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.
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.
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.
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