
$100,000 OCALA BREEDERS’ SALES SOPHOMORE
Trainer Ron Spatz knows as the competition keeps getting tougher, his 3-year-old gelding Mo Cash will continue to be pushed to his limits. But Spatz and Mo Cash’s connections were content to revel in their horse’s victory by a dwindling neck from Salute With Honor in the seven-furlong Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore.
“Each time, he’s given me a little more of a heart attack,” Spatz said of the son of Adios Charlie-Mo’s Prize, by Eltish. “He won by nine lengths the first time and (almost four) his second start, and he just made it this time.
“But,” Spatz added with a wide smile, “he’s the only undefeated horse in the race.”
Mo Cash toured the Oldsmar oval in 1:22.40, only .27 seconds off the stakes record. He was ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, whose father, Steve Gaffalione, won the 1989 Tampa Bay Derby aboard Storm Predictions.
Mo Cash is owned by the Marco Thoroughbred Corporation of Marco Bommarito. He was bred by Amanda Thompson Gonzalez and Gerardo Gonzalez. “He’s the real deal,” a beaming Bommarito said.
The victory was the first at Tampa Bay Downs for young Gaffalione, but he has been on a major roll recently. He won the Grade III JACK Cincinnati Spiral Stakes last weekend at Turfway Park aboard 24-1 shot Fast and Accurate and scored in the Grade II Muniz Memorial Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds on Enterprising.
Mo Cash’s victory “set up beautifully for us,” Gaffalione said. “We were able to sit right off the pace (set by The Cookie Man and Reason to Soar), and coming into the stretch when I asked him for run, he just exploded.
“He’s a real nice horse and Ron has done a great job with him,” Gaffalione said. “His last race (the American Fabius Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 20), there wasn’t as much speed so we were a little closer, but today there was plenty of speed so we were able to run the race the way we wanted to.”
Reason to Soar took third, three-quarters of a length behind Salute With Honor.
Spatz said he might give Mo Cash a break after today’s victory, but looks forward to a productive summer. “There is a summer schedule at Gulfstream for Florida-breds that I think is going to be pretty good for us,” Spatz said.
$100,000 14 HANDS WINERY SOPHOMORE TURF
Muggsamatic was acting coltish before the mile-and-a-sixteenth 14 Hands Winery Sophomore Turf, forcing trainer Kathleen O’Connell to saddle him in the paddock outside the stall intended for such duties.
But his frisky behavior didn’t concern the veteran conditioner. “Since he came off the layoff (after a starter/optional claiming victory here on Dec. 16), he’s been getting a little more hormonal,” she said after her 3-year-old colt scored at odds of 23-1.
“But since he won today, he probably gets to keep ’em.”
After lagging near the rear of the field in the early going, Muggsamatic came with a rush on the far turn under jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., and kept to the task the rest of the way, finishing two lengths ahead of General McGooby. Prize Fight was third.
A claim of foul against the winner by General McGooby’s trainer, Lilli Kurtinecz, was disallowed by the stewards.
Muggsamatic raced the distance in 1:42.23. He paid $48.40 to win. The son of Any Given Saturday-Brown Eyed Woman, by De Niro, is 4-for-8 lifetime.
Muggsmatic was bred by Gilbert G. Campbell, who owns him under his Stonehedge banner.
Muggsamatic had finished in eighth in his previous start, the Columbia Stakes here on March 11, but O’Connell and Allen both thought he was primed for a strong effort today. “The Columbia (a distance of a mile) was too short for him, plus we had given him a little break,” said O’Connell. “It seems to have freshened him up and he certainly came full of charge today.
“I was hoping he’d get the setup we wanted and I was very pleased to see the fast pace,” she said. “I’ve been saying ‘turf, turf, turf’ since he stepped into my barn, and I’m glad it all worked out.”
Allen was well aware that Two Steps Before had engineered a speedy pace with fractions of 23.08 for the quarter-mile and 47.18 for the half and was content to linger in seventh place until the 3/8-mile pole.
“It set up just like I had planned,” Allen said while signing autographs on his way back to the jockeys’ room. “My horse was one of the only ones that comes from behind, so I just watched the speed go and down the backside, I got him to the outside and started inching up a little closer.
“Around the 3/8-pole, those guys were stopping right in my face, so I went outside and let him roll and there was no one coming at me,” he added.
$100,000 PLEASANT ACRES STALLIONS DISTAFF TURF
Glen Hill Farm homebred Family Meeting stated her case for seasonal Florida-bred turf filly champion honors, staging a furious stretch rally to defeat Somethingelse by a head while shouldering top weight of 123 pounds.
Family Meeting, a 4-year-old daughter of Sky Mesa-Family Plan, by Repriced, had won the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 21 by a neck. She improved to 4-for-13 lifetime for Glen Hill and trainer Tom Proctor.
It was the eighth Florida Cup victory for owner Glen Hill and trainer Proctor, both Florida Cup highs in those categories.
Jose Ortiz rode Family Meeting and has had a season to remember at Tampa Bay Downs himself, winning the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby aboard Tapwrit and the Grade III Florida Oaks on Fifty Five on the March 11 Festival Day card.
Family Meeting’s time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was 1:43.27. She paid $14.60 to win. The 9-10 favorite, My Girl Corey, finished third.
Ortiz, like most of the other riders, was content to allow Royal Jewely to build a six-and-a-half length lead up the backstretch. “My instructions were to just ride my filly, whatever she was comfortable doing,” said Ortiz, who was sixth and on the inside up the backstretch. “The No. 1 horse (My Girl Corey) was in the three-path, and I was able to get a better position and save ground on the rail.
“When we hit the quarter-mile pole, I got room to go, and when she saw the clearing, she exploded. She’s got a pretty nice run in the last quarter of a mile and horses that close have a chance to win,” added Ortiz, who was riding Family Meeting for the first time.
Family Meeting had finished third in the Grade III Florida Oaks here last year. Her defeated rivals today included the 2015 Florida Oaks winner, Quality Rocks, who finished fourth.
Source: Tampa Bay Downs